Monday, April 1, 2013

World's First BMW's i3 Test Drive: I Get The Honor!

It may not be the color I'd choose, but I can say I'm the first person outside of BMW to drive an i3!

It had to be somebody. There can only be one person who gets to be the first person to do something. BMW's first production electric vehicle, the highly anticipated 2014 i3 has had a couple of journalist "ride alongs" where they were passengers in test mule cars, but nobody outside of BMW had been given the keys to a pre-production i3 and been allowed to drive it. Until yesterday.

BMW's North American Headquarters
I spent most of last week at the NY Auto Show and a good deal of the time there at the BMW display. I had the opportunity to speak with many of the top BMW executives as well as many of the BMW i program managers. It's no secret that BMW's US headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ has had half a dozen pre-production i3's for a few months now. In fact, BMW recently announced they have made a few hundred pre-production i3's rfor final validation. While at the show, I had been asking every person I spoke to one question: "So when do I get to drive an i3?" I think I must have asked that 20 times. My persistence paid off big time. On Thursday Jacob Harb the Head of Electric Vehicle Operations and Strategy for BMW of North America came up and and asked me, "What are you doing Sunday?" "Sunday? Sunday's Easter so I'll be at my parents' house with the rest of my family, but...aaa... what do you have in mind?" I replied. He then went on to tell me if I wanted to drive a pre-production i3, I could. The only thing is I had to do it 8:00am Sunday morning. The entire BMW campus in Woodcliff Lake would be closed and no employees would be there so they could control the whole event. I would have one half hour to drive the car all over the campus (which is very large with huge empty parking lots) and could drive the car as spirited as I wanted to. Needless to say, I accepted!

My security badge
My parents live in Fairfield, NJ which is only about 25 minutes from the Woodcliff Lake Campus so this was easy to arrange and really didn't impact any family plans because it was so early. The rules were I would be allowed to take one picture of me with the car and it couldn't show any of the interior which was completely production-ready. I was given a one day security badge to allow my access to the campus and there would be one employee there to ride along with me. I had to sign some documents that would restrict me from revealing very specific functions and details, but other than that I was free to write or say whatever I wanted to. The Woodcliff Lake Campus is really perfect for this as it's in a rural area surrounded by trees and security booths at all the entrances. Nobody could see what we were doing or take pictures of us.

I arrived at the campus at 7:45am and followed the directions to the technical center where the car was to be. When I arrived there was a familiar face waiting for me. It was Dave Mustac, the technical coordinator for the ActiveE and Electric Vehicle Aftersales Specialist. I kind of felt bad that he had to come here for this on Easter Sunday, but he said he lived close and really didn't mind. I hope that was the case. The car was inside so we had to go in and get it. When we got to the room where it was, I was stunned to see six i3's all gathered together in there. Three of them had the blue swirly camouflage that we've been seeing and three others were painted bright yellow. Not exactly the color I would choose, but for this I didn't care what color it was. I assumed I would be regulated to one of the camouflaged ones, but the first car in line was a yellow one and Dave walked over to it as I followed.  The bright yellow color kind of reminded me of a crash test car, but these obviously aren't being used for that.

It was a BEV i3 although there were three with the range extender option also. He handed me the keys and smiled saying, "I know you've waited for this for a while now," and he was right. I pulled out and the first thing I did was drive on the main road that circles the campus. There were long straight-aways and I could really see how much punch it had. It didn't disappoint! It's definitely much faster than the ActiveE, obviously the result of it having the same power while being nearly 1,300lbs lighter. After circling the campus I pulled off into one of the large parking lots which was completely empty and I did some autocross-like maneuvers. It has remarkable poise even with the thin tires on 20" non-production wheels. They held tight on even the tightest turns and barely even squealed as I pushed the car to the limit. 

After about 40 minutes Dave reminded me we did have to wrap things up. I noticed I used 30% of the charge but didn't look at the mileage when I started (I was too excited) so that's not much help with the expected range. The instruments - which I can't really talk about were very impressive and I think will be well received. Please ask questions below and I'll answer whatever I can but remember there are a lot of things I can't comment about. Special thanks to Dave for taking time out of his Easter Sunday to come and make sure I didn't leave the campus with it! I can't wait till I get the next opportunity to take one for a longer (and maybe unsupervised) drive!

UPDATE: For those that haven't figured it yet, this was an April Fools joke. Unfortunately I haven't had the privilege to test drive an i3...yet. Hopefully I'll get to be one of the first that does, but we'll have to wait to see... Special thanks to follower Chris Llana who did the photoshop work for the picture above. I know he spent a while on it and it definitely tricked a good amount of people. I even got emails from some people asking if I could tell them info on the car!

