BMW i3 Range Extender – i-opener

It doesn’t take much or long for breakthrough cars, especially electric ones, to gain awareness. There has been much debate on the pros and cons of electric cars, but perhaps no discussion could be worthy of the new BMW i3.

When the i-Series was launched, many wondered on the practicality and feasability of such technology, especially in a tropical, ultra-urban environment like Singapore. No doubt the sportier i8 made the cut when you talk about aesthetics, but it does leave you wondering whether we are really ready for such technology.

And no doubt, after two days with this groundbreaking electric mobile, we dare say she really is an i-opener.

Exterior

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Yes, the i3 doesn’t appear enticing on first glance, not especially when her sibling i8 commands a stronger appeal to the masses, young or old. But pit against the rest in its class, such as the Nissan Leaf, you have to admit that the boxiness does set in to appeal after a while.

When the 2 Active-Tourer was launched, we felt that it was a pull away from the Bavarian marque’s trademark design of sleek and curvy cars. The i3 serves as a next reinforcement of this move, and it undoubtedly bears no resemblance to most Bimmers on the road except for the front kidney grilles and the much coveted badge.

With so much money being invested into creating the car(s) of the future, we now see before us a masterpiece marrying egronomics, technology, as well as bold and striking designs to win over environmentalists.

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The i3 stands at 1,578 mm, significantly taller than most of your hot hatches on the roads. It would and might just feel more like a baby-SUV instead of the hatch it was designed to take after.

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And it is of no surprise that such a tall hatch might just run on bigger shoes to fill up the expectations fans would lay for it – the i3 runs standard on 19” rims – its size ironically complimenting the car’s body proportions.

Interior

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Think futuristic – minimalistic designs, cool blue trims… etc. While the i3 doesn’t come with touch-screen glass-of-the-future (yet), the interior pulls you away from the standard BMW and presents you with a minimalist design that would make you do a double take.

Available in either the “Lodge” or “Suite” variant, you have the option of choosing between a more wool-cloth lookalike design (for the Lodge) or natural leather combination named “Stellaric” (for the Suite). We thought the difference in tone was perhaps the striking comparison between the two, with the Suite costing around 4 grand more.

The i3 comes with an enormous dash, making it a little of a hassle to reach for your cashcard in the IU. The windscreen gives you a spacious and wide-angled view of the roads, similar to that of the Citroën C4 Picasso.

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Up front, the i3 provides you with just two screens admist the seamless curves of wooden contour. The instrument cluster moves away from your traditional speedometer and rev dials, and now presents itself with a digital speedometer together with a power/charge bar. Of course, your second screen would be the iconic iDrive command/infotainment system.

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A unique eye-catcher would be the lack of a B-pillar, with the i3’s rear doors opening in the opposite direction as the front. It gives you the perception of an enhanced space, making the cabin more spacious than it actually is. But similar to the Mazda RX8, you would not be able to open the rear door (to exit the vehicle) unless your front is open.

The Drive

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If there’s one word to describe the i3’s drive as heard by the family and friends I’ve ferried, it would be “buggy”. The i3 demonstrates a striking similarity with your common golf-course buggy, but of course on a higher and more luxurious end.

A press of the “Start/Stop” button presents you with a soft electric whine instead of the engine growl on conventional plants. Wait for the instrument panel to light up and voilà, you’re ready to go.

BMW claims that the electric plant beneath the i3’s hood produces 170 horses at 250 Nm of torque. But if you’ve driven a buggy on a golf course before, you would know what we mean by saying that there is “torque-on-demand”. The i3 accelerates instantenously, its rate of acceleration dependent on how heavy your foot plants to the ground. This definitely felt faster than the figures on our press kit, especially the century-sprint record of 7.9 seconds.

If there was something about this electric baby that impressed us, it would be the ability to drive using one pedal. Yes, you literally can control your speed and braking with just the accelerator. A slight press on the accelerator would move you off from a standstill, but a slight lift from the floor and the car slows down at a faster pace compared to your normal sedan. In essence, you could slow down at the lights by just slowly lifting your foot off the accelerator, all the way till the car comes to a stop.

With a Range Extender standard on all local i3s, the 647 cc engine is capable of pulling you through 235 km – our car lasted a total of 135 km on electric power, and the dash’s reading on the 9-litre petrol tank gave us an additional 100 km.

And did we also mention that the i3 when running on electric power, is completely silent? Wow.

Conclusion

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Even with a couple of competitors in the market, the i3 clearly stands out above all, thanks to the quirky design and intricate technology embedded inside this 1.3 tonne car.

It is, however, unfortunate that even with brilliant technology and engineering like this, that our society has yet to fully open up to electric mobility. There are close to 15 public charging stations, but you have to deal with the public’s perception and opinions of why this car remains impractical, especially for those staying in public housing and have no space for charging.

But for those who can afford the luxury and quietness of this wonder, it is, or would be, indeed an i-opener for them.

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We like:

The quietness and “torque-on-demand” performance of this electric marvel.

We don’t like: 

The design, though innovative, isn’t the kind that one would associate with a Bimmer. Also, the lack of charging facilities reflect public’s unreadiness to open up to electric cars.

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