iFuture?

iFuture?

iFuture?

0 comments 📅01 December 2014, 22:00

BMW took me on a trip to the future with a stopover for charging…

I try not to develop prejudgements for new objects or services based only on one of their characteristics. In other words, I try to avoid stereotypes and biased thinking. In case of BMW i3 I have fallen into such trap as I immediately felt biased towards the price of the base version. I’ve heard about the 35 000 euro price tag by accident. I thought bias would go away as quickly as it arrived.

I started my quest by visiting one of the BMW dealers, where I was met by a special i3 consultant. I got the usual introduction about the idea and history before I was able to take a look inside.

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Photo: BMW Group

It’s actually a very interesting story about a dedicated US factory producing carbon fibres for i3 which is powered by the nearest hydroelectric plant. I also heard about the interior made of bamboo grown on sustainable plantations and thermo-active wool upholstery. There was also information about zero emissions and batteries which when expired are not discarded but moved to Germany where they serve a second term on a wind farm. All this creates an impression that BMW takes ecology very seriously.

The first glance on the car results in mixed feelings, especially when viewing i3 next to Z4. One might ask if it is possible that BMW could create such different cars. The answer is, of course, yes but in order to understand it, we have to get to know i3 better.

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Photo: BMW Group

BMW shows how a small car (length 3999 mm, width 1775 mm and height  1578 mm) can be made spacious. This was done through a couple of really neat optical and technical tricks: while i3 is a relatively high vehicle, thanks to the fact that there was no need to accommodate a standard engine block, the axle could be moved maximum to the front. Moreover, rear doors are rear-hinged and there is no classical B pillar (it’s “hidden” in the door), rear lights are installed on the boot hatch with a very large front windscreen and sportive looking 19 inch rims inside narrow low profile tyres size 155/70/R19. All this gives i3 extraordinarily spacious look.

The futuristic body of i3 definitely triggers emotions. They might be positive or negative, however it’s impossible to feel indifferent towards that car. Initial opinions can be further reinforced (or changed) upon entering the car. Unusual materials covering the dashboard, seats and door upholstery logically complement the futuristic shape of the car. The car evokes the feeling of lightness thanks to the use of strong composites, thin but very comfortable seats, large 8.3-inch central touch screen, clear dashboard with a softly profiled “shelf” in the middle. This is also where we find vents, air conditioning and heating (the producers put stress on awareness with regard to settings of these functions, making the computer recalculate them into the number of possible kilometres left to drive on the battery). 

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Photo: BMW Group

In the place where we would normally expect to find the dashboard BMW put the second 5.5 inch display showing basic driving information such as speed, battery charge, recouped energy from braking and communication about systems which currently consume electricity. The steering wheel is, of course, multifunctional and can be adjusted in two ways. On the other hand, untypical placement of the gear shift in the steering column makes it difficult to access the control “joystick”.

It should be mentioned that the car body is made entirely of carbon fibre reinforced polymer which renders the whole construction light (1195 kg) but still rigid.

i3 is powered by a 170HP electric engine with steady 150 Nm of torque available from 1700 rpm. Even on paper these figures look impressive. Real performance is even more astounding far a car of this segment – 7.2 seconds to 100 km/h and 3.7 to 60 km/h.

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Photo: BMW Group

The rear drive of the vehicle was placed under the boot.

Spaceship look and technology is complemented by cutting edge solutions. For example, recouping energy takes place immediately when the gas pedal is depressed and the car starts to brake adaptively to the speed. Another very practical feature is display of the status of i3 showing, among other things, which function is currently consuming most energy (for example heating seats, max radio volume, etc.) This allows the driver to control the battery life and the possible number of kilometres to drive on a single charge. BMW prepared three driving profiles: Comfort (standard, unlimited city driving, max range approx.. 110 km), Eco Pro (modified, less dynamic style, max range approx. 130 km), Eco Pro+ (speed limited to 90 km/h, rational use of a/c, energy saving mode for the radio, max range approx. 150 km). When switching between particular profiles the driver is presented with a visualisation of how the available kilometres increase or decrease on the map available on the main screen. It is possible to get extra 240 – 300 kilometres on a single charge by buying the Range Extender package for 4500 euros with a two-cylinder internal combustion engine (34 HP, 647 cm3), by the way, used also in a BMW scooter, with six litres of gas in the tank. The engine is placed under the boot, and its sole purpose is to keep the minimal battery charge. Charging batteries can be done in three ways: via standard house outlet (approx. 8 hours), using a special BMW module and Wallbox (approx. 4-6 hours with the Wallbox station which is sold separately, depending on the configuration 895 to 1500 euros) or in a public charging station (with a fast 80% charge option in 30 minutes). The car also has various driving assistance solutions. Multiple sensors increase road safety, assist in parking (the car can virtually park itself by automatically turning, driving to a parking place and braking) while supplying the driver with lots of road related data.

