Finally in the spring, I saw my first i3, and it is absolutely a head turner; you have never seen a car like it; because there has never been a car like it. The first models I saw on the street were in an orange/pumpkin-like color combination, which, as my mother used to say, would not be my choice. I saw a pretty good looking one in white with black trim. The i3 in my driveway is, I love these lofty official color names, Laurel Grey Metallic with the BMWi frozen blue accent. I generally don’t like dark colors on a car; but I like this; and I love the hint of blue in the front grille and on the lower side door panels.
The BMWi series, the i3 I am driving and the space-age i8, are electric cars built from the ground up. 100% new. They didn’t just take a 3 series and put a new engine in; instead BMW designed an entirely new manufacturing process for what may be my favorite part of the entire car; what they call the “life module,” and I would simply call the interior or the cabin.
On the outside, I would say the BMW i3 has the footprint of a small car; around the same size as the Prius or the Leaf. But on the inside, the full cabin space has the similar total interior volume of a BMW 3 series. There is ample room and comfort from the single most important position; the driver’s seat.
Let me get all-superficial for a moment. The interior cabin looks great. I have the, more official names now, Giga Cassia Natural Leather & Carum Spice Grey Wool Cloth. It’s light, modern, and beautiful. The remaining trim in the cabin is all made from recycled woods and carbon fiber. I wish I had a study or man cave in my own home that looked as nice as the i3 does from the inside.
The easily adjustable heated seat has a great driving position; and there is, I don’t know a better way to describe it, a vastness to the front windshield. BMW says the car is equipped with super-ergonomic controls; I don’t know what that means, but what it means to me, is everything is easy to find and where it is supposed to be. The center console screen is right-sized, not at all tiny, and not too big; so the Sirius/XM/FM radio is easy to see and operate, as are all the maps and various ways the car communicates with the driver.
Prior to my i3 experience, I spent a few weeks behind the wheel of the BMW 6 series M, with every single bell and whistle imaginable. I don’t find that I am missing anything at all behind the wheel of the i3.
A few last interior notes. The car features what has long been colloquially described as suicide doors. Where the front doors open in traditional fashion and the smaller rear doors open out from the center. I find this actually easier in getting the kids in and out of the backseat. Speaking of the back seat, it is perfectly serviceable. My most frequent passengers are my kids and their friends. You can easily have yourself plus 3 passengers in the car. If you are taking the entire soccer team, this isn’t the right car for you. But I have never been stymied by lack of interior space. The rear hatch opens big and wide and has a perfectly fine amount of trunk space; and the back seat folds down flat if you are the type that takes your boogie board with you everywhere.
Now, to what matters most. How does the i3 drive? Perhaps I can engage you in a little demonstrative exercise. Please, indulge me. Snap your fingers. How long does it take from the moment you snap your fingers to the moment you hear the sound? That’s how fast the i3 is. Officially timed at 0–30 MPH in 3.5 seconds, my car is faster than that. You press on the accelerator and off you go. Boom. Real quick. Freeway acceleration shows absolutely no strain, and the i3 can keep up with and/or pass anything. It is a good thing that I drive to work at 5 a.m. in the morning. The steering is tight and responsive. The i3 is all electric AND all BMW.
Some EV drivers are very interested in wringing out every last watt of energy and translating that to mileage. If you are into those sorts of range games; the i3 has three driving modes. I am a “comfort” person all the way, there is also ECO PRO, and if Ed Begley Jr. were driving the car, ECO PRO+. The car features a brake energy regeneration system; oh, and at 124 MPGe, the EPA lists the i3 as the most efficient electric car sold in the U.S.
Many people have asked me for the years I have been driving electric, “what if you run out of juice and there are no charging stations around?” This fear has now been given an official psychological term; it is called “range anxiety,” and since the father of modern psychology Sigmund Freud was born in Austria, leave it to his German neighbors at BMW to cure this ill. My i3 has, as an option, something called a “range extender.” Basically, it is a small gasoline powered engine; and a super small gas tank; that in the event you absolutely run out of electric power, will provide power to the batteries of the i3 to keep you going. This device is pure Prozac to those who worry about these kinds of things. I never do worry; and in my 2500 mile test drive, I have purchased all told; one gallon of gas. O N E. Not going to the gas station is the single greatest reliever of most the anxieties I deal with.
A little bit more about range. The EPA says the i3 can travel 81 miles on a single charge, and a total of 150 miles if the range extender is used as well. In my own experience, and I like to go fast, I think those estimates are probably a little high if you drive like I do. On any given day I probably drive about 30 miles a day. Brentwood into Hollywood; an errand somewhere, some trip with the kids; and back home. I have more than enough pure electric power to last all day. I have taken the i3 on longer drives; from Brentwood to Hollywood, to Costa Mesa, to Diamond Bar and back home, all in one day, and I was fine. If you have a massively long daily drive, the i3 may not be for your needs.
Now the bottom-line about the bottom-line. Our pals at the EPA say “going electric” can save more than $9,000 in fuel costs if you drive an electric car for 5 years. We all know that gas is fairly inexpensive right now; but do you sincerely believe it will always stay that way?
The i3 represents a far cleaner, far more efficient, far better way to drive; both now and into the future. Before I accept my own award from Greenpeace, you should also know that the 2013 World Green Car of the Year was the Tesla Model S; the 2014 World Green Car of the Year is the BMW i3.
There are dozen of other features, including the self-parking feature of the i3, I didn’t dwell on because, to be honest, I haven’t used them yet.
What I want the most is the get from “A” to “B” with speed, style, safety and comfort. I was already sold on electric cars before I experienced the i3. Maybe I love the i3 so much because it just reinforces my own opinion that I was right to begin with. All that, and some amazing and impressive engineering breakthroughs that you really have to drive yourself to experience.