BMW i3 – First Impressions

On November 16th 2013 BMW launched the all new i3 electric car, and during the first two weeks BMW has taken orders of more than 10,000 i3. As of today, there is six months waiting time, if you want to buy one.

I have  had the opportunity to drive an i3 in and around Munich for an hour – here are my first impressions.

The BMW i3 is compact car, about the size of a VW Golf. First thing you notice when you get into the front seats is the easy access, because the doors are quite wide, and you sit somewhat higher than in other cars (except SUVs). The cabin is very spacious in the front, and the look and feel of the interior is friendly and natural. There is funny enough a distinctive ‘Scandinavian Design’ feel to it. If you like the design of BoConcept, you will feel very much at home in the i3.

Driving the i3 is very different from conventional cars – and amazingly easy: Press the ‘Start’ button, switch the little lever at the steering column to ‘D’ (drive), release the parking brake, and press the pedal. And I stress THE pedal, because, although there certainly is an ordinary, very effective brake pedal to the left of THE pedal, you hardly ever need it for anything other than unexpected situations, like an emergency stop. The wonderful thing is, when you ease or lift off THE pedal, the electric engine slows the car down, actually recuperating energy from the deceleration and charging the battery. So instead of destroying (kinetic) energy by turning braking into heat, you regain energy by braking without using the brake pedal. You would be surprised, how quickly you adapt to this driving style, which – by the way – is much more economic, fluid, and relaxed than constantly alternating between throttle and brake pedal.

If you feel like it, however, there is nothing standing in the way of driving the i3 very swiftly, because the acceleration is absolutely extraordinary, outperforming the vast majority of conventional cars from 0 to 80 km/h. The electric motor has so much power and torque right from standstill and up to the legal speeds in and around urban areas, that it never feels underpowered – on the contrary. And the steering and handling of the i3 is exactly as precise and pleasant as you can expect it from a modern BMW, so the car is very agile and a lot of fun to drive. Electro mobility in the form of the i3 definitely doesn’t take the fun out of driving.

The i3 has a smaller turning radius than other cars of the same size, making it very easy to park, turn around, or maneuver in a tight space – also because of the seating position and good visibility.

Another thing you notice is, that it is very quiet in the i3. Not just because there is no combustion engine and exhaust sound, but also because the car is very well sound insulated from the outside world. The most of what you hear is a whizzing sound from the electric motor when you accelerate quickly. But it is actually a pleasant sound, reminiscent of an airplane gaining speed on the runway, before taking off(!) You can also hear the wheels, but not very much, because they are narrow; and of course you will hear some wind noise at Autobahn speeds above 130 km/h. In fact, the noise level is so low, that you can actually enjoy music – even classical music – while driving the i3.

What is there to complain about with the i3? Well, it depends on what you compare it with. Each type of vehicle has its particular advantages, and no car is perfect for everyone (thank God). The i3 is, in my opinion, a fantastic car for urban and sub-urban mobility, as well as for commuters that drive up to 50-60 kms each way, and for other personal or business driving needs within a daily 150 km range. For everything else, there are other choices. For now, the range is limited compared to conventional cars – but over the next few years there will be many more quick charge stations, and I am convinced that battery capacity and technology will improve significantly, so you will be able to go much farther per charge.

BMW has taken a big innovative leap with the i3 and possibly brought the first viable and sustainable, mass production electric car of the 21st Century to market.