Governments and regulators have spoken, and tailpipe discharges are about to get a lot cleaner. As the zero-emissions world approaches, the motoring public will need to reassess its relationship with vehicles.
Change can be difficult, but it also can be profoundly rewarding, as is the case with the BMW i3 electric vehicle. The company known for Ultimate Driving Machines had to raise the bar for EVs, coming to the party after several other mass-market automakers.
But the Bavarians succeeded. The unorthodox exterior and interior designs may be acquired tastes, but we the jury of Ward’s 10 Best Engines focus our energies on the powertrain and find the engineering team guilty of delivering a first-rate drive experience.
The 170-hp electric motor propels the spacious 4-seater with a free-wheeling simplicity that is uncommon among EVs, and it whirrs gently like George Jetson’s space pod, no matter how aggressively driven. Assertive regenerative braking lets you drive while rarely touching the brake pedal. This is the future.
We tested a record four electric vehicles this year, and they all performed reasonably well, given the limitations associated with today’s batteries, including depleted range of up to 25% in bitter cold, as we found. Fully charged in a more forgiving climate, the i3 can run for up to 81 miles (130 km).
Relative to the Fiat 500e, Kia Soul EV and Volkswagen e-Golf, the i3 makes the most horsepower (170), charges the fastest (three hours), sprints to 60 mph (97 km/h) the quickest and is the lightest, thanks to compact packaging, a carbon-fiber structure and thermoplastic body panels. And unlike the 500e, the i3 truly is comfortable for four occupants.
What really sets the BMW apart is the available 0.7L 2-cyl. gasoline engine that acts as a generator, extending range about 70 miles (113 km). The Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac ELR are the only other EREVs on the market.
Sure, BMW can be questioned for incorporating a tiny 1.9-gallon (7.0 L) gas tank that would require numerous stops to refuel on any long ride.
But the i3 isn’t intended for leisurely jaunts through the country. It’s a short-run city car at heart, and BMW rightly contends a zero-emissions vehicle should be exactly that. Consider the 2-cyl. generator an insurance policy to be redeemed infrequently, but one that will mitigate range anxiety.
The i3 is available in 285 of the 338 BMW showrooms across the country at a time when some EVs are focused in California and other ZEV states.
This is no ZEV compliance car. Instead, BMW has gone all-in with the i3, treating it not like a red-headed stepchild but the marvelous technological achievement it is.
Moreover, it is reasonably priced relative to other BMWs and ostensibly will draw more young (environmentally leaning) customers to the brand.
“The i3 seems designed to provide a new take on personal mobility, an enthusiast car for a different type of driving enthusiast,” says WardsAuto editor Drew Winter.
Excellent chassis dynamics and world-class powertrains are core to BMW. With the i3 now in the market, the automaker also can lay claim to the Ultimate EV.