Driving into the future: BMW i3
Will the internal combustion engine become obsolete? A growing list of countries, especially in the First World, is pushing for zero-emission cars by 2050. We test drive the all-electric BMW.
The BMW i3 eDrive is perfect for city driving because it is claimed it can do 200km before having to be recharged. However, this is dependent on driving style, road conditions and a number of other variables. It did less than that when I drove it on the freeway from Joburg to Pretoria.
The choice of electric cars in South Africa is limited - the i3 eDrive and Nissan’s Leaf are the only fully electric ones available. The i3 is a plug-in electric car powered by a synchronous electric motor, with a single gear, drawing from a lithium-ion, high-voltage battery. It produces 125KW of power and peak torque of 250Nm, can go 0-100kph in 7.3 and has a top speed of 150km/h. The acceleration is eerily fast and instant.
The exterior design of the car isn’t particularly exciting but grows on you. It speaks of restrained luxury. The door panels and dashboard are made from a renewable natural fibre, naturally-tanned leather and eucalyptus wood from Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests. This is a nod to the eco-friendly credentials of the car.
The “floating” 10.2 inch infotainment system has SAT-NAV, DAB radio, etc. The single digital screen in front of the driver displays speed, cruise control, battery levels and so on. This design frees up the dashboard making the front cabin feel more spacious. The car can comfortably accommodate four adults.
Access to the rear seats is through rear-hinged “suicide” doors. They can’t be opened independently though - you have to open the front doors first, which is a bit impractical. The gear is leaver is mounted on the steering column and has a simple drive, park and neutral.
What is unsettling is when you switch on the car there is dead silence. Even on acceleration the car makes an almost imperceptible sound. The BMW engineers have done a good job. The handling is pretty good and the suspension is firm but not uncomfortably so. I especially liked the regenerative braking system, where the car recharges under braking. When you anticipate slowing, you down you lift your foot off the throttle and the car automatically brakes and, in the process, you extend the battery life. This became useful in heavy traffic, where I ended up driving with one pedal.
The car comes with a standard charging cable that you can plug at home or work but this one is slower than the fast-charging iWallbox. This home charging box would get your car fully charged in approximately three hours.
The saving on fuel costs is a major plus for this car. I could charge it at home over night, or at the office and, surprisingly, it didn’t consume much electricity.
The interior is upmarket, infotainment system is excellent and the acceleration is exhilarating. Driving the car was a revelation of what brilliant engineering can achieve. The hindrance to it being a big seller in South Africa is the high price of R637 300 and the limited range of 200km. The i3 is sold and supported countrywide; there are BMW dealers throughout South Africa, as well as in Namibia and Botswana. #thefutureishere