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2014 BMW i3

Quiet on the Set!

I’m one of those guys who enjoys the throaty sound of a powerful engine when you step hard on the gas pedal. None of that happened on last week’s test drive.

The new electric BMW i3 had no throaty sound as there was no internal combustion engine (although one is optional. More on that later.), and therefore, the pedal to the right of the brake is not a gas pedal, but rather, an accelerator.

The i3 is a very distinctive car in today’s marketplace. Its looks are from the “love it or hate it” school of styling. Personally, I like it. I think if you’ve got something that’s really different, it should look really different. It was designed from the ground up as an electric car; BMW didn’t take an existing model and drop in a battery pack and an electric motor.

The chassis is made mostly of aluminum for strength and weight-savings. The lithium-ion high-voltage battery pack is located under the passenger compartment, giving the rather high vehicle a low center of gravity. The electric motor, a 125 kW/170 hp unit, sits low under the floor behind the back seat, offset to the driver’s side. An optional range-extender gasoline-powered motor scooter engine sits next to it when so equipped. The range-extender is just what it says: it helps recharge the battery pack, and never actually drives the wheels.

When I arrived at Towne BMW last Friday, BMW Product Genius Mike Gugliuzza (I want a title like that) clued me in on what to expect once I got behind the wheel. The zero-to-30 time is the quickest of any BMW on sale today (and that’s pretty quick). BMW’s regenerative braking system, a (to my mind) terribly complicated method of turning the energy used during braking into electricity to charge the motor, is one of the most aggressive I’ve ever experienced. I’d guess that during my entire test drive, more than half of my stops were made without ever touching the brake pedal. Taking your foot off the accelerator really slows the car down—fast!

So acceleration is quick. Stopping is quick. What about handling? The i3 is equipped with 155/90R19 tires and yes, they’re very narrow. But, once you get used to them, and it doesn’t take long, you adjust. You won’t be throwing the i3 around back country curves the same way you would a 3 Series, but the i3 is still fun to drive. It’s just a different fun.

The interior is just as interesting as the exterior. The front doors open wide to invite you in to a very roomy seating area. Coach doors (we used to call them suicide doors) open to the back seat, which I also fit into very well. The test car’s cloth seats were both attractive and comfortable. The door panels and much of the dash are made of recycled and renewable materials, which may sound cheap but don’t look out of place in a BMW. The instrument pod and the audio/nav pod sit in two very upright rectangles atop the dash. HVAC controls sit under the audio unit, and the shifter, probably my only complaint about the car, is a somewhat unintuitive contraption located where your Grandpa’s column-mounted Turbo-Hydramatic lever was. Only I had to really give it a good stare every time I needed to put it in or out of gear. I suppose after time it’s easier, but still...

What does one pay for the privilege of standing out from the crowd? The base test car had a list of $43,175. Range extender-equipped cars begin at $45,200. There are three trims available, or, as BMW calls them, “worlds.:” Mega, which is the base car, Giga (which adds nicer wheels and seat coverings, leather-covered dash, Sirius, eucalyptus wood accents, and a universal garage door opener—$1,700), and Tera (even nicer wheels, and more leather—$2,700). Color choices are somewhat limited and mostly grayscale (other than the pictured Solar Orange Metallic). And there’s still a $7,500 federal government tax credit being offered.

Overall I enjoyed my time with the i3. The future is here. Stand out while you still can.

More info at:

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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