BMW i3 range extender
Week ending May 20
Driven this week: 229 miles
I'd like to think we're now fully au fait with the i3's various systems and modes - and there are plenty of them.
Most of the time - pretty much everywhere apart from motorways - I stick the car into 'Eco Pro' mode, which limits the top speed and offers more aggressive recuperation of energy under braking. Around town you can basically drive with a single pedal, anticipating traffic lights and junctions and just lifting off in time (the brake lights come on automatically, incidentally, so you're not leaving other road users in the dark about your intentions).
For motorway use I switch into 'Comfort', which allows me enough freedom to overtake with ease once the traffic flow frees up. There's a further, even more eco-friendly mode, called 'Eco Pro+' - but it limits the top speed further, to the point where you'll be in the way on anything but a suburban crawl.
If I have a frustration, it's that the i3 can't work things out for itself. The routine when I fire it up is 'Turn on, turn off electronic parking brake, stick into D or R, then switch the mode into Eco Pro'. The i3 already knows that it's in town - the sat-nav is fully aware of the 30mph limit - so I can't understand why the system doesn't allow me to instruct it to adopt 'Eco Pro' by default if we're in town.
Oddly enough, I drove an X5 plug-in hybrid prototype recently that claimed to adjust its systems based on sat-nav data and speed limits - so the feature is probably already earmarked for the i3 Mk2.
By John McIlroy
Week ending May 12
Driven this week: 103 miles
Here’s the thing with electric vehicles like our BMW i3: they’re generally more at home around town. Firstly, you get the benefits of the instant torque that comes with electric motors, so they’re perfect for nipping in and out of traffic. Secondly, the distances you’re covering are generally more modest, so you don’t have to worry about range.
The rest of the package should just fall into place naturally - and on the i3, almost all of it does. It’s a good size for around town - (just about) big enough for four adults, but small enough for tight streets and smaller car park spaces. The seating position is quite high, so it’s easy to place the car in narrow streets, and the electric motor itself has been nicely engineered so it makes very little noise under acceleration; the i3 is notably more refined than, say, a Leaf or an Ampera.
The only place where the BMW engineers have fallen a bit short, I’d say, is ride quality. I’m presuming the brief for the chassis set-up went as follows: ‘Okay, so the car is going to be quite tall and narrow. For crying out loud, make sure it doesn’t have any body roll whatsoever or people will be afraid that it’s going to topple over.’
They’ve delivered on the brief - but the trade-off is a ride quality that’s just a teeny bit firm for Britain’s pothole-strewn urban roads. Big thumps do get transmitted through to the cabin, and the i3’s trick construction - carbonfibre passenger cell on top of high-tech aluminium chassis - doesn’t do a great job of insulating the occupants from general roughness either.
Is it spoiling my time in the car? Not at all - but as the miles pile on, it’s becoming the main flaw in the i3’s otherwise impressive package.
By John McIlroy