Written by: Don Cheng
Photography by: Don Cheng
Featuring suicide doors, a carbon fiber body, electric battery, and petrol motor, the BMW i3 sounds like its got all the right ingredients to match a lot of today’s hypercars. Those materials may sound exotic but the purpose of the i3 isn’t to lay down the fastest lap time on a racetrack. In fact, the i3’s goal is a lot more ordinary.
BMW has gone through a painstaking process to cater their new fleet of electric i-cars for the masses and to make them as efficient and affordable as possible. The i3 isn’t exactly analogous to Henry Ford’s Model T, but there have been some pretty technological and ecological advancements made to bring the i-brand forward.
Being an electric car, the i3 faces a serious weight problem due to the heavy batteries inside it. BMW’s solution was to use exotic lightweight materials, the most famed of which is carbon fiber. It’s also incredibly expensive to mass-produce.
The company overcame this costly hurdle by incorporating a number of new manufacturing processes, among which is a method of heat pressing their carbon fiber into premade molds. The resultant frame – a mixture of carbon fiber as well as aluminum – is 50% and 30% lighter than its steel and aluminum counterparts, respectively.
This makes the i3 technically the first mass-production carbon fibre car in the world, but the folks in Bavaria didn’t just stop there. BMW gets the raw carbon fibre from a plant that’s exclusively powered by locally generated hydropower.
Furthermore, the electricity used at the i3’s production plant in Leipzig comes from renewable energy sources. These efforts go a long way and culminate into a car that BMW claims is 95% recyclable and has a 30-50% smaller carbon footprint during its full life cycle when compared against similarly sized vehicles.
The futuristic approach of production stretches into the design of the car too. Featuring a tall and stubby hood, a narrow stance, and a rather disproportionately long silhouette, the i3 looks unlike anything else on the road.
It’s a love it or hate it look. Regardless of which camp you fit in, the i3 turns heads wherever you go. Personally, I rather like the design: the way the front bumper blends with the wheel arches and fog lights remind me of a cute squirrel with chubby cheeks.
It seems customary for BMW’s i-series to feature some kind of unique door opening mechanism. Just take a look at the i8’s butterfly doors. The i3 on the other hand receives a set of suicide rear doors. Despite the ominous sounding name, they allow for easier ingress and egress for rear occupants.
Fun fact: the B-pillar is attached to the frame of the door, thus the front doors won’t close unless the rear doors are closed first.
Given the unorthodox design, the i3 is technically classified as a 3+2 door hatchback. In a bid to complicate the design even more, the hood flips open to reveal a tiny little frunk (front trunk). It doesn’t hold much save for a small safety kit and spare tools, but at least it lets owners get to quote that one line in Kanye West’s track “Good Life”: “ya’ll pop the trunk, I pop the hood, Ferrari”.
With all of its exotic and reclaimable materials, the cabin of the i3 is a novel experience, yet at the same time it feels awfully familiar too. The two-spoke steering wheel is reminiscent of the first generation MINI Cooper, and the iDrive remains largely the same with the addition of a few extra knick-knacks that show you the distribution of power.
The adjustable driver settings found in other BMWs are also present here. The i3 defaults to Comfort mode when you first start it; there is no more Sport or Sport+. Instead, the adjustable settings offer Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ settings – what’d you expect from an electric car?
Eco Pro maximizes efficiency while still letting the driver retain all of its creature comforts. The system dulls the throttle response and demands less power from the electric motor by limiting the top speed to 120 km/h. With this mode in effect, BMW estimates an added range of 20 km. Eco Pro+ on the other hand takes it one step further by disabling climate controls and limits the maximum speed to 90 km/h.
The 22-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is rated up to 160 km of range on a full charge in comfort. Activating Eco Pro+ squeezes an extra 40 km for a total of 200 km in optimal conditions. Those aren’t bad numbers for anyone living in a major metropolitan area.
