The electric BMW i3 is a significant car.
i3 is available in two forms: either all-electric or with an additional petrol engine that acts as a generator to extend the car's driving range.
BMW's latest compact hatchback features radical exterior styling that is echoed inside the cabin. Apart from the trademark kidney grille, you could be forgiven for thinking i3 was styled by Citroen.
i3 is a big departure from the likes of the 3 Series and new X5. Head-on, the car looks chunky and fresh. Under the bonnet is a large cubby area for the charging cables. Side-on, there is an interesting shoulder line and glass area that ensures rear seat passengers get a good view of the outside world. At the rear there is a well-styled, conventional tailgate that opens to reveal an adequate boot. The electric motor and optional petrol engine/generator, if specified, are housed under the boot floor. The technology used in making the i3 is fascinating, as we found out some time ago at the car's factory.
On the road i3 is a very simple car to drive. With a slight twist of a stubby stalk you engage the drive gear and off you go. Acceleration is very strong and if you press hard with your right foot you will take off at a blistering rate.
Unlike a conventional internal combustion engine, which requires a build-up of engine revs, the simple nature of an electric motor means that there is power from the moment you want it. When you want to slow down you don't really need to touch the brake pedal as there is a large amount of what we used to call 'engine-braking' available. In fact, when you lift off you are harnessing any momentum and regenerating the charge in the battery system.
i3 sits on tall, skinny tyres and about town – and even on the motorway – the five-seat car handles reasonably well. Only crosswinds at speed make you conscious of the car's tallish profile.
About the streets of Amsterdam we put BMW's newest production car through its paces; progress was, as you'd expect from an EV, next to silent, bar a very slight electric milk-float whine. The car has a neat turning circle and all-round visibility is good. At cruising speeds on the open road the road and wind noise dominate and are comparable to most modern cars where you would be unaware of a loud engine note.
Our test i3 was an EV-only example and it had limited range. But for some reason we felt less aware of range anxiety, even though when we reached our first day's destination after some mixed driving there were only 20 kilometres of range left. BMW is launching interactive smartphone apps that inform users of where charge points are. Using a clever navigation system, they will work out the best way for users to get to a destination – even using public transport if traffic is too bad!
BMW has already put a huge amount into its eDrive programme and says it is in it for the long haul. The i3 is a very easy to use machine that, thanks to its premium BMW badge, will attract a loyal and dedicated following. In the near future little (and big) kids everywhere will be pinning posters of BMW's i8 sportscar on their walls too!
Oh, and just in case you're wondering how much electricity i3 takes to register a 'full tank' of juice – so to speak – it's 18.8kilowatt hours!