Road Test

BMW i3 First Drive Review

By Sanjay Soni   |   29 April,2014

Silent as a cat, powerful as a tiger.

Beware when driving the BMW i3, you could scare a person out of his wits by sneaking up on him as silently as a cat. I actually did that to our studio photographer Andreas and the poor fellow has still not recovered from the shock! You can’t hear the car whether you are inside or outside. Period. My dad's scooter used to make more noise even when it was not running.

The i3 is not just a new car but the start of something new for BMW with the i brand. The i3 is the first BMW to run on electric power alone and I had a great opportunity to test drive this car when it came to our Brussels studio for a photo shoot. I snuck it out of the studio (after the photo shoot had been completed else Andreas would have been very annoyed) and put it through its paces. I was really in for a surprise.

Just because this car is electric doesn’t mean it lacks punch. It can do 0-100 kph in 7.2 seconds. The car literally takes off when you press the accelerator. You actually feel as if you are a neutron being propelled at a fantastic speed in a particle accelerator. This is courtesy the 170 hp electric motor which also makes a healthy peak torque of 250 Newton-metres.

Just to test it further I stepped on the gas (or whatever you call it in an electric car) and I was pushed back in my seat as if I was being subject to G forces. It seemed like I was in a Sukhoi Su-30 trying to do a 5G vertical climb!
Andreas's face was whiter than usual (poor guy). He certainly won't sit with me again for any test runs. For the numbers, the top speed is 150 kph in the interests of efficiency, says BMW.

Sanity soon prevailed as I hit the small and curvy roads outside the studio. The car's regenerative braking works beautifully and helps slow down the beast very quickly. You have to get used to this as the car does not slow to a crawl but instead, decelerates instantly to a near stop.

The brake pedals will feel quite neglected in this car as most of the work is done by pressing and releasing the accelerator pedal. It handled corners very smoothly despite being a rather tallish car as compared to its fossil fuel powered siblings. I threw it quite hard into some sharp corners and some inclines, but it took them as easily as Pugachev doing the Cobra manoeuvre in his Su-27 years ago.

The automatic gears take a bit getting used to since they are mounted on the right hand of the steering wheel. Very strange place to put a shifter as we are used to seeing paddles behind the steering wheel. But that is the Bavarians for you, springing a surprise here and there.

Power is sent to the rear wheels through a single speed transmission and the gearbox in operation is smooth and generally jerk free. Once I got the feel of the steering and the acceleration, I was sailing along with nary a worry in the world. It felt cool to have people staring at the car as it does draw attention, especially with the colour scheme and the 19 inch alloy wheels shod with low profile tyres. The ride is a bit stiff on the bumps though and with roads in Brussels being what they are, a bit painful on the back at times.

As I said before, the shape draws attention like no other. At the front, you have the usual BMW kidney grille which has a blue or silver coloured surround (depending on the body colour) and then there are the U-shaped LED light units. The side profile is funky and the rear design is also radical with a large tailgate and slim roof pillars. You will also find the LED lights look wonderful at night.

The i3 measures 3,999 millimetres in length, 1,775 mm in width and 1,578 mm in height; which means it is compact but it is spacious on the inside. The dash design is futuristic and you have a range of materials available such as naturally treated leather, wood, wool and other renewable raw materials. Nice.

BMW needs to launch the i3 in India because there will be enough takers, plus it offers peace of mind with a battery warranty that is valid for eight years or 1,00,000 kilometres.