Mirror-gazing is ill-advised practice with latest BMW i3 EV

Describing the driving experience, with BMW’s all-electric i3, is closely akin to pausing to look in a mirror but Iain Robertson suggests that you should be prepared, as the Munich reflection is nothing like what you might hope to see. 

Unconventional, no matter how long you stare at it, no matter how long you drive it, the BMW i3 is weird; a freak of nature. Of course, weirdness is part and parcel of venturing down a route to non-fossil fuelled mobility. It is a means of attracting attention, which can be appealing to some ‘eco-heroes’ but is also part of the innate quality of a vehicle that has been designed from the ground up to provide as close to a clean and green motoring premise as possible, which is as it should be.

The i3 is skinny, not just in its specially developed, Bridgestone ultra-narrow tyres and lightweight 19.0-inch diameter alloy wheels, but also in its unusual five-door body. On a protective surrounding frame that is not dissimilar to that employed on the steel-framed smart car, produced entirely from lightweight carbon-fibre instead, BMW hangs what it calls ‘coach’ doors from its framework. Largely conventional front doors, which need to be opened to ‘release’ the rear-hinged and unconventional (unless you happened to own a Rover 90 back in the early sixties) back doors, open and close ‘clap-hands’ to reveal a very style-conscious interior.

Having called the i3 weird, I should clarify by stating that it is also very cute, none more so than in its wonderfully detailed interior. It may be a truncated BMW but, as BMW is also a watchword for judiciously designed accommodation, the cabin is decidedly airy and roomy with 260-litres of readily extendible boot space. The inevitable unconventionality extends to the pair of screens serving as main instrumentation ahead of the driver and sat-nav and connectivity in the top-dead-centre of the eminently practical and very swoopy dashboard.

If the trim materials look different, it is because they are different. BMW’s initial remit, which has set a standard for all other EVs, was to avoid any element of the car’s construction that would require fossil-fuels to make it. As a result, even the cloth upholstery, known as ‘Kenaf’, is produced from the rapidly renewable malva plant that allows it to be a remarkable 30% lighter and more durable than regular fabrics. The sparse applications of eucalyptus wood trim, when specified, are provided by sustainable plantations, the wood requiring around 90% less processing than any other and, while not as fast-growing as bamboo, it reaches timber maturity much quicker than teak, sapele, or walnut. If leather is specified, it comes from sustainable herds and is tanned using olive leaves in a totally eco-friendly manner. BMW people are nothing, if not pragmatic.

You see, the whole point of travelling down an eco-route must be to preserve, conserve and sustain resources and BMW lives up to that idyll, as much as is possible. The latest all-electric i3 (also available in slightly punchier i3S form) is an easy car with which to become familiar. Although the doors are light, they close with a solid clunk. The main shift controller is a chunky device on the right-side of the steering wheel, where the push-to-start button is also located. Select ‘Drive’ and the full experience becomes clear.

While slightly dull to touch, the throttle control is smooth and the i3 can breach the 0-60mph benchmark in a bristling 7.0s, thanks to 167bhp and 184lbs ft of instant torque from its below-floor 120Ah Lithium-ion battery pack. Throttle-off induces brake energy-recovery that also slows the car significantly, reducing any planned reliance on the brake pedal; one of the undoubted joys of ‘going electric’. With no need for a traditional gearbox, the right-hand pedal is, in effect, an ‘on/off rheostat’.

Accelerate hard on any road surface rougher than a billiard table top and the i3 tends to buck and writhe, even departing the driver’s chosen line, as its deportment goes to pot. In some respects, it feels like the post-rollover A-Class, arising from a group of unwitting Swedish journalists rolling a launch model into a ball, while carrying out an ‘elk avoidance manoeuvre’. Merc went into torrid overdrive, reworking, modifying and massaging the A-Class electronically to iron-out any tendency toward instability. The changes removed any flexibility, positive driver feedback and responsiveness, to leave a witless and remote entity.

The i3 is actually better than that and its ride quality is firm but sporty and grip levels are amazingly good, despite the skinny tyres. Yet, I soon learned that full-bore runs need to be reserved for straight and level roads. Still, an i3 is a comfy place to be, when conducted at a more leisurely pace, but it is encouraging to appreciate that it can tolerate occasional touches of hooliganism.

List priced from £35,180 (pre-discount), the latest i3 has a range approaching 200-miles and is the only truly eco-friendly EV sold today, if you feel enticed to buy one. Mind you, purchase is neither BMW’s, nor Octopus Electric Vehicle’s raison d’etre. Acquire an example through Octopus and you can take advantage of the British EV specialist’s total service package, which can include renewable, domestic electricity supply and the potential of paying 5p/kWh, rather than a National Grid fossil-fuelled rate around four times that figure. Remember that there is NO road tax, NO congestion charge and only minimal maintenance required. The selected term lease rate will be worked into your available budget, which can save thousands of Pounds overall, with Octopus as your guide (octopusev.com).

Living with a BMW i3 does demand a change of mind-set. Those weird side window treatments (intended to provide a better view out) and electric-shock blue outlines to the ‘Double Kidney’ front grille soon become points of familiarity on a high-quality car that does more than just live up to expectations. However, it is a largely pleasant experience fulfilled with every fast-charge of the i3’s batteries.

‘Make Quality Count!’

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