DRIVEN: Electric BMW i3 is brilliant but…

A single charge gives 190km driving range, if you drive economically.

When BMW announced entering the electric vehicle market in 2013, they probably did not have a clue that they would account for a third of all fully electric cars sold worldwide from 2014 to 2016.


The US came in first with over 31 000 units sold during 2017.

Although South Africans are still reluctant to adopt electric cars, they are slowly sneaking into our market with almost every manufacturer aiming to have a hybrid model in its line-up.

With our poor electricity infrastructure, I guess we are still a distance away from enjoying driving an electric car and not having to worry about charging stations.

The reason I say so is that I got to spend a few days with the facelifted all-electric BMW i3.

Although it might be hard to spot the differences, the i3’s front and rear have been tweaked a bit, where LED headlights now come standard.

Inside, the iDrive system with navigation and ConnectedDrive software developed specifically for the i3 has been revised. The voice recognition system has been upgraded and you can specify Apple CarPlay.

The car uses an electric powertrain that drives the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission.

It features a set of Li-ion batteries situated under the floor and said to provide a driving range of 200km. Most of its body and internal structure is made of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic.


The doors are made of hemp, which mixed with plastic helps lower the weight of each panel by about 10%. The interior has hemp fibres that are left exposed.

It seats four people and the Rolls-Royce inspired suicide, doors that made getting in at the back a trial, are now hassle free.

Jump into the cabin and you are greeted with the familiar BMW interior.

However, this one feels roomier in the front because the gear selector is situated on the steering wheel compartment.

The electric motor develops 125 kW of power and 250 Nm of torque. BMW claim it can sprint from 0-100 km/h in 7.3 seconds en route to a top speed of 150km/h.


To be honest, I could live with the i3 on a day-to-day basis, but not at this moment in view of our poor electricity infrastructure.

I live in Soweto and that meant endless trips to Bedfordview BMW about 30km away, currently the only dealer in Johannesburg that has the new fast charger facility.

For the record, it takes approximately 45 minutes to get the battery from 1% to 80%.

You can charge the car at home, which I tried only once, as it takes forever to get it fully charged. A single charge would give me about 190km driving range, that is if you drive economically, thanks to the technology that recharges the battery.

When you release the pedal, the vehicle’s kinetic energy is regenerated by the vehicle drivetrain to recharge the battery.

This has the effect of slowing the car down.

Drive it hard and you will see the battery percentage drop drastically.

Besides the lack of a combustion engine, the i3 drives like a normal car and is comfortable and easy to park. Of course, it seems strange because you hear nothing but a whining motor.


It can be knocked down by strong winds on the highway and that required always bringing the car back to line, which I have sometimes experienced in other small cars.

It has all the safety bells and whistles you would expect from a BMW passenger car.

If you are well-heeled, BMW has the Rex version which comes with a 28 kW two-cylinder petrol engine that recharges the batteries.

You should be able to get 250km out of a full charge plus a small tank of petrol.

Pricing for the i3 starts at R637 300 and R717 100 for the Rex model.


It is backed by a five-year/ 100 000km Motorplan, non-contributing service and maintenance contract and eight year/100 000km high voltage battery warranty.



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