WORDS AND PHOTOS: SHAER REAZ
It was an appropriate setting for this particular test-drive, for once—the car of the future, in the city/country of the future—Singapore. The BMW i3 BEV may not be the coolest vehicle out there for the hot-blooded automotive enthusiast, but there’s much to be said for its aspirations and potential. For one, it has me excited for whatever awaits the world of cars at the end of these tumultuous times.
The BEV isn’t even new—having been launched in 2014, the i3, meant to be BMWs interpretation of a cutting edge electric city car, has been around for a good four years. Considering the imitation dance that the auto industry seems to be playing with the tech industry, the i3 BEV is certifiably old, with the i3S being the hot(ish), new(ish) cake in BMW’s high-tech bakery. There’s no 22 inch screen and no fancy tech gimmicks. It’s lacking the autonomous tech that you can get on a medium range Volvo these days, with a basic approach to the EV business.
The 13 BEV 94 Ah comes with a 33kWh battery with eight modules of twelve storage cells, producing 170 HP and 184 lb-ft torque, the latter available from standstill. A range of 300km combined with plug-in charging capability is intended to dispel the range anxiety that undoubtedly raises its ugly head when considering electric car ownership. As a city car, the 1245 kg i3 goes a long way in spicing up the grocery runs—a 3.8 second sprint time to 60 km/h and 7.3 seconds 0-100 km/h time means this is one lively car.
Despite the absolute lack of sound, the i3 has a unique way of hooking you with the way it accelerates. For lack of a better way to describe it, the i3 is definitely electrifying, as it pushes you back into the thinly padded seats—made of recycled material, like the rest of the environmentally conscious interior—with every jab of the throttle. The instant responses of electric cars are much talked about, but it’s still quite a big deal when you experience it for the first time. It’s brilliant for darting in and out of traffic, especially with the auto-brake feature that applies the regenerative brakes the instant you let off the throttle. It takes some getting used to, but once you get used to it, pressing the brake pedal turns into an optional activity.
It’s definitely a traditional BMW in the way it urges you to push it. What the power-assisted steering lacks in feel, it makes up for in precision—combined with the skinny tyres and tall driving position, you can throw the 13 around like a shopping trolley on steroids. The test drive route sent me around a loose recreation of Singapore’s Fl city circuit—sections of the track were being prepared as we drove past—and the i3 provided plenty of good natured hand ling fun. It’s like taking a happy dog for a play-date with a tennis ball; the way the i3 reacts to changes in direction makes it nothing short of a sporty BMW.
Looking at it, you’d never be able to tell though. The oversized wheels,
stumpy front end, tall windows and those slab-sided suicide doors, makes the i3 quite a different animal to look at next to the traditional sculpted, sleek looks of the other cars in BMWs range. It’s certainly eye catching—even on the exotic filled streets of Singapore, the oddball i3 turns heads with its turtle-like shape.
The interior fares much better in the style sense—it’s made to be functional, spacious and durable in the traditional blueprint of a city car, but with a touch of design freedom that comes with making a car for the future. The recycled material feels good to touch and lends a funky, artsy look to the dash and door-cards, smartly complementing the leather and wood. The controls are ergonomic and easy to decipher, but the steering column mounted drive selector is a bit fiddly and takes some getting used to.
The i3 has all the hallmarks of being a significant car, both BMW’s and the auto industry’s as a whole. It represents a dedicated shift towards environmental consciousness, space and resource saving, It looks to solve a lot of the problems that humanity has manufactured for itself, simply by being well-engineered and having the will to reverse the trend.
If the i3 is any indication of what’s to come, there’s light at the end of the tunnel yet.