27 comments:

  1. Great news Tom! You deserve it!

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  2. Tom,

    I am jealous! Hopefully the guys let you upgrade from ActiveE to i3 so that the rest of us have a chance to catch up to your ActiveE mileage!

    --Dennis

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  3. As Ed said, you deserve it. BWM couldn't wish for a better ambassador!
    Did you get to try the back seat as well? Knee and head room?

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  4. Awesome news… congratulations! Thanks to BMW iTeam for allowing you to drive & post the news. Great post. :)

    Any word if i3 will actually be sold, or will it be lease-only like the Mini & ActiveE?

    PS: Is very hard to write/post commits from an iPad (something strange with your theme that eats keystrokes).

    --Brian

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  5. Excellent, Tom, quite a coup. I'm not surprised that you were the first customer to wangle a test drive, but the first person outside of BMW, that's impressive.

    My question is about regen. How does it compare with MiniE and ActiveE, and is regen strength adjustable with some kind of settings?

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  6. Brian,

    The i3 is a full production vehicle and will be available all around the world. It will go on sale in select European countries in November and here in the US in late December/early January. You'll be able to lease or buy it. This is not a limited production test car like the MINI-E and ActiveE.

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  7. Phil,

    The regen is set but there are three drive settings which have different levels of regen : Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro Plus.

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  8. Good job Tom! Can't wait to see it on NJ roads!

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  9. Tom -- way to go!! Did the back doors open? Did the car feel very spacious inside? How about rear storage space? Based on your test drive, is there anything you think you we are going to miss when we turn in ours Active E's?

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  10. If anyone deserves to have the first test drive, it's you Tom, as a reward for all your dedicated, tireless work promoting BMW electrics. But by giving you that privilege, they've no doubt put a lot of prima donna automotive journalists in a snit, so I guess we'll be hearing their indignant complaints for another five months while they wait for their test drives. So be it!

    The flamboyant yellow paint job can only mean that BMW's marketing strategists are going for a monster early buzz. So I wonder what they're going to call that irreverent yellow, and whether it will be offered when the i3 goes on sale. I think the new i3 color should be dubbed Banana Yellow.

    Terrific report, Tom, and congratulations! Hoping we'll hear more soon.

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  11. Excellent Tom, you did it again!

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  12. Love it! Can't wait to see the real car.
    Note to BMW: Let Tom have the first one a month before they launch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. I agree!! and I then will visit him every day until I get mine :)

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  13. Hey Tom,
    The Easter Bunny really did arrive for you, eh? ;-)

    Congrats!

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  14. Strange that the image of the yellow i3 is labelled AprilFoolsFinal?! :D
    You had me going!

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  16. Too cool Tom!!!! Good reporting as usual. Thanks!. I'm really interested in knowing how BMW will transition ActiveE-rs into I3-ers? Will they let us move directly into a I3 or will we have to finish out our lease?
    I hated to give back my MiniE, but Im really happy to move quickly to an I3.

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  17. Too cool Tom!!!! Good reporting as usual. Thanks!. I'm really interested in knowing how BMW will transition ActiveE-rs into I3-ers? Will they let us move directly into a I3 or will we have to finish out our lease?
    I hated to give back my MiniE, but Im really happy to move quickly to an I3.

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    1. Hey Robert,

      What month did your ActiveE lease originate? The i3 isn't probably going to be available in the US till January so you probably will be close to your lease expiring anyway. It will likely go on sale in Europe on November and then here a couple months later.

      I don't have any official news on this, but I really believe BMW is going to make the transition from the ActiveE to the i3 very easy for those that want to buy or lease an i3. It would be foolish if they didn't.

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  18. There, thats better! Hate being anonymous!

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  19. is this real or an April Fools' joke?I genuinely cannot tell.

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    1. Yes, unfortunately it was an April Fools post. I do hope to be one of the first to test drive the i3 someday, we'll see...

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  20. You always do a great job on these Tom, hat's off to you! I remember your e-mini post a few years back about it burning up and you barely escaped with your life. You had everyone fooled with that one and I think I remember it was even picked up by other websites! Great crack

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  21. You really should remove this post now ... it's just going to piss people off

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    1. I've been doing April Fools posts on my blogs for the past three years now and on April 2nd I add an 'update' at the bottom of the post that explains it's not true. I never remove posts though. If anyone reads the post they will see it's not true. If they don't want to take the time to read it and only look at the title then it's on them. :)

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