TWe talk a lot about how the future of cars is electric, and even Volvo announced recently an initiative to make all of their cars electric or hybrid in the near future. BMW has been working on perfecting the technology with their i-series, and this is as good as it gets so far. Plugging in at night means you have 114 miles of EV range – but when your battery runs low, you no longer need to have range anxiety. There’s a 2.4-gallon gas tank that powers a small gasoline engine to charge the battery, effectively extending the range by an additional 65 miles. Despite the small tank, you could keep filling up every 65 miles and keep on going.
Not exactly a road-trip car, but it’s definitely an electric car that you can better deal with some uncertainty. Most purely EV vehicles require careful planning and are unforgiving of changes in plans. Not so here, you can go pick up that antique you find on craigslist at a moment’s notice without having to recharge.
Ultimately, I think it was a bit premature to come out with purely EV vehicles – especially here in Chicago. There’s just not enough charging infrastructure, which means you’re often left without a way to add range when you need to. That problem will go away in the future, as more infrastructure is installed (you know, like California), but for now having something like this is the answer.
I’m not sure what it is about vehicles like this on the cutting edge, but they always look a bit funky. I think it’s a case of the designers wanting the shape to express that the car represents something new, but I think the odd styling can be a turn off for some who would otherwise like the technology and fuel savings. There’s also some strange materials used inside, but they actually end up looking cool and funky, like those cool recycled-building materials. Clearly they are recycled materials, which also helps cut down on this car’s carbon footprint.
But the ‘carbon’ here is actually the whole car, too. The chassis is completely constructed of ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber. It’s space-age material that’s lighter and stronger than steel, and used extensively in auto racing and aerospace. It means that the overall vehicle weight is lower even with the large-capacity batteries. So many elements of this car are designed to extend range, like the one-off ultra-narrow tires which help keep rolling resistance down.
You might be thinking ‘well, this doesn’t sound very fun to drive,’ but it really is. Despite the narrow tires, there’s great handling – and the instant torque of the electric drive means that it feels really quick around town. There’s a ton of interior space and storage, making this a small crossover you can use.
The giant center LCD display has a familiar menu to most BMW owners and additional displays to monitor the range and EV systems, and help you find a charging station. There’s technology oozing out of every pore of this quirky car, but the overall experience of driving it around town is great. There’s utility, efficiency, technology and safety. And your neighbors will think you’re driving something from the Jetsons. With a starting price of $48,300, you’ll need to make full use of the $7,500 tax credit to bring the price back in line with other similar-sized crossovers. For your money, however, you really will end up with something rare: an electric vehicle that can adapt to a changing schedule!
By Jason Saini
Special thanks to BMW USA for providing the 2017 BMW i3 for review.