Every year a jury made up of experienced motoring journalists names the ‘Car of the Year’, chosen from the new models of the previous 12 months. Often there’s clear agreement on a winner, but this year the judges were split almost equally between three different cars. And, somehow, one of the most exciting and significant cars in years failed to win the award.
That car is the BMW i3, the Bavarian premium brand’s first pure electric vehicle. It’s such a significant car because it clearly demonstrates what can be achieved by throwing away the conventions and coming up with innovative solutions to the problems of electric vehicles – allowing the advantages of electric propulsion to shine through.
So you won’t find a conventional steel or aluminium structure here. Instead the i3 uses a carbon fibre passenger cell to cut weight, compensating for the heavy batteries. Attention to weight saving around the car is fanatical: wheels and suspension components are forged aluminium, the driveshafts are hollow, bolts and screws are aluminium rather than steel – even the windscreen wiper is lightweight, honeycomb-structure design.
Inside there’s a refreshingly different mix of leather, bent wood, and natural fibres. It’s a light, airy cabin with a flat floor, and like a conventional hatchback you can fold down the seats to make a massive load area.
Power comes from 170PS electric motor which propels the i3 from rest to 62mph in just 7.2 seconds, which is sports car pace. The electric motor gives instant response, and there are no gears to worry about. BMW claims a range of 80-100 miles in normal driving, which is plenty for most people – and if you are really concerned about range there’s a range extender version with a tiny two-cylinder petrol engine which keeps the battery charged up for around 180 miles.
The i3 is nimble and easy to handle thanks to a tight turning circle and good visibility. Consistent weighting of the controls – from the steering and pedals to the column stalks – gives it a typically BMW feeling of solidity and cohesiveness. It’s a car that feels competent, and clever ¬– and, at the same time, cool. For the first time an electric vehicle is not just economical transport for the environmentally conscious.
The i3 is a genuinely interesting, practical – and even covetable – premium car. It could, genuinely, be a game-changer.