2014 BMW i3: First drive review. Is the new electric city car enough of a BMW?

2014 BMW i3: First drive review. Is the new electric city car enough of a BMW?
December 17, 2013 | posted by The Institute

Source: editorial.autos.msn.com

By: Doug Newcomb

It's not an overstatement to say that the i3 is one of the most significant vehicles ever introduced by BMW, and the company has a lot riding on its success. While the German automaker has a long, successful history of producing performance-oriented luxury cars, this is its first all-electric vehicle. It's also the debut of BMW's new and separate EV-only i brand.

Beyond being BMW's first major stake in the EV market, the company believes the i3 "heralds the dawn of a new age in electromobility," a company official proclaimed at a test-drive MSN Autos attended in Amsterdam. While this may sound like the customary PR puffery that comes with the launch of almost any new vehicle, the i3 does mark a huge shift for the company, and for reasons that run deeper than the car's radical exterior and interior design.

BMW has grand plans for how the i brand will fit into the future of transportation, but what we wanted to know is what it's like to drive the i3 on today's roads — and whether consumers should consider buying one when the car hits U.S. showrooms in 2014. That likely depends on two factors: How loyal you are to the brand if you're a dedicated previous owner, and whether you're less of a BMW fanatic but simply want an upscale but downsized EV.

Model lineup

The U.S. version of the i3 will be available in three trim levels: Mega, Giga and Terra. All three come standard with air conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED daytime driving lights, a backup sensing system, USB and auxiliary-in ports, hands-free Bluetooth, BMW's base-level navigation system, and a charging cable for use with a standard residential 110-volt electric socket.

Options include a rearview camera, automatically dimming rear-view and exterior mirrors; adaptive cruise control with a fully automatic stop-and-go function; BMW's Traffic Jam Assistant to keep a car centered in its lane; pedestrian recognition and collision warning with automatic braking under 37 mph; and automatic parking. Some of these are grouped into option packages and some are standard on higher trim levels.

An example of how different the i3 is from other BMWs — and how the company considers it just a piece of the transportation puzzle — is that it will come with features that aren't even part of the car. An Intermodal Routing feature found on the BMW i remote smartphone app will indicate to a driver when it may be better to take alternative forms of transportation such as trains and busses when the traffic gets too heavy to continue by car. Another is the availability of "long-range" loaner vehicles for when an i3 owner wants to take a trip that exceeds the battery's range.

Under the hood

The BMW i3 uses an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. The hybrid synchronous electric motor has a maximum output of 125 kilowatts (170 horsepower) and a peak torque of 184 lb-ft. The rear-wheel-drive car uses an integrated differential gear and the transmission is single-speed.

According to BMW, acceleration from zero to 60 mph takes 7.2 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 93 mph. The car has three drive modes — Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ — that balance performance with range.
BMW said range under "everyday conditions" is approximately 80 to 100 miles in Comfort mode. This can be increased by about 12 miles in both Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ modes. An optional 2-cylinder "range extender" gasoline engine that adds 34 horsepower and maintains a minimum charge level for the battery increases range to around 185 miles.

The i3's battery can be recharged from a residential electrical socket, an optional BMW i Wallbox, or at public charging stations. A card that comes with the car allows owners to use the ChargePoint network of public pay-as-you-go charging stations