Good clean fun

The i3 delivers acceleration in seamless and endless torrents, and is especially driveable in a built-up city.
The i3 delivers acceleration in seamless and endless torrents, and is especially driveable in a built-up city.PHOTO: ADRIAN WONG

Driving the BMW i3 with no range extender is not in the least worrying

The BMW i3 has been here for about a year now. But the version sold so far has a range extender - a small petrol-driven generator that recharges the battery when it is low on juice.

To date, around 40 have been sold. Quite encouraging, even if the figure is lower than the 50 i8 petrol-electric hybrid sports model that arrived around the same time.

Now, the first i3 without range extender has arrived. The car is on loan to the future mobility research lab that BMW has set up with Nanyang Technological University (along with an i8).

There are no immediate plans to put this model in the showroom, but it is intriguing and different enough for us to take it out on a two-day test-drive nonetheless.

What is driving an EV without the safety net of a range extender like?

  • SPECS/ BMW i3

  • Price: Not available
  • Motor: Synchronous electric motor
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive
  • Power: 125kW
  • Torque: 250Nm
  • Batteries: 360-volt 22kWh (gross), 18.8kWh (net) lithium-ion
  • 0-100kmh: 7.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 150kmh
  • Consumption: 12.9kWh/100km
  • Range: Upto160km
  • Agent: Performance Motors

Actually, it is not as scary as you might imagine. On a full charge, the car will comfortably cruise for 110km, even if you do not drive with any regard for economy.

For most drivers here, that is on average two days' worth of distance. And if you plug the car in (a wall charger is provided when you buy an i car) at the end of each day, range anxiety should not be an issue at all.

You will notice immediately that the i3 is more efficient than its range extender twin.

On the first day of the test-drive, it clocked 80km, and it still had more than 50km of battery power left, according to its trip computer. By the time it was returned, it had clocked 110km, with 18km of range left.

In the previous car, the range extender would have long kicked in by now.

The better efficiency of the new car lies primarily with its lower weight. Without a generator set-up, it is 120kg lighter - equivalent to two slim adults. As such, its electric consumption is 12.9kWh/100km, versus 13.5kWh/100km for the range extender version.

Because of the weight saving, the all-electric i3 is quicker too. It clocks a 7.2-second century sprint, compared with 7.9 for its twin.

Zero to 60kmh, which is more relevant to city driving, is accomplished in 3.7 seconds, versus the other car's 3.9. The difference is starker in the highway overtaking sprint from 80kmh to 120kmh - the i3 does it in 4.9 seconds, while its generator-fitted clone does it in 5.5

Top speed is identical, at a regulated 150kmh. Either car will allow you to be the first to pull away from the lights nine out of 10 times.

The i3 is torquey to a fault and it delivers acceleration in seamless and endless torrents.

The car without range extender feels a tad breezier on the whole. And in EcoPro driving mode, its airconditioning is powerful enough on all but the hottest afternoons.

It would cost less if it were sold here because it has no range extender. Also because of that, its annual road tax would be $176 less.

There is only one tiny question mark and it pertains to the car's steering. The wheel has a rather starchy turning action, with moments which feel a little like torque steer and at others like you are battling strong crosswinds.

Let's hope this has to do with nothing more than a calibration glitch in the car's electric steering system.

Otherwise, anyone who buys this green machine will have to live with making small but frequent steering corrections.

That aside, the i3 is a loveable and silent rear-wheel-driven four-seater. Its immense and immediate torque makes it especially driveable in a built-up city like ours.

And if you observe traffic keenly, you can drive it without touching the brake pedal at all as the car's energy recuperative system kicks in when your foot is off the throttle to mimic a braking action.

During this test-drive, we managed to drive "brake-less" continuously for about 50km. It feels good.

And, of course, driving a car without a tailpipe feels even better. More people should try it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2015, with the headline 'Good clean fun'. Print Edition | Subscribe