THE I'S HAVE IT (some text hidden)
By Jonathan Crouch
Introductionword count: 130
At its launch in 2013, BMW's i3 was an electric vehicle unlike any we'd previously seen. It could be bought either in pure electric form or with a Range Extender petrol engine added to prolong the period owners could travel between potentially rapid charge-ups. The light weight of a specially developed state-of-the-art carbon fibre and aluminium chassis further help with extending that mileage and, along with the startling power of the battery pack, this also plays its part in creating the kind of dynamic driving experience you simply wouldn't expect an electric vehicle to be able to provide. But then this is BMW's approach to EV motoring. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Here, we evaluate the original 2013 to 2017-era version of this i3 as a potential used car buy.
Modelsword count: 12
Models Covered: Compact 5-Door hatch - i3 full-electric / i3 Range Extender
Historyword count: 357
BMW were the first of the prestigious brands to enter the mainstream part of this electric vehicle market with this car back in 2013 - the i3. In size, as you can see, it's not a lot different from the kind of smartly badged small Audi, Mercedes or BMW that, in decently pokey diesel automatic form, would cost you about the same. The concept on offer here though is far more forward-thinking - that of offering zero emissions in a premium package, yet at an affordable price. Such an objective might sound straightforward but the engineering necessary to deliver it is anything but. Hence the reported £2 billion development cost for this, the first in a whole series of alternative drive i-branded models we'll be seeing from the Munich maker. Like its sister model, the hybrid i8 sportscar, this is a very different take on EV motoring, designed from the ground-up as an electric vehicle and unusual in this segment in its use of rear wheel drive and its emphasis on an engaging at-the-wheel experience. It's groundbreaking too in the lightweight chassis and bodywork solutions that have left it far less heavy than other pure electric rivals. That enabled BMW to fit larger lithium-ion batteries that helped with the operating range, which in real-world terms was around 80 miles with the originally-launched model. Things improved greatly in 2016 when a new 94Ah/33kWh battery unit increased that range by almost 50%. Buyers still not convinced by that can get themselves the alternative 'Range Extender' version with a tiny two cylinder petrol engine out back that almost doubles the length of journeys you can take between potentially quite rapid charges. A facelifted i3 range was launched here in early 2018, complete with an extra, slightly more potent i3s derivative. Here though, our focus is on the original 2014-2017-era model. In some ways, the i3 is a car of contradictions. An individual choice, yet with mass appeal. And an eco warrior that a petrol head might also enjoy. Ultimately though, it's a BMW born to be electric - which ought to be a very good thing indeed. Let's find out.
What You Getword count: 1577
One thing's for sure - you're not going to mistake the i3 for any other BMW. Interestingly, the German brand elected to first clothe its futuristic eDrive technology with equally futuristic bodywork, rather than simply install it into a familiar existing model, a safer approach that the Volkswagen Group took with its rival eGolf and Audi A3 etron models. Doing something similar would certainly have been less risky than producing a design as wilfully extravagant as this. It would have been easier and cheaper too. After all, prior to the launch of this i3 in 2014, this Munich maker had already developed hundreds of MINI E and BMW 1 Series Active E prototypes that enabled potential customers across Europe to test the new technology. So why didn't they go that route with this i3? Well, because in doing so, they would have created just another electric car, rather than the definitive EV. Think of two of the main reasons why you might be hesitant to buy a model of this kind - restricted range and stodgy handling. Both have a lot to do with the heavy weight a vehicle of this sort has to carry around. Reduce that weight and the car becomes lithe, agile and able to go a lot further between charges. Sounds simple doesn't it? Problem is, there's only so much you can do to reduce the bulk of the battery pack. What you can do though in developing this kind of car is to reduce the weight of the bodywork that surrounds that battery and the chassis it sits upon. But only if you design the thing from scratch. Simply stick a battery propulsion pack in a vehicle originally designed for a combustion engine and compromise creeps in, with space wasted where components like the fuel tank and exhaust system would normally be housed. Plus you've the original version's heavy steel underpinnings to take into account. Now you see why a stand alone model like this i3 was necessary. Going from a clean sheet of paper, the BMW eDrive design team could create a lightweight body perfectly balanced to suit the specific needs of its electric powerpack. That weight saving could then be 'invested' in larger batteries to improve the operating range. That was the idea; the i3 represents the reality, with bodywork fabricated from the kind of aluminium and carbon fibre mix you'd find on a McLaren P1 supercar or an F1 Grand Prix racer. Those are the headlines, but the reality is that most of the carbonfibre used is blended with plastic - which sounds far less exotic. Still, what's important is the end result. Without the batteries, what we have here would be easily the lightest car on the market. Even with them, this BMW still only tips the scales at about 1.2-tonnes - about the same as a conventional Ford Fiesta and between 200 and 300kgs lighter than pure EV rivals like Renault's ZOE and Nissan's LEAF. That's impressive but whether it all justifies a design quite as curious as this one is a judgement potential buyers will have to make. Just about the only car that we can think of that looks anything like it in profile is Audi's old A2, another design thought of as being