Car review: BMW i3 is smart, futuristic and environmentally friendly

BMW's electric car has a cutting edge design and would be ideal for green GPs, says Dr Tony Rimmer

We GPs tend to have an intrinsic interest in all new technologies. Our medical education is science based and we continue to have a thirst for knowledge and follow the latest medical advances throughout our careers. Most of us are also concerned about global warming and our over-reliance on fossil fuels.

Every large car manufacturer is spending millions of pounds researching and developing alternative fueled cars with more efficient engines. The latest and most advanced petrol or diesel reciprocating engines are no more than 30% efficient. Electric motors are at least 90% efficient and have the added benefit of delivering maximum torque from rest.

Electric cars

This is why electric vehicles (EVs) have such appeal. They are only compromised by the size and weight of their batteries, their range and the national infrastructure available to re-charge them.

Despite these limitations, many people are taking the plunge and buying into the whole EV idea. But is being a first-adopter too risky? Can you live with an electric vehicle as a daily drive?

There are a handful of vehicles to choose from. At the entry level is the well-established Nissan Leaf and the small Renault Zoe hatchback and at the top end is the fantastic but pricey Tesla model S and BMW's i8 supercar. In the middle rank, and a car I think fits well with the GP buyer, is the premium BMW i3.

BMW i3 is smart and stylish

The German maker has been really brave with the styling of their electric car and the i3 looks smart, stylish and futuristic. Extensive use of carbon fibre and aluminium with a plastic bodyshell keeps the all important total weight down and the Lithium-Ion batteries are under the cabin floor. This gives the i3 a tall and narrow appearance that is more like an MPV than a hatchback.

The electric motor produces 168bhp and can power the car for a claimed 80 to 120 miles on a full charge, depending on your driving style.

This, of-course, is the Achilles heel of EV motoring. In the real world the useable range of any electric car is much less than the manufacturers’ quoted figures. I can tell you from experience, range anxiety is a real emotion.

Range Extender model

BMW have gone some way to alleviate this by offering, for an extra £3,000, the Range Extender model. This has a two-cylinder 650cc motorcycle engine in the boot that kicks in to re-charge the batteries when they are running low. It does not power the wheels at all. It has a tiny nine-litre fuel tank and extends the range by about 80 miles.

This certainly reduces range anxiety but long trips are still not to be recommended; filling up every 80 miles is, at the very least, inconvenient.

However, driving the i3 is all about battery powered travel and an overnight seven-hour charge from a domestic socket will give an 80% charge and this should be enough for most urban trips and commuting. It is also supplied with connection leads for free power points out of town and also fast-charging points that are available at a few sites nationwide.

Unfortunately, the charging point infrastructure is also in its early stages of development and there aren’t that many and they are often occupied by other EVs when you get there.

Sustainable materials

The Ford Fiesta sized interior is very different from all other cars with a dual screen dashboard and straightforward controls. Seats and carpets are made of sustainable materials and there is a real light and airy feel to the car helped by the raised seating positions and huge windscreen.

It is quite roomy and cleverly packaged with room for two adults in the back and a flat but high-floored boot.

Entry to the back seats is easy as the rear doors are coach doors that open backwards but only if the front doors are open too. Although this feature is novel, it could be a bit of pain on the school run.

A major saving grace of the i3 is to be found in the driving. This is a really entertaining car to nip through urban traffic. Sharp steering, instant response throttle and a super tight turning circle gives it real dodgem qualities.

What is even more addictive is the regenerative braking. A few pre-set levels allow braking from the motor to top up the batteries and on its highest setting you can almost do away with touching the left pedal with your foot at all; a most satisfying challenge and great fun. Even though you probably wont hit the motorway very often, the i3 is a quiet, smooth accomplished cruising companion.

The i3 has cutting-edge design, innovative engineering and strong performance.

If you are a GP who loves your smart phone, gets excited by the latest electronic gizmos and has strong green and environmental interests, this impressive BMW could be the car for you.

BMW i3
Body Four-seat hatchback
Engine One electric motor (plus petrol 650cc engine to re-charge batteries in Range Extender model)
Power 168bhp
Torque 250Nm
Top speed 93 mph
Acceleration 0-60mph in 7.8 secs
Claimed range Up to 120 miles (up to 190 for the Range Extender model)
On the road price £30,680 (£33,830 – Range Extender model
  • Dr Rimmer is a GP in Surrey and tweets @frankaboutcars

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