“In town, the BMWi3 is the perfect shopping cart, extremely manoeuvrable and the fastest parker in town!”
It is suggested that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery though it’s doubtful that belief is enthusiastically shared by folks in the fiercely competitive auto business.
Nevertheless, to quote another common saying, all is fair in love and war. So, prepare to see clones or lookalikes of the all-electric, BMW i3 emerging from the production lines of major manufacturers in the next few years.
In Detroit recently, my head spun when I clapped eyes on Chevy’s all-electric Bolt, even its rusty colour was similar to the i3 I drove at the launch in Amsterdam in 2013. As I remarked at that time, the compact eco-Bimmer has a funky look and its one that’s gaining traction especially among the younger generation.
My head spun again the other week when I picked up a production version to test in local conditions from Brian Jessel BMW in Vancouver. It was identical to the Dutch example! Well, not quite. It did have an additional feature not present in the launch model. It had a range extender, which is marketing-speak for a two-cylinder, 647cc gas engine. It doesn’t drive the wheels but kicks in as an electricity generator designed to top up the battery when it runs low.
It’s a must addition for Canada unless your daily trek clocks up no more than the promised 130-160 kilometres range when setting out with a fully-charged battery or you don’t have access during the day to the charging stations now springing up in many urban core parking lots.
Based on my Dutch experience and a few days buzzing around the Fraser Valley, the top end is a shade optimistic, especially in poor weather when one tends to crank up the heat. Mind you, with a starting price just short of $45,000 the $4,000 generator pushes that already substantial cost up significantly. The nine-litre gas tank that feeds the tiny engine boosts the range to around 300 kilometres.
What is indisputable is just how much fun this car is to drive. In town, the BMWi3 is the perfect shopping cart, extremely manoeuvrable and the fastest parker in town! The lithium-ion battery, housed in an aluminum cage below the five-seater cabin, enables the electric motor to mimic a race car at the green and back into a tight spot equally quickly!
You think I jest? After seven seconds of acceleration, the display shows 100 km/h. The need to pass fast on the freeway is also easily achievable with a five-second count between 80 and 120 km/h.
Drive like that all day and the gas engine will be firing up in no time but the power is there if you need it. Drive sensibly and to the prevailing weather conditions and you will get close to the advertised range. Sticking to the sluggish EcoPro and EcoPro+ modes will add 20 and 40 km to the range. Nah.
But it’s not just about operator proficiency: The carbon-fibre body is light and regenerative braking constantly tops up the cells. Using a regular domestic power point, I was able to recharge the i3 overnight and if you install a fast charger, you can be back on the road in three hours.
Interestingly, the BMW Group has partnered with the live transit information service Moovit (IOS and Android apps available). The app is an interactive service that informs the user about local transit options once you have parked up and plugged in the i3. Crowd sourced information also tells you which forms of transport are full and where there are delays. You can take advantage of this fabulous app without the need to shell out for an i3!
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