Every i3 is permanently on-line via GSM network, allowing the user to take advantage of BMW supplied applications.

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Photo: BMW Group

While i3 is not an ideal connected car, the situation is improved by iRemote BMW app (currently available for iPhone), which allows remote access to some of the car’s functions. Using a smartphone the user can check battery charge and the possible range as well as turn heating or air conditioning on. The map in the application shows nearest charging stations and their availability. Moreover, the app can remotely open and close doors, honk, turn the lights on or off, search for a target destination and load it into the car navigation system and show the position of the car on a map in the smartphone.

Another very interesting feature is eco-driving competition mode where drivers collect points for correct braking, gas pedal operation and keeping the speed on a stable level. This “game” collects data from the car and sends it to BMW where it can be pinned to the driver’s profile and made available to other “gamers”. Personally I think you can get quite hooked on this.

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Photo: BMW Group

Does the equipment and power supply used in i3 increase comfort and joy of driving? In the first moment when turning the car on I can hear… silence. When I start moving, I feel freedom while being surrounded by information about the state of the car, driving profile, available entertainment and other online options which is fed to both screens.

This feeling of freedom comes from the fact that the car can be operated by a single pedal (gas with brake function), the gear shift is only necessary for reverse driving (the car detects when the driver stops automatically switching to parking mode) and the instantly available whiplash acceleration which leaves most other cars behind.

I would not have got so much fun from driving If I hadn’t fastened my seatbelts and listened to a quick tutorial from the consultant. This fast training showed me that I had to resign from some of my habits and thinking patterns of a standard manual shift car driver. The position behind the wheel is high, comparable with a crossover, however the centre of gravity is rather low (heavy batteries under the floor). The mass is evenly distributed between the two axles which makes i3 very stable and predictable.

The acceleration is incredible. It can be used both to start dynamically from the lights and to move smoothly in the city traffic. The car is very nimble and offers great visibility from all sides. Next positive surprise are the wheels which can turn the car with just 10 metres of space. Every motion of the steering wheel is very precisely repeated by the wheels making i3 extremely driveable. i3 also earns a good score for suspension which I would classify as semi-hard in the direction of sportive while allowing for easy negotiation of all holes and obstacles. I also had a feeling that this car with all its electronics will not let me do anything crazy that would, for example, endanger the passengers.

For the first few kilometres I had a problem with identifying the proper moment to take the foot off the gas pedal. Every time I did it, the car stopped way before the point I intended it to stop. BMW i3 does not roll to a halt, as is the case in a standard car. Instead, it starts braking adaptively to recoup energy. When I finally overcame my normal habits I found out that the driving style of i3 can give you a lot of fun, while charging the batteries. One interesting point is that stop lights flash on not only when we press the brake, but also when the car goes into its recouping phase when taking the foot off the gas pedal.

BMW i3 can accommodate four people with rational space in the back. Sitting in the back is comfortable, however tall passengers can have some trouble. In order to get to the back seat you need to do a couple of things – first open the front door and then the back-hinged rear door. When the passenger is seated, it is necessary to close the rear door and then the front door, which requires assistance.

When writing about i3 one can extoll her virtues such as smooth ride, velvety acceleration, intriguing interior and cutting edge solutions. There is however, one “but”. When driving I constantly thought about how many kilometres I have left in my battery charge. I was worried about stopping in the middle of the road and the only option to get back home would be to order a towing truck. I also considered if I should turn off heating, radio and navigation on a cold day just to “squeeze” a few more kilometres from the battery. I had this nagging and annoying feeling of uncertainty while driving a fantastic car, which should be free of such worries.

How do you then judge a car which is innovative, brave and at the same limits free movement?

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Photo: BMW Group

First of all, it must be understood that this is not a car for everyone, and that everyone should appreciate it. Its functionality and benefits may just open a new car segment of strictly city oriented premium cars, which should be judged by different criteria. The fact of the matter is that i3 received very good reviews around the world, is rather expensive, and may be viewed as a pilot program which BMW launched to check how customers would react to such product (with very sportive i8 waiting for its debut).

From the point of view of the driving style which we support at www.eco-driving.info BMW i3 does an incredibly good marketing job for our cause. This car teaches eco-driving while at the same time making it trendy. Can you imagine a better way to build awareness of eco-driving than by a known and respected car manufacturer launching a model which “awards” the driver for driving safely, economically and less nervously?

Unfortunately my battery is almost flat which means that my range is severely limited… That is why I must finish this report on BMW i3.

 

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