For those with serious range anxiety, BMW offers an optional range extender (REx) essentially doubling the range of the car for a maximum of 300 km. REx is a two-cylinder 650-cc 4-stroke petrol engine pulled straight from the BMW C650GT Maxi-scooter. The inclusion of a small gasoline engine does make it sound like a traditional hybrid, except the range extender never drives the wheels of the car. It acts as a generator producing electricity for the 168 hp and 184 lb-ft synchronous AC motor. It sounds purely like a semantic difference but in actuality, this setup makes a huge difference in performance.
Since the gasoline motor never drives the wheels, the driving dynamics of the car never changes. See, one of the benefits of an electric car is the availability of maximum torque at all times, even from a standstill. Traditional gasoline engines need to build up momentum to achieve their maximum torque – this is why it’s important to see when a motor makes peak torque instead of just the quantity.
Even when you’re just about all out of juice and the tiny little scooter motor has kicked in, the i3 still behaves the same. The only difference is the source of the electricity. The downsides? Well, the REx sounds quite annoying. The constant buzzing from the motor is loud and comes from the backseats – kind of like children. Truth be told, it’s probably BMW’s way of punishing you for burning fossil fuels. There is an upside as the REx’s tank is only 7 liters in size. Fill-ups at the pump are short and it feels great to see a total of $5.00 for a full “tank” of gas.
With the dry and nerdy stuff out of the way, the biggest question that still lies in everybody’s mind is “does it still drive like a BMW?” The short answer is yes. Thanks to its short wheelbase, the i3 is an incredibly agile little car. The turning radius is about 2.5 parking spots, which makes it perfect for taking advantage of tight spaces and exploiting empty pockets in traffic.
Bridgestone developed the 155-section “Ecopia” tires wrapped around 19-inch wheels specifically for the i3. The bespoke tires allow for a rubber compound specific to the i3 offering a great blend of performance and efficiency. As an added bonus, the narrow tires also helps cut through patches of water to reduce the chance of hydroplaning.
Start the i3, and you’re greeted with a symphony of warbles and chirrups. It’s a series of noises that sound like they belong in Tom Cruise’s “Minority Report”, but designed to warn pedestrians of the otherwise silent car. The synchronous AC motor is good for 168 hp and the 184 lb-ft of torque and while it may not be class leading, the delivery of said output is instantaneous.
The moment you put your foot down, you’re thrown back into your seat as the car zips up to speed. Equipped with the REx, the i3 goes from 0-100km/h in 7.9 seconds. Without it, BMW claims a time of 7.2 seconds. Those aren’t blistering numbers, but the exhilaration of accelerating and seeing the look on people’s faces as you rocket forward makes up for it. Keep in mind though, the heavier your right foot, the lower your range.
As tested, this particular i3 rang out to $59,218 and represents the tippy top of all i3s. The biggest costs in the build are attributed to the Range Extender (a $4,000 option) as well as the Suite interior trim ($4,600), which adds leather and a larger navigation screen. The cost of entry for such a car has been knocked down by low maintenance costs and a big government incentive (a max of $8,500).
The big caveat of the i3 is with the usable range (which unfortunately diminishes on a really cold winter day), and limited access to charging ports outside the city. Those restrictions make it a car that’s built almost exclusively for the city. Ultimately the i3 represents a looking glass into the future of automotive design. There’s a lot to like about this electric BMW and if you’re looking for a car to suit your urban lifestyle, then this oddball hatchback with funky doors shouldn’t go overlooked.
型号 Model: 2015 BMW i3 with REx
顏色 Paint Type: Arravani Gray
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $44,950
試車售價 Price as Tested: $59,218
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,570
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 3,995 / 1,775 / 1,578
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,395 (without REx - 1,195 kg)
引擎 Powertrain: 22-kWh lithium-ion battery + REx (two-cylinder 650-cc 4-stroke engine)
最大馬力 Horsepower: 168 hp
最高扭力 Torque: 184 lb-ft
波箱 Transmission: Single-speed transmission
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
輪胎尺碼 Tires: 155/70R19