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Date: 07 Jan 2019 Author Type: Public Review
Author: Julian Lurie edited by Liam Mothilall
Source: Julian Lurie
BMW South Africa has just introduced its new 2018 model i3 which it claims has reigned as the top-selling premium electric car in its class since 2014, not just in Europe but worldwide too. About two years ago, I had the opportunity to have what was then the new BMW i3 on test for a week and this is how I described it.

The BMW i3 is an all-electric small car that uses state-of-the-art construction techniques, including ground-breaking use of super-light carbon-fiber and aluminum, to offset the weight of the battery pack that’s mounted beneath the floor. The BMW i3 has now been further improved not just to refreshing styling accents, cutting-edge equipment features and new digital services, but also to the addition of a new model variant. The driving experience in the BMW i models has played no small part in the growing appeal and popularity of electric mobility. The new i3 draws its energy from the lithium-ion high-voltage battery developed by the BMW Group with a capacity of 94 ampere hours (Ah) or 33 kilowatt hours (kWh). A 28 KW two-cylinder range extender petrol engine is available as an option. Located low in the vehicle floor, the lithium-ion high-voltage battery provides a range of 290 to 300 kilometers based on the NEDC cycle.

The new BMW i3 has a remarkably dynamic character by premium compact electric car standards, and a number of design tweaks have been included to express this to particularly striking effect in its visual appearance too. The trademark BMW i Black Belt running from the bonnet over the roof to the car’s rear end is now complemented by A-pillars and roof lines that also sport a black finish. The restyling of the front and rear aprons, places emphasis on the car’s width, which has the effect of showing just how sporty both models are to drive and how sure their handling is. A chrome-design trim strip running across the full width of the rear and the positioning of the model and eDrive badges on the outer edges of the boot lid serves to reinforce this impression.

The new BMW i3 comes equipped with all-LED headlights as standard, which employ LED bulb units for dipped beam and high beam as well as the daytime running lights. The new turn signal indicators also feature LED technology and are integrated into the front apron in the form of horizontal strips. This means that LEDs are now used for all lighting functions at the front of the vehicle too, as was already the case with the glass-covered rear light assemblies. Viewed from the front, most noticeable is the front bumper which is completely painted in the body colour and has a black U-shaped surround that reinforces the car’s presence when viewed from the front. Moving round to the rear end, the powerfully molded contours and the contrast in colour between the black surround and the body-colored inlay, again create an energetic and expressive appearance.

Moving inside, the carbon fiber-reinforced plastic passenger cell has a spacious feel about it and is dominated by a sense of lightness. The design principle of the four-seater model means there is no need for either fixed B-pillars or a transmission tunnel. Doors that open in opposite directions make it easy for the occupants to get in and out of the vehicle. The equipment lines; the Loft, Lodge and Suite are available for the new BMW i3 as alternatives to the standard Atelier version. The Lodge interior design option includes a new covering for the seat surfaces in Solaric Brown that combines natural leather tanned using an olive leaf extract with a wool-based textile material. The new blue seat belt option provides a splash of colour in the interior as a typical brand style. The BMW i3’s supplements all this with special model lettering on the front floor mats as standard.

Standard equipment includes; six airbags, keyless go, Navigation system Business, USB and AUX-in sockets, hands-free facility for the telephone, air conditioning, leather steering wheel, rear roof antenna and rear wash-wipe. The synchronous electric motor powering the new BMW i3 generates a maximum output of 125 KW and peak torque of 250 NM, both available instantly from a standstill, as is usual with electric motors. Power is sent to the rear wheels via an integrated differential gear; lithium-ion high-voltage battery with usable energy capacity of 18.8 kWh. A range extender engine can be ordered as an option for the new BMW i3. The intelligent drive-train and charge management using power electronics developed by the BMW Group; means that the battery can be recharged from a domestic power socket, the BMW i Wallbox or public charging station.

The motor smoothly delivers the kind of performance that drivers expect from a BMW via a single-speed automatic transmission, with continuous power delivery that builds up the car’s tempo. Performance-wise, the BMW i3 will sprint from 0 to 100 km in 7.2 seconds and has a top speed electronically limited to 150 km/h making it easy to keep up with traffic on the freeways, the downside being that it will use up the energy much quicker the faster you go. On the NEDC cycle, the new BMW i3 with range extender returns combined consumption figures per 100 kilometers of 11.9 to 11.5 kWh of electric power and 0.6 litres of fuel (fuel consumption of 470.8 mpg imp; CO2 emissions: 14 –13 g/km).

Options include the Parking Assistance package with Park Distance Control, a reversing camera, Parking Assistant, Driving Assistant Plus, incorporating Collision and Pedestrian Warning with City Braking function, Speed Limit Info, Proactive Driving Assistant, Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, and the Traffic Jam assistant, which not only maintains a safe distance to the car in front in stop-start traffic, at up to 60 km/h, but also keeps the car in lane. The system takes its cues from lane markings, the width of the road and vehicles travelling ahead.

Charging at home is extremely user-friendly thanks to the BMW i Wallbox which, in its most recent incarnation, can supply 11 KW of power to charge the high-voltage battery. This allows enough energy for an electric range of around 180 kilometers to be transferred in under three hours – five times quicker than with the standard charging cable.

The driver’s seat is set quite high for a good view of the road, and immediately noticeable are the pair of large TFT screens; one ahead of the driver and one that appears to ‘float’ above the center of the dashboard. These units display everything from speed to sat-nav info and are controlled via BMW’s trademark iDrive dial. Metallic blue inserts add the final flourish, while the low-set dashboard and vast windscreen create a bright and airy feel. The boot has a high floor, due to the running gear underneath, but the 50:50 split seats fold flat. There’s no loading lip, so you can easily slide things in to the space that measures 260 litres with all the seats in place. That capacity grows to 1 100 litres with the seats folded down. In the nose, you’ll find the cables for both the domestic power socket and for the BMW i Wallbox or public charging station.

Going back to the outgoing BMW i3 I had on test, about two years back, this is what I wrote:
With its sprightly electric performance and good handling, the BMW i3 was great fun to drive. From behind the wheel, it was quite amazing how quickly you get to know your way around. Every lever, switch and button are easy to identify, and the i3 takes crowded city streets in its stride, while the electric motor’s instant response lets you zip through gaps in the traffic with confidence. On twisting back roads, the i3 has a bit of body roll, but the steering is quick and well weighted, and there’s more grip than you’d expect from the skinny tyres. The short-travel suspension does get unsettled at times, but you never feel like you’re going to lose control, and the stability control intervenes smoothly, enough to make you take things a bit easier. Braking performance is perfectly adequate, but you soon learn to drive with a 'single-pedal' technique around town, anticipating when you're going to have to come to a halt and allow the car's energy recuperation systems to slow you down to a stop naturally. It sounds odd, but it soon becomes second nature, particularly since it maximizes the i3's range.

In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed my week with the BMW i3 but it was spoiled with its relatively short range between charges. but it’s great for driving around town. Unfortunately, as the new i3 is only due for release in South Africa towards the end of the year, pricing presently is not yet available. However, with current prices at starting at about R637 300 to R717 900 for the range extender model, but one must expect to pay a bit more for the 2019 models. Prices also include BMW’s Maintenance plan for 5 years or 100 000 kms
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