2014 BMW i3 Review – Brave New World of Electric Luxury Cars

By Steve & Tami Laser

We recently spent three days driving a BMW that had no engine, no exhaust pipes and used no gasoline. The all-new BMW i3 is a radically designed electric vehicle that showcases the auto maker’s advanced engineering capabilities.

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The i3 has a distinctive profile that sets it apart with a dropped beltline. The first thing drivers notice when they open the doors is the “coach-style” design. The front open conventionally while the rear doors swing in the opposite direction for ease of entry and exit.

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Our i3 impressed us with its futuristic design, whisper-quiet cabin and beautifully trimmed interior with real eucalyptus wood. A display screen that looks like a smart phone is mounted behind the steering wheel while a larger tablet-size display is centrally located.

Learning to drive the i3 only takes a few minutes. With the key in pocket or purse, hop in, buckle up and press the brake pedal. Then push the start button on a pod that protrudes from the right side of the steering column. The end of this pod has a lever that you twist to select Drive, Neutral or Reverse.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual with one exception: While you’re underway, lifting your foot off the accelerator pedal causes the car to slow down quickly. It’s part of the regenerative brake system that charges the batteries. You only need to use the brake pedal to come to a complete stop.

The instrument panel shows approximately how many miles are left before the batteries run out of juice. Long before that, it’s wise to stop and recharge. The i3 can fully charge in about three hours using a 220V home-installed Level-2 charger.

Without that option, we relied on ChargePoint’s network of public stations that provide 80 percent charge in 20 minutes. After downloading ChargePoint’s app to our phone, we could see which stations were available, monitor our charging status and remotely start and stop our session.

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The i3’s range is about 80 miles. Three drive modes are selected with a button on the center console. Comfort provides the best performance while using the most energy. Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ increase range about 12 percent.

We used the Comfort mode for most of our driving since we live in a region with steep hills. Eco modes are fine on flat surfaces but slowed us down significantly on the hills. Thus our driving range was reduced to about 45 miles.

The i3 employs space-age construction techniques to reduce weight. The Drive Module is made from aluminum, housing the electric motor, 450-pound lithium-ion battery pack, MacPherson strut front and five-link rear suspension.

The Life Module with its passenger compartment made of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic attaches to the skateboard-like Drive Module.

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To help reduce “range anxiety,” a rear-mounted 650cc, 34-horsepower, two-cylinder gasoline engine “Range Extender” is available that can double the vehicle’s driving range. When battery charge runs low, the Range Extender’s engine starts up to maintain battery state of charge. The Range Extender adds about 330 pounds to the vehicle’s weight including a tiny 2.4-gallon gas tank.

While the regular i3 is classified as an Electric Vehicle, the Range Extender is dubbed a Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle. In addition to adding a tailpipe and generating emissions from the engine, the driver will need to occasionally visit a gas station to fill up the small tank.

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Prices start at $41,350 for the i3 EV or $45,200 with Range Extender. Our EV tester included Giga World trim with Cassia natural leather and Carum Spice grey wool cloth, and 20-inch wheels for a bottom line of $45,850. To lower the cost of ownership the i3 qualifies for a Federal tax incentive of up to $7,500.

If you’re considering an EV like the popular Nissan Leaf or more expensive Tesla Model S, be sure to put the BMW i3 on your shopping list.

BMW i3 press fleet vehicle provided by BMW of North America, LLC. (Prices and vehicle information applies to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All information including prices and specs are subject to change without notice.)

Story, photos and videos © 2014 CarNichiWa

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