BMW i3 First Drive and Hands On: Finally A Luxury EV That Doesn’t Break the Bank

BMW’s i3 is no secret. In fact the car was on display at the LA show late last year. However, BMW wasn’t offering test drives to just any willing participant. Which is exactly what they we’re doing at this year’s CES. And from what I’ve told this is BMWs biggest press event to date. And since this is a radical car it was only fitting.

My test drive lasted all of 10 minutes (aka just a 1 mile circle). Before I jumped behind the wheel, though, one of BMWs engineers gave us a run down of the i3.

BMW i3-003

First off it’s light weight. The i3 is 1,300 lb. less than the all electric 1-series. Total weight is 2,700 pounds (all electric version – more on that in a minutes). Impressive considering there is a slab of batteries running through the base of the car. Weight savings can be found in the wide use of carbon fiber, which has been left unfinished and on display for the “look at me” car enthusiast. Also gone is the center console and b pillar. The result is easy exit and entry to the front and rear seats. It also doesn’t hurt that there are suicide doors, which furthers the i3’s allure.

Outside you’ll find body panels made from thermo plastics and special paint that is resistant to dings – a true city car perhaps. BMW’s familiar kidney grill has been sealed for aerodynamics, and the wheels, while 19-inches in diameters, are very narrow to reduce resistance and improve economy.

BMW i3-004

Inside you’ll find the same level of luxury as a 5-series, and the interior space of a 3-series. My i3 was clad in black leather that received its coloring via an eco friendly process derived from olive oil leaves. The i3’s Connected Drive system is largely nothing new for those who have used the system in the brands other vehicles.  The iDrive jog wheel is now larger for 2014 and like Audi’s system has a touch pad allowing drivers to write with their finger as of it were a stylus. Exclusive to the i3 and the company’s other “i” cars is an accompanying smartphone app that allows owners to view their charge, remaining battery, and schedule heating and cooling remotely. No word, yet, if that LCD key will go into production (or make its way to the i3) but according to my rep it’s still a possibility.

Of note, BMW is looking to complete a fully baked Android version of their smartphone app sometime this year.  It’s not clear when it will be as complete as the iOS version, but I’m told it should arrive shortly.

BMW i3

So how does it drive? Well despite having just shy of 200 lb-ft of torque, its take off is shockingly quick, especially when compared to that of Chevy’s torque heavy Spark EV. As mentioned my drive was very limited but all together I was very impressed. So impressed it solicited an uncontrolled ear-to-ear grin.

There is no disputing the inevitable range anxiety since the i3 is only capable of 80-100 miles of range. Switch to Eco or Eco Pro and you can gather what is said to be an incremental 12% more juice for each mode from the battery. Furthering things, literally, is something called a Dynamic Range Spider, which evaluates route topography, traffic and climate conditions to predict just how far you can go – I’m told BMW is the only one doing this. That said, a full charge requires 3hrs, provided you’ve got a home charging unit installed.  That time can be reduced with a DC fast charging station – 80% in just 20 minutes. And for those looking for a more traditional vehicle there is an optional gas engine that acts like a locomotive to power the electric drive train – it’s a few extra grand.  That all said, BMW was a bit mum on charging times via a 110v connection, but if memory serves correct, and considering it’s a 22kWh battery (slightly larger than the Chevy Spark EV), it should take probably 20 hours for a 100% charge.

BMW i3-002

And then there is price.  The BMW i3 is $41,350 before rebates.  Tack on the optional range extender (i.e. a 2.4g gas tank and engine) and that number jumps a reasonable $3,950 to $45,300.  It’s a big bump in price of Chevy Spark EV, though with that comes an unparalleled amount of luxury, coolness, and a 0-60 time that is 7.1 seconds, significantly quicker than Spark EV.

BMW says preorders will begin this month, with orders arriving on the US East coast likely in the beginning of Q2.

  • 0-60 in 7.1 seconds
  • 22kWh battery
  • Equivalent 170hp and 184lb-ft of torque
  • Thermo plastics and special resistant paint
  • Closed kidney grill
  • 19-inch forged aluminum wheels
  • 2, 700 lb. (1,300 lb. lighter than 1 electric)
  • Interior space equivalent 3 series
  • 80-100 miles basic add 12% for each Eco mode
  • $41,350 before rebate
  • $45,300 with gas

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Christen Costa

Grew up back East, got sick of the cold and headed West. Since I was small I have been pushing buttons - both electronic and human. With an insatiable need for tech I thought "why not start a blog focusing on technology, and use my dislikes and likes to post on gadgets."

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