BMW i3 range extender
Week ending April 28
Driven this week: 154 miles
Just when I thought winter had finally abated, I woke up the other day to the sound of the rain bouncing off the pavement. It was barely eight degrees outside - and probably felt like less, given the northerly breeze.
Luckily the i3 has heated front seats, though, and I wasted little time in flicking the driver's seat onto its minimum setting. I kept it there all the way into the office, too - and the i3 noticed it.
When I logged into the phone app shortly after getting to my desk, I noticed that the BMW's systems had awarded me precisely one star out of five for 'Auxiliary consumption' - the penalty, no doubt, for heating my bum while also having the air-con, the headlights and the stereo all on at the same time.
As a result, the overall efficiency of my journey was rated at just 60%; even though my commute includes a decent slug of motorway mileage, I've frequently been averaging around 20% above that figure.
Do I regret it, though? Not a bit of it. When it's pouring with rain and freezing cold, I'll gladly take a hit on the app's efficiency score in return for a couple of creature comforts. Life's too short, don't you think?
By John McIlroy
Week ending April 21
Driven this week: 159 miles
An impending house move has held me back from committing to a wall charger for the i3, but it hasn't stopped me from doing the research - and it's not good news for BMW.
You see, the i3 sales rep will undoubtedly point out the natty BMW wall charger box when you're ordering your car. As you can see from the PR image in the gallery above, it all looks very space-age - the sort of huge, grey box that you might have seen on a street corner in Total Recall or Robocop.
Thing is, though, it's enormous; a British semi-detached house simply hasn't got room for the thing.
So I've already decided that when we finally exchange and complete (fingers crossed), I'll be taking advantage of the government scheme to get a free 13A wallbox - and then paying the extra £90 that upgrades you to a 32A set-up. Ninety notes seems a small price to pay for a proper Mennekes charger on the wall, it'll add further usability to my i3 experience and (whisper it) I actually prefer the look of the small, oval Chargemaster wall box. It might not be quite as futuristic, but it's a lot more practical in the real world.
By John McIlroy
Week ending April 14
Driven this week 77 miles
It's been a quiet week for the i3, thanks to a family holiday that left the car sitting in our driveway for a few days. However, I used the break to get up to speed on the free smartphone app that comes with the car.
Car connectivity is still bleeding-edge tech, but BMW's app (available for iOS and Android phones) seems to get round the problem of allowing an external controller 'direct' access to the car's systems. The software stays logged in to a central server, so any commands to the vehicle are relayed via a secure data hub; likewise any information coming from the car is beamed back via the mothership.
This sounds quite complicated but in practice it's pretty seamless. Type in the four-digit PIN and the app does an automatic update from the car to give you the latest information. It can tell you whether it's charging or not, the amount of electric range left and how many miles the two-cylinder range-extender engine can add to that figure. There are also screens showing the car's location and detailed analysis of its most recent journey, plus a remote control that allows you to turn on the heating systems while it's still plugged in, or schedule that to kick in at a time of your choosing.
It all looks slick and it's nice to see that BMW hasn't forgotten 'cosmetic' touches like having the right colour of i3 on the screen (the system uses the VIN number of the car to get the right shade of paint).
BMW is clearly still tinkering with the new tech, too; even in the space of a week, the app has been updated twice - first to allow it to work with the forthcoming i8 sports car, then to allow it to give you phone prompts (like a text message) with updates on the car's status.
It's all surprisingly easy to use, and a worthwhile element of i3 ownership - particularly since it allows me to check up on other What Car? staffers in the evenings and send them prodding text messages when I see they haven't bothered to plug the car in for an overnight charge.
By John McIlroy
Week ending April 4
Driven this week 104 miles
The BMW i3 could have been designed with me in mind. My daily commute is a round trip of six miles, although I regularly drive into central London and have one seven-year-old son who only comes with an iPad, rather than the type of clobber you need with younger ones.
So you guessed it: I’m really keen on the What Car? long-term test car. I’ve now ventured into the West End several times in it. Unlike the car's regular custodian John McIlroy, I haven’t fretted about looking for a charging point because there’s always been plenty of juice to get me there and back, so I’ve been free to enjoy the i3's agility, serene silence and a fabulous cabin and driving position (one of the best in the market, in my opinion).
Flaws? I must admit I find the ride a little too stiff, even with 19-inch wheels, and I still don’t quite understand why such a small, light, hi-tech car doesn’t have a better battery range than more conventional electric vehicles.
However, I’m prepared to forgive it because it’s a genuine joy to drive and own.
By Chas Hallett