I was thinking the other day as I drove out of BMW Park Lane in an i3 I get all the bad jobs. Straight out into the traffic on Park Lane, the perfect place to develop your skills in relation to regenerative braking and virtual one pedal driving.
First impressions were good, much more space inside than I expected and a comfortable if quirky interior. All the ‘bells and whistles’ expected of a modern city car and the familiar clunk of a well fitted door as you got in. The starting procedure was accompanied by a strange noise and then eerie silence. I am used to the hybrid silence on moving off but the i3 takes this to another level.
The steering felt taught and responsive and the acceleration effortless, all good so far. Indicators (yes they are standard and work perfectly) and the windscreen wipers, now required, are found easily. The heavily raked screen offers excellent visibility in spite of the light rain. Gauges show an effective battery range of 118 miles: more than enough for the journey back to Hertfordshire I hope, but any anxiety is lessened by the half full fuel tank and the 39 miles shown as available through the range extender.
I report quite honestly that aside from a blue light run, the journey back up Finchley Road to escape from London was as pleasant as it has ever been. The i3 is in its element moving off from traffic lights and is more than brisk up to the 30mph when traffic permits. The skill to balance the accelerator pedal and slow down progressively, was still a work in progress but getting better all of the time and Radio 5 Live was keeping me informed about the world at large (or at least the cricket score).
Moving out onto the A1 near Hendon speed of traffic picked up to 50mph and then eventually up to 70mph, the i3 played the game and moved along nicely in the traffic flow. The road noise was barely audible above the radio, specially developed 19” tyres working well with the rest of the car to give a comfortable quiet ride.
Turning off at Hatfield to see how the i3 coped with the bends in Coopers Green Lane (limit points are still all mine) proved a good shout, the car was planted on the approach, and well balanced on a slightly improving throttle through even the tightest turn. When speed was reduced, to take account of safe stopping, the progress back to 60mph was seamless and dare I say it quick. The idea of one pedal driving was sinking in and the brake pedal was redundant except for the tightest bend and a closed junction approach. A clever function in the i3 is the application of the brake lights by the car if the slowing down using regeneration exceeds set parameters, information is shared by the car.
The arrival of the car on my drive did prompt a teenager to leave FIFA for a look; my last company car didn’t even get a glance. Whilst parked up I looked around the quirky design, the rear doors give good access to an interior that will accept a 16-year-old with unfeasibly long legs. With the construction being focussed on safety and weight saving the seats are ‘slim’ but comfortable and the interior trim of the dashboard is probably an ‘acquired’ taste.
Whilst in no way intending to be an in-depth technical debrief on the i3, it is only right to comment that it responds well to being balanced into bends and roundabouts, coarse acceleration in either and it will resort to mild controllable understeer.
Charging was done via a normal mains socket with the charger supplied, I have no idea on cost but plugged in at 9pm it was full charged and showing 127 miles available at 6am the next morning. As a proper petrolhead and to defeat that range anxiety completely, £7 of unleaded filled up the tank for the range extender and that showed a healthy 90 miles of reserve power.
On my next drive I tried to use all the battery and make the range extender operate. I couldn’t flatten the battery enough for it kick into life which makes the range anxiety seem even more irrational. By the time I discovered the setting to maintain charge (note to self: must read the manual sooner) it was too late to experiment. The range extender is the comfort blanket that we internal combustion fanatics need to help us over the resistance we often show to electric vehicles.
If I was regularly doing 400 mile trips (I do) then the i3 would play the game but with a planned route and some battery TLC at pre-arranged stops and this may become a bit of a chore (I don’t really drink coffee), however for normal motoring close to home, as my wife put it: ‘Why wouldn’t you?’
Although still expensive, this technology is getting closer to a normal monthly outlay. It is undoubtedly better for the environment, advanced driving principles will work well (although G is redundant) and the vehicle itself is pleasant to live with. The whole package got a thumbs up from my family although when my eldest said: “Does that mean you are now a battery head?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or be insulted.
What I do know is I was sorry to see the car go back to Park Lane and would definitely reserve a place for it in the ‘lottery garage,’ although I haven’t tried an i8 yet and that may displace its little sister …if the opportunity arises.
Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart head of driving standards