Our cars: BMW i3 and Mini

Our BMW i3 has been sampling public charging spots, and we've been playing with the Mini's settings...

Our cars: BMW i3 and Mini

Each day we take a look at a selection of the cars that we live with on a daily basis. Today it is the turn of the BMW i3 and the Mini.

For the past fortnight, I’ve had the pleasure of holding on to the keys of our BMW i3. I’d driven an electric car for only a day at a time before, so it was eye-opening to use it on and off for the best part of two weeks.

The first journey was an early-morning jaunt to Canary Wharf for a major motor industry conference. There wasn’t quite enough juice in the car to do the run up there on pure electric drive, so for a few fast carriageway miles I had the generator switched on to hold the charge.

I’d looked up the charging points available on the Wharf the night before, so cruised down into Jubilee Place car park to plug in the i3. A snag at the first hurdle, though, because the EV points weren’t easy to find. I buzzed the attendant’s intercom for help and a guard came down within minutes to point them out. Eventually, the i3 was parked up and connected to the 13A sockets.

It surprised me that there weren’t faster charging facilities in the financial centre of the city, but this was the best bet. After custodian John McIlroy’s shambolic experience with underground fast charge points that wouldn’t work, I’d rather have a 13-amp socket that works than a dozen 32-amp posts that don’t.

The next week, I encountered the opposite end of the EV charging spectrum when using the Ecotricity points at Cobham services. Just four days earlier, the company had installed a CCS-compatible rapid charge connection, which meant the i3 could be charged up to 80% from empty in just half an hour. I still had eight miles on the readout when we pulled in, and staying for 40-odd minutes was enough to get the battery up to 94%. Needless to say, the next 75 miles of motorway driving were accomplished without using any fuel at all.

Once at my destination in Oxfordshire, I hitched the i3 up to a three-pin plug in the garage, and left it to charge overnight. A short trip to a pub the next afternoon meant a dozen miles were shaved off the range, so the trip home in the evening meant I needed to the generator’s help to make it back to Cobham for another rapid charge. The i3 was only hooked up to the cable for 13 minutes this time, but that was enough to put 37 miles of range in the battery – enough to get home from there.

Back in Kent, I used my parents’ house to connect to the i3 to an electricity supply for five hours (I have no charging point at my house). This gave me almost enough charge to get to the office the following morning. I switched the generator on for around eight miles on the motorway, but otherwise it was pure electric all the way.

Within a minute of arriving at work it was hooked up to our building’s 32-amp supply again, which would mean it was back to having a full battery within four hours.

One of the key reasons for running the range-extender BMW i3 on our fleet is to see whether you really need the extra range from the petrol generator or not. I drove the car for 252 miles over the past week, and I would guess that I spent approximately 40 of those miles using the generator. It would be easy to assume from this that the answer is ‘yes, you need the range extender’, but that’s not my conclusion.

You see, the only reason I needed to drive a portion of those miles using petrol was the lack of an electric car charging point at my house. While I have a garage with a driveway, it is at the bottom of my garden with no electricity running to it. Furthermore, the driveway is bisected by a public right of way – so a cable running across it would be tricky.

The truth is that if a charging point installation company can find a neat and cost-effective way around my predicament, I’d happily put a deposit down for an i3 the same day – and it wouldn’t be for the one with a generator under the boot.

By Ed Callow

Read all of our updates on life with the i3

Elsewhere, deputy production editor Mel Falconer has been playing with the Mini's settings again**