well before its time. The i3 is much bigger than the A2 though, measuring four metres in length, which means it's a few centimetres longer than a Ford Fiesta but, at nearly 1.6m high, quite a bit taller. Having said that, you don't see too many Fiestas riding on 19-inch wheels like those included here - unless you've got a few old copies of Max Power stashed away somewhere. We certainly like the front end, which introduced some subtle new vocabulary to BMW's well-established design language. The Munich maker's familiar front kidney grille is present and correct, but it's purely cosmetic as the electrically powered i3 doesn't require any cooling air, even if you do choose one with the supplementary petrol engine out back. Positioned at the same height are sleek, characterful headlamps which sweep back well into the flanks and are framed by U-shaped LED light units. A neat black border connects the lower edge of the apron with these circular fog lights. Move around the car and the aesthetics get a little more controversial, with the major signature feature being what BMW calls a 'black belt', this made up of darkly-coloured panels that extend from the bonnet over the roof into the rear with its starkly-styled vertical tailgate, a hatch be-jewelled with 'floating' LED light units. If you're shocked by that, a closer look at the side profile will cause an ever greater double-take. Yes, the familiar so-called 'Hofmeister kink' that characterises the trailing edge of the rear side windows on nearly all BMW models is present and correct but you'll look in vain for anything else to visually connect this extravagant design with anything else you'll find in one of the Munich maker's showrooms. Perhaps the most curious touch is the sudden dip in the pronounced 'streamflow' shoulderline just rearwards of the front doors. It's apparently there to create a larger side window surface for the rear passenger compartment but it looks like a bit of an after-thought. You'll be glad that it's there though, if you have to take a seat in the rear, which would otherwise be a bit of a black hole. And pretty impossible to get to were it not for the opposing coach-style doors that open to reveal the lack of the kind of central B-pillar that almost every other car in the world has to have. Back seat occupants would be pretty much trapped if this BMW had one but the bodywork and chassis of an i3 are so stiff, it isn't necessary. So it is that, rather against the odds, what we have here is a car that's incredibly easy for anyone of any age to get in and out of. It is unfortunate though that the rear door can't be used until the front one has been opened - which means that you'll always have to act like a chauffeur when dropping the kids off on the school run. Talk of children brings up a potentially deal-breaking point for a family folk with three offspring. Namely that only two people can actually be accommodated back here, even though three would probably fit at a squash thanks to the lack of the usual centre transmission tunnel. Some kids won't like the fixed side windows either. On the plus side, those passengers you can take will enjoy reasonable rear legroom (thanks to the thin front seats) and plenty of headroom (even with a sunroof fitted), although because there's a battery pack under the floor, your feet and knees are a bit higher than would otherwise be the case. It's certainly a flexible space, the completely flat floor making it possible to easily shimmy across the car and exit on either side. Which you can also do up-front: there's a totally flat floor there too. Here, the roomy feeling you get comes with no caveats thanks to the low windowline, the tall airy cabin and, if they've been fitted to the car you're looking at, the optional glass roof panels. There's no conventional instrument cluster - just two high-definition LCD screens, one behind the steering wheel and the other (either 6.5-inches or optionally 10.25-inches in size) sited at the top of the centre console and big enough for rear seat folk to see. The gear selector and start/stop button share a stalk projecting from the steering column and you engage gears using a rotary controller, which moves forwards or backwards. The central design element is an arc of trim extending from the air vents on the left-hand side of the cockpit, which continues behind the steering column and reaches its full height above the usefully deep top-lidded glove box. This surface could be specified by original owners in eucalyptus wood and around it lie other renewable materials like naturally treated leather, wood and wool. Everything centres around eco-minded sustainability, with 25% of the plastics that would normally be used in an interior of this sort replaced with recycled or renewable elements. The leather used is treated solely with natural substances, but we're less keen on the material used on the instrument panel surround and door trim panels which apparently use fibres from the kenaf plant. Maybe so but it still reminded us of loft insulation. Still, it would certainly impress your green-bearded friends. Original buyers in search of luxury were offered three different trim packages by BMW ('interior worlds' as the marketers rather pretentiously called them). 'Loft', 'Lodge' and the top 'Suite' trim level add things like eucalyptus wood, velour floor mats and stitched leather. That only leaves the boot, which offers a relatively restricted 260-litre capacity thanks to its high floor. That's quite a bit smaller than that you'll find in theoretical all-electric competitors like Renault's ZOE and Nissan's LEAF. Having said that, it is bigger than the trunk you'll find in a Ford Focus Electric and about the same size as that provided in what is probably this car's closest market rival, Volkswagen's eGolf. There are rubber tie-down straps and lashing eyes plus an under-floor compartment but if you do need more room and can fold down the 50:50 split rear bench, you'll create a completely flat surface feeing up 1,100-litres.
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Category: Hybrid, Plug-in, Electric & Hydrogen
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