BMW i3 First Drive

BMW has finally emerged into the electric world of automotive excellence. Simply put, it’s the i3. In keeping with their engineering superiority recognized throughout the world they unveiled their first production model electric car to the European market in July, 2013. The i3 made it across the Pond to the US market in May of this year. We had a sneak peek of their prototype in 2012 at the Summer Olympics in London and prior to that BMW displayed their concept i3 car at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011.

Their idea of combining the “Ultimate Driving Machine” with the development of a lightweight eco-friendly urban electric car has been stunning. According to John Voelcker (Green Car Report, May 1, 2014) “As of May 2014, the all-electric BMW i3 is the most fuel efficient EPA-certified vehicle available in the U.S. market.”. Available as an all electric with a range of around 80 miles or as a hybrid with a two cylinder gasoline motor with a range of 150 miles. Wired.com says it will charge in 3 hours with 220 volt line and 30 minutes with optional DC Combo Fast Charging setup. It also boasts a mere 8 seconds to travel from 0 to 60 mph and tops out at 93 mph with zero emissions. How’s that for a rear wheel drive eco-friendly screamer? Combine that with luxury, comfort, style and class, what’s not to love?


The Looks:
Let’s talk about style. This new i3 looks awesome.  It’s kinda like a Mini….. hatchback….. on steroids.  Personally, I find it rather unisex in design.  Macho enough for any man and classy enough for any lady.  Many of the design cues on the BMW i3 were done in the name of improved aerodynamics, thus enhancing efficiency. With its smoothed out edges at all corners of the car, the i3 achieves a drag coefficient of just .29, rivaling that of the Tesla Model which comes in at .24. Not too shabby. The i3 design is clearly an evolution of BMW’s older siblings but still retains the aesthetics that identifies it as part of the BMW family. For example, the iconic grills, while not functional, still declare classic BMW. The LEDs that clearly light up your way can be found on many of the other models within the BMW line up.


The Drive:
It’s all about the drive after all.

Irvine BMW (Ca) graciously offered us the keys to one of their classy i3’s.  We tested the extended range version which had a small gas engine that will give you an extra 70 miles or so after you deplete the batteries.  Nice feature.  Four of us – two over six feet tall – clambered into the cockpit and had a most enjoyable two hour tour.  Headroom was adequate and there was enough back seat legroom for the tallest of us.  Also visibility from the driver’s seat was no problem.

First off, the handling was surprisingly responsive, especially with the thin tires.  Maneuvering around town and around other vehicles was pure pleasure.  One of the most profound aspects of driving the i3 was its 0-60 acceleration (approximately 8 seconds) not bad for a car of it’s class. We actually held a Mercedes CLS 550 off the line to about 40+ mph.  Very impressive.

The regenerative braking took a little getting used to. The i3 does not “coast” as you would likely expect from having only driven petrol powered standard and automatic transmission vehicles.  When you let off the accelerator the car immediately slows down, almost as if lightly applying the brakes .  This has a practical effect of transferring power (via kinetic energy from the power train) back to the lithium-ion batteries while easing the demands of the car’s auxiliary requirements.

Driving around town in heavy to moderate traffic required very little actual braking.

Steering the BMW is, well….very BMW. Just as you would expect, very firm and sporty.  The wheel felt very substantial in hand and was responsive. In keeping with BMW’s current offerings, the i3 has a selectable toggle that allows drivers to transition between different vehicle profiles from ECOPro to Sport. The former, being the most eco-conscious, affecting the aggressiveness of the steering, braking, and acceleration, while the latter encourages the i3 to drive with more spirit.

BMW has outfitted the i3 with 4 thin Bridgestone low profile tires. The low- resistance nature of the i3’s tires is yet another measure that BMW has taken in the name of efficiency. To our surprise, the tires did prove to have a great amount of grip when either coming to a stop or zipping around corners. When it came to stopping power, the brakes were more than up to the task.


The Interior:
This i3 comes with three different “worlds” of interior option packages.

Quoting Alexander Stoklosa’s article in Car and Driver, October 11, 2013

“i3 Mega World: Standard 19-inch wheels; navigation; BMW ConnectedDrive; 7.4-kW on-board charger; LED headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights; and “Sensatec” and sustainable cloth interior trimmings. A leather-trimmed steering wheel is also included, but the capacity to overcome the guilt drawn from needlessly killing an animal for steering-wheel embellishment is not.

“i3 Giga World: adds Giga-specific 19-inch wheels; leather- and wool cloth–wrapped interior; decadent contrasting stitching for the leather-wrapped steering wheel; universal garage-door opener; keyless access; a sunroof; and satellite radio.

“i3 Tera World: adds Tera-specific 19-inch wheels, full-leather interior, textile accents with contrasting stitching, and anthracite floor mats.”

The materials, along with the design, although different, still leave the car identifiable as a BMW. Depending on which trim you opt for there is no shortage of equipment and materials with which you can outfit and personalize your i3 to your own unique tastes. Regardless of which options you choose, you can be sure that there will be an abundance of head room.  Even the rear storage area seemed adequate, if not roomy. One of the i3’s greatest party tricks is its split opening doors that lead passengers to the rear seat. One could enter the rear seat without having to slide the front seat forward. Nice touch.


The proposition:
The i3 definitely stands out from the herd of EV’s is it’s class.  BMW has a high standard of engineering excellence and style that it has to maintain and this very drivable little EV marvel is no disappointment.  The various choices of polymers and carbon fiber placement and it’s technological improvements makes this car stand up and stand out.

If you have $41,350 to invest in an eco-friendly, luxurious head-turner, this may be the car for you.  For an additional $3850, the quick charge plug-in can be installed. There is also an extended range version for those who travel beyond this vehicle’s nominal comfort zone.

If you’re not a regular extended mileage driver BMW has introduce a pilot program where your local dealer will allow you to check out a BMW for those longer journeys. This allows you to keep your local commuter vehicle while still being able to travel anywhere in BMW style.  This could save you thousands in upgrades.

We did some dirty math to see just how much this i3 could save you in gas and maintenance.

Figuring a modest 10,000 miles per year an average gas vehicle would consume about 500 gallons at 20 mpg.  With today’s $3.50 per gallon average, thats about $1750.  Then regular oil changes every 3000 miles at about $35 per change, thats  $105. Grand total for one year saves you about $1855. Say you keep this machine for 5 years, you saved just under $10,000. (With no carbon footprint!)


Although not the first of its kind in the world, the i3 is the first EV for BMW following the successful demonstration of the BMW ActiveE and Mini E test cases. And as one would expect, the Germans have done it right. BMW’s debut in the electric car world leaves you wondering if theres anything they can’t do. The handling and design of this inner city commuter allows you to look forward to your drive to work instead of dreading it. In our opinion this car epitomises BMW. Classy and fun as hell. If this is the future of motoring, us “petrol heads” won’t mind so much the necessary transition to alternate power sources.

We would like to thank our friends at Irvine BMW for giving us the keys to this baby for a couple of hours. It made our week.

Welcome to the future ladies and gentlemen.

For more photos from our day with the i3, click here.

Direction: Steven Ngo
Words: Doug Nunamaker
Edits: Noah Nunamaker
Pictures: Tyler Lee