BMW i3 electric vehicle review: Making savings skating about town

Posted 27 August 2018 by David Spratt

In this exclusive new series of articles, I explore the electric vehicle (EV) options for specific business uses. We are grateful to the car companies* for supplying their EVs to test-drive, charge and parade around Auckland.

Part 1: Evaluating the BMW i3 electric vehicle

The reality for all businesses is that electric vehicles (EVs) have to deliver on the promise of performance, economics and relevance. Many business vehicles never leave town. Whether they are driven from business to business by busy salespeople or thrashed by couriers, what is required is a car that is reliable, fuel-efficient and a bit good looking.

That’s a tough call, up against an existing petrol range of cool kids like the Suzuki Swift, Honda Jazz and VW Polo: especially when new, entry-level petrol models sell for around $20,000 and the i3 costs about $75,000.

Price is not the only factor though.

To test the distance range capability of the i3 I arranged meetings involving a 120km return trip across town: Drury to Albany at peak hour. With the car’s stated range of 180km, I have to say that on my first trip I was not filled with confidence. I wondered whether the i3 could take on the challenge of sitting in that giant carpark known as Auckland’s motorway system, without my ending up on the side of the road, with a flat battery and subjected to the shaking fists of irate rubberneckers.

At the end of that day, I had travelled 120km at the speed of a lame greyhound in nose-to-tail traffic yet ended up with a remaining range of 127km. So, to travel 120km I used 53km of range. This sounds impossible, but the i3 cleverly uses the stop-start acceleration and braking to recharge its batteries – and there was lots of that going on.

Lookin’ good: what’s great about the BMW i3 electric vehicle

The two-door BMW i3 looks sleek, Euro and sophisticated. The software features are very cool, guiding you to the nearest charging station and, if required, planning your route to ensure you don’t end up using the optional two-cylinder petrol backup engine to limp home. The auto-park feature is also excellent, if a little scary the first time you take your hands off the wheel and trust the computer.

Charging it in my garage overnight was a breeze – just plug it into a three-pin socket and walk away. Just as easy was the 30-minute rapid charge at Counties Power in Pukekohe. I literally plugged it in, walked across the road, ordered and drank a cup of tea and returned to a vehicle recharged for free!

I mention free fast chargers and easy home charging for context. The i3 is energy efficient, saving masses of money on fuel, especially since the new local fuel tax had just kicked in. On average each week I spend around $150 on petrol. In the week I had the i3 my electricity bill went up by $10 while my Commodore sat sulking at home consuming no petrol. On an annual basis that’s a fuel saving of $7280. With residual value and fuel savings the economics of an EV look pretty good.

Money savings on petrol stack up quickly.

Money savings on petrol stack up quickly.

Uh oh: problems with the BMW i3 electric vehicle

On the downside, the i3 handles like it is skidding on marbles. Maybe it’s the unusually large wheels, designed to generate more energy, but I never felt comfortable behind the steering wheel in this regard. Road-holding was fine at lower speeds around town but very disconcerting on the open road.

For such an externally large vehicle there is not a heap of room for back seat passengers or for luggage in the boot. Space wise it felt like a reverse TARDIS – bigger on the outside than on the inside.

Overall the i3 appears as if HQ in Germany identified the need to make an electric vehicle but gave the job to a bunch of petrol heads who hadn’t signed up for building a hippy, nippy town car.

BMW: for $75,000 you can do a lot better. Having said that, the first internal combustion cars weren’t exactly things of beauty either.

I gave it a solid 6/10.

*The BMW i3 was kindly provided by BMW and Contact Energy. For detailed specifications visit bmw.co.nz.

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