If you'd have approached me a few days ago and asked me which BMW model I'd pick to drive out of their entire range, I'd have picked the electric puppy that you and I know as the i3. For me, it's the most exciting car of recent memory and something that I feel very drawn to. Maybe it was because I'd heard so many people sing it's praises already, or maybe it was the excitement of driving something more futuristic than what I'm accustomed to. Let me tell you something right off the bat; when I did get to drive it, I wasn't disappointed.
Let's kick this off by going over the first impressions and exterior design. This has been something of a controversy with the BMW i3. Some people have called it some rather rude things, "ugly" and "weird" being the most common of these. Our opinions on design are of course personal to each and every one of us, but to me this is an exciting, modern, and very refreshing looking car. It doesn't really look like anything else on the road right now, and that ocular refreshment surrounding its general appearance is a real feather in its cap. It isn't the only one either.
Once you've got into the i3, you'll find that you're sat in front of a rather unique dashboard. It's far more minimal than what we're normally used to as drivers, for a start there isn't an instrument cluster. You have two screens in the car, one is a larger screen for the infotainment system which is situated in the centre of the dash. The other is a small screen in front of the steering wheel, providing you with your speed and other little nuggets of information, most notably there is what I would describe as a sort of "power pendulum". This is a little on-screen display that depicts both how much charge you are using, and how much charge you are gaining. It swings between those two opposite sides, depending on what inputs the accelerator pedal is receiving.
If you let your eyes stray from the screens, you'll find the cabin is extremely spacious and airy. This can be put down to the i3's unique construction, but all you need to know is that it gives you a fantastic interior environment. Some of the interior of the car is made from recycled materials, and while this wouldn't normally work inside a BMW, I have to say it kind of does in the i3. All of these little features really enhance that futuristic feel the whole car has been building on since you first set eyes on it. It's a very clever, very thoughtful design that's slowly building on your expectations and anticipation, all leading to the best part; the driving experience.
You know that there isn't going to be any sound, yet you're still a bit surprised when you begin to drive off silently. I caught myself subconsciously playing engine noises in my head to help transition into this new mode of propulsion. Near-silent acceleration is a very exciting experience though, and that excitement is accentuated by the instant torque available to you. If you want to go, you leap forward briskly, so briskly in fact, that between 0-32mph this little i3 is actually faster than a V8 BMW M3. That's all down to that instant torque that electric propulsion provides, and the thrill this provides makes this a genuinely fun car to drive when you've found some open roads. Pace isn't much fun without precision, but the i3 has that covered too. Considering this car rides on super thin eco-tyres, the grip it has is really very impressive indeed, it's very hard to upset the car around a corner and the feedback you receive as the driver means that you always seem to know what the car is doing underneath you, a very traditional "BMW" characteristic. The downside to this is that you pay for this with a rather firm ride, I'd personally like to see this car be a little bit softer.
The accelerator pedal is a very interesting entity in this car, and that's mostly because it's the only pedal you really need. When you lift off, the car harvests energy through the wheels, and as a result the car slows down quite dramatically. It feels like a mild braking effect. What this means is that you tend to just lift instead of actually switching your foot over to the brake pedal. After a few minutes, you adjust your driving style to the tendencies of the car, lifting earlier before corners that you'd normally brake for. Now, you might be thinking this sounds a little dangerous but it really isn't. The effect of lifting is strong, and you'll find you'll slow down more efficiently for corners, gaining energy as you do so.
Driving the BMW i3 is a very different experience to driving a car powered by combustion. It's remarkably relaxing, projecting an aura of tranquility upon both the driver and occupants. I drove it down some beautiful country roads, and you could really enjoy little things like the sound of the birds singing in the trees, or the smell of the spring blossom. That's something a more traditional refined and quiet car will give you, but this was in some way different. I've wrestled with what it might be whilst putting together my thoughts on this car, and I can only assume that it's a combination of multiple aspects of this car. Design, engineering, philosophy, feel, and of course; the environment I was in. Pretty interesting though isn't it. I'd like to see what this car does to the heart rate of it's occupants.
Whatever your heart rate might be whilst driving it, you might find it goes up a bit when you come to ask about the price. This car isn't cheap, you'll easily pay £35,000, and you may well get over £40,000 depending on what options you choose. You do get a £5,000 UK Government grant though, and it's worth baring in mind that this is really rather new technology. You're buying an electrically powered, carbon fibre and aluminum constructed BMW that is, aside from a wallet-ravaging Tesla, easily the most desirable eco-car in the world. If you're interested, and I think you should be, I would take a visit to your local BMW i-dealer to discuss your range requirements and driving habits to truly find out if this is the car for you. BMW are being very rigorous in assisting customers make the decision that is right for them, and for that they must be commended. They're very helpful and very knowledgeable about the new product they are selling, maintaining an awareness of the restrictions of the new technology.
The future is coming and I'm delighted to report that there's nothing to be afraid of. The BMW i3 is a highly exciting and fresh car that is, in its own way, just as wonderful to drive as any of it's stablemates. I suggest you get out there and experience one for yourself, because in the BMW i3 we have a serious threat to any small combustion engined cars.