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First drive: BMW i3 Range Extender. Image by BMW.

First drive: BMW i3 Range Extender
BMW's innovative i3 electric car arrives in the UK. Here's our test of the Range Extender version.

   



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| First Drive | London, England | BMW i3 Range Extender |

Overall rating: 4 4 4 4 4

The revolutionary i3 goes on sale in the UK on November 16th, and we drove the Range Extender version in one of the world's biggest megacities, an environment the i3 should thrive in.

Key Facts

Model tested: BMW i3 Range Extender
Pricing: 28,830 (including Government subsidised 5,000 grant); 36,545 as tested
Engine: synchronous electric motor with lithium-ion batteries, plus a two-cylinder 647cc 37hp petrol engine for maintaining battery charge
Transmission: single reduction gear attached to electric motor, rear-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
Rivals: Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius, Vauxhall Ampera
CO2 emissions: 13g/km
Combined economy: nominal 470.8mpg running in Range Extender mode - full electric range quoted as 75- to 93 miles on a full charge, extra 75- to 93 miles capability in Rex mode, total range 150- to 186 miles
Top speed: 93mph
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Maximum power: 170hp
Maximum torque: 250Nm

In the Metal: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Now they're not wearing hideous camouflage, these early i3s look fantastic. There's no doubting they are futuristic and unlike anything else from any other manufacturer - let alone the rest of BMW's range - and in London, where people tend to keep themselves very much to themselves, the i3 we drove drew plenty of attention. There are some neat details externally, such as the sweeping side window profiles, and the i3 belies its narrow, upright dimensions with a chunky appearance.

The interior is the best bit, feeling truly premium with a 'floating' dashboard that's far removed from that in a 1 Series. The unusual drive selector has made it to production, as have the twin TFT screens for both instrument and satnav displays. I like the steering wheel and its large central boss, which is reminiscent of the robot face of one half of Daft Punk. The seats are very comfortable, access to the rear is pretty good with the rear coach doors wide open and the front seat tilted forward, while there are plenty of cubby holes and useful storage everywhere. However, press the glovebox release button and the flimsy, cheap-feeling lid flies upwards with no damping; it's strangely 'budget' in comparison to the rest of the car.

In terms of the petrol engine sequestered at the rear of this particular model, it doesn't impinge on boot space so the Range Extender (Rex) is as accommodating as the full battery-electric vehicle (BEV).

Driving it: 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Unfortunately, in light my first entertaining drive of a BEV version on a Munich airfield, the i3's dynamics are a little bit more suspect on UK roads. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ride, which is borderline unacceptable on the rougher surfaces of west and south London. Transverse ridges rudely transmit themselves into the cabin, while the i3 crashes over grates and through small imperfections as if you've hit the bump stops. It's much better on less ravaged streets and the ride improves as the speed builds, with a decent amount of compliance at 70mph, but as most UK customers will be using their cars in and around congested cities with rubbish roads, this uncomfortable low-speed ride isn't ideal.

There's also a lot more tyre noise than there should be from something with slender 155 front section rubber. The Rex model has to have wider 5.5-inch rear wheels, due to the extra 120kg weight of the petrol lump, which equates to 175-section rear tyres on the optional 'style 428' 19-inch alloys of our car. Although the absence of engine noise contributes to your awareness of tyre roar, it's still too loud for comfort.

Still, niggles aside, it remains a good vehicle to drive and the extra weight of the two-cylinder engine at the back never really makes itself felt. Understeer is much more prevalent now than it was at Maisach, but that might have something to do with all the test cars wearing winter tyres. The steering is too numb overall, but yet direct enough for darting about in heavy traffic, while that firm ride equates to minimal body roll and the ability to rapidly change direction in a fuss-free manner that is unexpected for a high-sided car like this.

Rex mode is only available once the batteries have depleted to below 75 per cent charge, and for the most part the petrol engine is unobtrusive. It certainly has no obvious effect on the i3's linear performance, although when the engine is recharging the batteries and you're doing less than 30mph, the muffled, offbeat thrum coming from behind the rear seats sounds like someone operating a pneumatic drill in the distance. Whether this annoys you or not will entirely come down to personal preference - and how good your hearing is!

The final facet to note is the extremely strong regenerative braking effect the i3 possesses, which is so forceful that the brake lights come on every time you lift off the throttle. BMW lauds this as 'one-pedal' driving for the city, meaning you can theoretically control the i3 without using the brakes in urban areas. In practice it takes some time to get used to the lack of coasting, as you can often end up well short of a roundabout or junction as a result of lifting the accelerator too early, but as the regeneration mode can stop the car dead, it is possible to tune yourself to this one-pedal ethos in time.

What you get for your Money: 3 3 3 3 3

The i3 is well-specified and you would be more than happy with a standard car, equipped as it is with a raft of EfficientDynamics technology, BMW Business Advance satellite navigation, climate control, Bluetooth and USB connectivity and BMW ConnectedDrive, among other items. It's also a genuine four-seater capable of taking a quartet of adults around a city in near-silence and with zero emissions.

However, brave new electric world or not, the i3 (and Rex model) can be specified with all manner of options, as evidenced by the car we tested, which was fitted with 7,715 of extra equipment - bringing the total cost to a frightening 41,545. Even taking into account the 5,000 Government grant that will lessen the purchase price pain, you're looking at an i3 that is in excess of 36,000, which is a lot of money for a car only capable of 186 miles in total and dependent on public fast-charging points being available for quick replenishment of drained batteries.

BMW will be offering a suite of services to ensure i3 customers keep moving, including i Wallboxes, access to 4,000 UK charging points from all operators, a full support network through its own customer services and even access to other BMW models up to a 5 Series Touring at preferential rates for i3 customers who need to go on occasional long journeys. But the current city-centric concentration of those public charging points means the i3 is unsuitable for rural customers in the UK.

Worth Noting

The Range Extender model is initially predicted to be the bigger seller of the i3 range once it goes sale in the UK, with the full battery-electric version more reliant on a decent charging infrastructure to make buyers opt for it. However, BMW's team at the launch suggested that, as the infrastructure and support systems improve for the BEV, it will overtake the Rex as the UK's best-selling i3.

Summary

BMW's new i3 remains an impressive creation, as it is way more entertaining to drive than anything else even remotely comparable, and it's beautifully built inside and out. In Range Extender guise, it also makes more sense for early adopters as the charging network will take time to come online. But in the longer term, despite the brave solutions outlined to us at launch by the effusive BMW i team, we remain unconvinced about how widespread that support/charging infrastructure will be for UK buyers - and the bigger issue for potential customers will be how the car traverses rough surfaces, as the i3's poor low-speed ride might put some off.


Matt Robinson - 13 Nov 2013



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2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.



2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 

2013 BMW i3. Image by BMW.
 






 

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