The opposite of a BMW might easily be the BMW i3.
It?s not that the small BMW isn?t still an ?ultimate driving machine?, it?s just that it does it in such a completely different and un-BMW way. We think one of the BMW honchos took the title from the 1971 Monty Python movie to heart and decided, ?And now for something completely different.?
From the thoroughly original styling to the electric motor with range extender to the carbon fiber construction the BMW i3 is just about as far as you can get from the typical BMW, except in motivation.
Never-the-less, we were surprised by how much we enjoyed driving the i3. The size of the i3 is 11 inches shorter than a Volkswagen Beetle and it weighs from 300 to 800 less (depending on the way each is configured) even though the BMW has a 450-pound battery.
The interior is deceptively spacious, with about the same size interior as the Volkswagen Beetle. The i3 has two conventional doors each mated with two rear opening doors, like the smaller ones on an extended cab pickup. This pillar-less design allows easier access into the rear seat ? although it is still tight climbing in and out, but better than a coupe where you have to climb behind the front seat. The interior is purposely designed for tight city streets. With no transmission tunnel and a low center console a driver can easily scoot across and exit on the passenger side, as an option so he or she doesn?t have to exit on a busy street.
Cargo space is a moderate size with nine cubic feet available behind the rear seat back. There also a little bit of space under the front bonnet, but that space is mostly for the on-board charger cable and tire repair equipment.
The 2015 BMW i3 interior materials are extensively made from renewable sources and recycled materials some of which actually look like natural materials rather than the normal slick finished surfaces. For example, the instrument panel surround and door trims have a fibrous texture made from the Kenaf plant. About 25 percent of the plastics in the interior and thermoplastic parts on the exterior are recycled or made from renewable sourced materials. Even the carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof panel is partially made with recycled materials from the manufacturing process of other components. Dashboard wood trim is crafted from responsibly-forested eucalyptus trees. Even much of the manufacturing process itself is powered by renewable hydroelectric and wind power sources.
One of the most advanced features of the BMW i3 is its unique carbon fiber and aluminum construction. The BMW i3 is a purpose-designed vehicle, rather than from an existing internal combustion car converted to battery power. The vehicle is designed in two parts, the passenger cabin, which they call the Life Module, and the Drive Module. The Life Module is constructed of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic, which is as strong as steel and 50 percent lighter ? it?s also 30 percent lighter than aluminum. The aluminum Drive Module holds the 450-pound lithium-ion battery, electric drive train, MacPherson strut front and 5-link rear suspensions, along with structural and crash components. All the weight saving materials keep the car?s weight to less than 2,600 pounds or about 2,900 pounds with the Range Extender.
The lighter weight of the Life Module components, along with the low-mounted battery, lower?s the i3?s center of gravity and the component placement creates a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution. These combine with an ultra-tight 32.3-foot turning radius and the small size to create well balanced and more engaging drive, especially in the city where it easily zips through traffic.
A 170-hp synchronous electric motor with184-lb.ft.of torque propels the BMW i3 with power from a 22-kWh lithium-ion battery. It uses a single-speed transmission to drive the rear wheels. One of the automotive magazines lists an observed 0 to 60 mph test speed of 6.6 seconds, and BMW says the top speed is limited to 93 mph.
On a full charge, our test car showed a range of 81 miles on the dash mounted meter. That number sometimes would increase to as much as 91 miles from the regenerative braking after descending the mile-long hill from our house to the main highway.
The driver can select from a ?Normal,? “Eco Pro” or “Eco Pro+” modes. The two ?Eco? modes change the vehicle?s operations to stretch the charge by 12 and 25 percent respectively according to BMW estimates. They also restrict performance and the vehicle?s cabin cooling and heating abilities. The ?Eco? modes do have a kickdown function that allows drivers to override the Eco modes when a sudden surge of performance is needed.
One of the most interesting drive features of the i3 is the Single Pedal Driving Concept. When the driver removes a foot from the accelerator the car automatically brakes, feeding power back into the battery through the vehicle?s regenerative braking system. The braking action is so strong, it?s not necessary to use the brakes except for emergencies ? like when someone pulls out in front of you or when the car is stopped on a slope. The system is a bit disconcerting at first, but after a few minutes behind the wheel, we both loved the convenience of ?automatic braking.?
Our test car was equipped with the optional ($3,850) Range Extender. This is a 34-hp, 650cc gasoline engine which starts when the battery charge reaches a certain low level. The gasoline engine is used to recharge the battery and starts automatically ? it has nothing to do with physically powering the car. The gasoline engine is fueled by a 2.4-gallon tank and roughly doubles the range of the i3. The Range Extender does add about 330 pounds to the vehicle weight, but it?s the best way we?ve seen to curb the dreaded ?range anxiety? which is so common with electric vehicles.
Like the car itself, the trim level names are unusual. The base Mega World model has features like 19-inch extra-efficient forged aluminum wheels, BMW Navigation, BMW Connected Drive with eCall, the BMW i Remote, 7.4 kW on board charger and LED headlights, DRLs and tail lights. The Giga World trim adds leather and wool cloth interior, Comfort Access, a sunroof, and satellite radio. The top-of-the-line Tera World, adds unique wheels, a luxurious full leather, olive leaf-tanned interior, with textile accents and contrasting stitching, and anthracite floors mats.
Pricing starts at $43,350, including the destination charge, for the Mega World. The Giga is $44,850 and the Tera $45,850. The Range Extender adds $3,850. Other available options include a Parking Assistant Package ($1,550), Tech and Drive Assistant ($2,500), Premium Audio ($800), level two charge station ($1,080) and a maintenance upgrade ($1,895).
The performance and agility make the 2015 BMW i3 entertaining to drive without the normal range anxiety. Although the price is higher than some of the other available electric cars, the value is excellent.
Joining the dramatic electric-powered BMW i8 sports car, the 2015 BMW i3 is one of the most interesting cars we?ve driven this year and certainly maintains the company?s ?Ultimate Driving Machine? theme, but from a different perspective. For more information about the new electric lineup go to http://www.bmwusa.com/standard/content/innovations/bmwi/default.aspx .