i3 review

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    Mark Mervich

    I read Don’s review of the i3 in the latest Roundel and was confused by his reference to Van Gogh and using a can of spray paint for his work. A couple of days ago I saw one in Redwood City. I now have a much better appreciation for Don’s reference. At first, I thought it was a new Smart car with way too much style.

    Andy Daniels

    I test-drove an i3 yesterday as part of BMW’s “Drive the Future Now” campaign. Interesting car, though I’m not quite sure of the target market. It’s certainly roomy enough inside for passengers. I hopped in the back seat while my father-in-law was taking his turn, and while there’s no way that I was going to stretch out back there, there was enough headroom and leg room for me that I wasn’t uncomfortable. Getting in and out is a bit tricky because of the rear half-door, similar to that on some Minis, but manageable. Not much in the way of cargo space, though. You can fit a couple of grocery bags into the rear compartment. There’s also a small storage space under the hood, but that’s usually going to be full of charging accessories. The split rear seat does fold down to increase the cargo space, but you’re still not going to get anything substantial into these cars. I can see using an i3 for short-to-moderate distance commuting, tooling around town and light errands, but not for serious shopping. The view through the rear view mirror was a bit constricted, mostly by the rear headrests, but that’s about par for the course for me these days—I’m still driving ’80’s BMWs with their panoramic views 🙂

    The car sits a lot higher than I’m used to. It was buffeted quite a bit by yesterday’s winds. The steering felt very twitchy to both me and my father-in-law, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to adjust the steering response as there is on, say, a Tesla. We also hated the curved driver’s-side mirror, but these were Euro models that were being used for this campaign. The U.S. version will have the more usual flat mirror. “Throttle” response was quite peppy, even at freeway speeds. The brakes bit very hard, which took some getting used to, but between the light weight of the car and the regenerative braking, you almost don’t have to use them to bring the car to a full stop from city speeds. My father-in-law also noted that the i3 didn’t have the “creep” that he’d experienced in both a Leaf and his Tesla Model S.

    The controls were pretty straightforward and easy to understand, being for the most part contemporary BMW standard. The gear selector was a bit awkward, though, both in placement and function. Other electric cars I’ve seen have done a better job with that.

    As an amusing side note, as we were heading out onto 237, we spotted the car that had gone out a few minutes ahead of us in the ditch at the last right-hand turn before the road turns into 237 proper. According to one of the BMW reps I asked about this later, the “idiot” tried to take that turn at over 40 MPH barely a couple of minutes into his drive. Besides the campaign swag, this driver got to take home a damage report form for his insurance company. Reminded me of that other idiot who crashed an M6 during last year’s Ofest test drives.

    Michael Martin

    I test drove an i3 back when Peter Pan had them for a bit in San Mateo/Belmont.

    I’ll echo Andy in saying that the steering was extremely responsive, on the verge of being twitchy. That might just be a combination of the short wheelbase and somewhat high up driving position.

    I’ve never driven an EV before but the acceleration was impressive up to highway speeds. Probably similar to an E36 M3 but with an even smoother and more linear power delivery. I had a lot of fun pushing the go pedal.

    What was a little weird was letting go of the go pedal. The survey they had me fill out after the test drive asked how I felt about “the one pedal driving experience”. I’m guessing BMW tried to design the drivetrain such that unless you’re in an emergency situation you won’t really have to use the brakes.

    Before you completely come off the accelerator you can already feel the car slowing down. Take your foot completely off and the car is braking moderately hard. Definitely enough to get you to a complete stop before you hit the red light up ahead.

    It took some getting used to but I imagine it helps to extend the range. A little EV like this is truly a momentum car. Wasting energy to heating the brakes and rotors is the last thing you want to do.

    Not at all the type of car I would ever buy. But I had a blast driving it.

    Andy Daniels

    Before you completely come off the accelerator you can already feel the car slowing down… It took some getting used to but I imagine it helps to extend the range. A little EV like this is truly a momentum car. Wasting energy to heating the brakes and rotors is the last thing you want to do.

    Regenerative braking in action. All EVs do this nowadays, but the i3 had the strongest effect I’ve felt so far. When you come off the pedal, the wheels become generators that recharge the batteries. Takes some work to push those electrons around, so the car slows down. The Exploratorium used to have a simple exhibit that illustrated this: A stationary bike driving a generator hooked up to a series of big floodlights. Felt like you were freewheeling with everything turned off, but as you turned more lights on, the bike got progressively harder to pedal.

    It’s not only EVs that take advantage of this effect. Conventionally-powered BMWs also have regenerative braking, but it only kicks in when you’re actively on the brake pedal. It’d interfere with the new “automatic coasting mode” otherwise 😉 The idea in this case is to reduce demand for electrical power generation on the engine and thus increase fuel efficiency by some (likely miniscule) amount.

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