It will be 24 years before electric vehicles outstrip their fuel consuming cousins in sales, according to projections by BMW. However, if you’re not willing to wait that long they have been selling two futuristic electric vehicles since 2013 – the compact i3, and the i8 hybrid supercar.
With battery technology improving in leaps and bounds, BMW has updated the i3 and last week we took it for a drive around urban Melbourne, the natural hunting ground of the compact electric runabout.
Appearance isn’t everything
First things first – it has to be said that the BMW i3 is certainly an interesting looking vehicle.
When revealed as a concept car a few years ago its cast was futuristic and far-fetched, as most of these 'out there' designs tend to be.
Yet for the road-ready i3, BMW managed to retain a lot of the styling features of the concept model.
The big news in this updated model versus the original is a 50% increase in battery capacity, from 60Ah to 94Ah. That translates to a solid boost in real world driving range even with a combination of highway driving and using the air-conditioner.
In a practical sense that means the new i3 can become an effective daily driver for a lot of us – the average commute in Australia is less than 30km, giving you more than a few days usage.
With the standard charging cable that’s supplied with the i3, it takes around 14 hours to fully charge the battery, and around 11 hours to charge it to 80%.
There's an optional ‘wall box’ available – basically a special charging unit installed at your home or work – to reduce charging time by around 50%. BMW also claims that the i3 can be charged to 80% battery capacity in just 40 minutes through a public charging point.
For those not ready to fully take the plunge and rely on electric power only, BMW is also offering a range extender option that adds a small motorcycle engine, increasing the range to around 300km.
In a pinch, you can also use the range extender model for longer highway trips, but you’ll need to fill up the 9L fuel tank every 120km or so.
As an all-electric vehicle, the i3 has some curious quirks that make it an interesting vehicle to drive.
Because all of the torque is immediately available from the electric motor, acceleration is very zippy and suits the i3’s presumed urban habitat extremely well.
The official 0-100km/h number of 7.2s – similar to most compact cars - belies its zippy nature. More telling is the rolling acceleration of 30km/h-70km/h of only 2.6s.
The other quirk that takes some adjusting to is the regenerative braking system.
In order to charge the battery up while you’re on the move, the i3 captures typically wasted energy from when you are braking and tops up the battery.
This system effectively turns the i3 into a one-pedal car in the city – you don’t really need to use the brake because as soon as you release the accelerator, the car begins to slow down significantly. This sort of driving style takes a little while to get used to.
As you’d expect the interior fit and finish is excellent and care has been taken to use environmentally friendly materials like eucalyptus in the dash or leather tanned from olive leaves.
We also like the higher driving position (comparable to a compact SUV) and the front seats feel spacious, however like most compact cars it’s a tight squeeze for taller adults in the back and unlikely they would like to spend more than half an hour there.
The only other issue we found is that the i3 would sometimes lose composure over road hazards like potholes or speed bumps.
The technology and connectivity in the i3 is top notch, with two large screens, BMW’s latest iDrive system, and also the BMW i RemoteApp that lets you manage the car from your phone.
The new i3 has always been a car for the early adopter – someone that wants electric drive innovation, an impressive carbon fibre body, the latest technology, and an environmentally friendly message to go along with it.
As one of the most efficient cars in Australia, the i3 94Ah is a big performance improvement over the previous generation, with a very usable real world range and a very practical footprint for urban environments that essentially gets rid of range anxiety.
BMW i3 Pricing:
BMW i3 94Ah Electric Vehicle: From $65,900
BMW i3 94Ah with Range Extender: From $71,900