Tuesday, February 4, 2014

BMW i3 Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Toni From Belgium

A while ago I announced that I would be starting a new series here called, "I was Born Electric on...". The series will be featuring readers who are i3 owners and who are willing to share their thoughts on the car after owning it for a while. They will begin the post by introducing themselves and stating the date they were Born Electric, which is when they picked up their i3. Andy from the UK kicked off the Born Electric series and we then visited Hil from Holland. We'll now be traveling to Belgium to visit with Toni and his new Capparis White i3:  

My name is Toni and I was Born Electric on Monday, 27th January, 2014.

The first time I realized that there was an alternative to fossil fuels for propelling a car was in early 2011, when I came across an electronic brochure about the Opel Ampera, the European sibling of the Volt. The more I read about it, the more I was convinced that my next car had to be an electric one.
The reason why I didn't go for the Ampera back then was stupidly financial : 50.000€ for a car was way above what I was willing/able to pay. 
Of course, there were other more affordable electric cars out there. But maybe I was not ready for the leap of faith into electro-mobility yet. Range anxiety was clearly an issue I had to deal with while I waited for my savings account to be able to take the hit of a new car.

Three years later, things had clearly evolved. Both on the EV market and in my personal situation. In the latter, I had enough spare funds to afford a reasonable down payment on a premium car. Moreover, the extensive immersion into electric car literature helped me to come to the conclusion that I did not really need a range extender since more than 95% of my daily commuting could easily be covered by a BEV. The question was then : which car was going to be the one. Ampera/Volt? No, though it definitely is a fantastic car, it still has a tail pipe and I did not want to buy an end-of-cycle model. Tesla? No, too big and too expensive, I did not want to take out a mortgage for the sake of buying a car.  Nissan Leaf? Er, no.  
The BMW i3? Well ... I must admit that my first impression was negative. Not because of its design; actually I am fond of its looks since the very first concepts that appeared in 2011.  But rather because it is a BMW! I never liked BMW. I always considered that BMW was making cars to suit arrogant petrolhead jerks (with all due respect, of course!).

And then I test-drove it. And fell in love.

Was I ready to overcome my prejudices and become a BMW driver myself?  Definitely. Biases are wrong, the car drives like a breeze, the technology inside is outstanding and I too can be a jerk sometimes. : )

So, in order to do penance for my past biases, I decided to devote this blog post to crushing some preconceptions that have been floating around the i3 in some reviews.  And I'll do that from the authoritative position of being the happy owner of a "Shamu Edition" (Capparis white & black - think Shamu the whale)

It is a city car:
No, it is not. Though the car handles incredibly well in an urban environment, it has nothing to be ashamed of when cruising at highway speed. It is fast and responsive. Steering is precise and forgiving at 130 km/h (80 mph).  Overtaking on motorways is a feast. It is a BMW after all, is it not?

The i3 is particularly noisy at high speed:
No, it is not. My first extended drive of the i3 has been the trip back home after delivery at my iAgent dealership. 50 km (30 mi) from Waterloo (Brussels area) to the Mons area where I live. Since the battery was almost fully charged, I decided that I could afford the luxury of squandering away precious kWh's on the E19 motorway. In addition to discovering the driving dynamics described above, I was also curious to put to the test the recurrent criticism I read about unpleasant airflow noises.  I can confirm that in-cabin noises are like taste; there is no accounting for them. I, for one, was not inconvenienced by the airflow at all. I even enjoyed it.

The trunk is too small and the suicide doors are a hindrance:
The question is : Compared to what? 
I am a small car guy. Before the i3, my car was a Mini Cooper. Before that, I owned a Mercedes A-Class (2004 model). Before that, a (discontinued) Rover 220sdi. I know what a small car is. And the i3 is no small car at all by my standards. The trunk offers enough space to generously accommodate the weekly shopping for a family of four. There is plenty of space for my Victorian longbow, arrows included, or for my eldest son's guitar, amp included. 

As for the coach doors, once again it all depends on where you come from. Compared to the coupé-style doors of my Mini, the i3's "antagonist" doors, as they are called in French, are a major step forward in terms of ease of access and comfort. Or to put it in my youngest son's words : "Sooo cooool!".

Materials used for interior trims do not feel "premium":
That was a tricky one.
As I said, price was an important parameter for me, as it surely is for most of us. Given that I accepted the idea of disbursing 40.000+ € for a car, the outlook of spending my driving time in a sleazy environment was distressing me. Of course, I did have the opportunity to feel, touch, smell the interior materials a couple of times before I ordered the car. But assessing the quality of a dashboard or of a leather upholstery is like testing a spring mattress at the mattress store.  No matter how long you try to figure it out, the only way to be sure is to turn the lights off and literally sleep on it.
Though I have not slept in my car (yet), now, I know. The interior is largely up to the price paid. Comfy, stylish, extremely well finished down to the most minute detail. I am almost ashamed of having doubted.  By the way, my i3 has the Lodge interior (Giga world). 

The i3 is just an overpriced Zoe: (I've been reading this one a lot in the French-speaking press).
For the non-European reader, let me first explain that the Renault Zoe (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_Zoe) is a sort of cute good looking Nissan Leaf, with a French touch.  Don't get me wrong; I think that the Zoe is a nice little car but, c'me on! 

How can a professional journalist put the i3 and the Zoe on the same footing.  How can you compare the past to the future? A car made of steel to the first mass produced car made of aluminum and carbon fibre?
I wish I were an engineer and be able to explain why and how a car with a CFRP body drives so much better than a conventional one. But I am just a linguist and you'll have to bear with my poor description : in the i3, you're just in control!  

The rigidity of the thing makes you feel that there is nothing the car won't take.  You feel light and super secure at the same time.  If you don't believe me, just arrange your own test drive.

Considering the technology, range is unimpressive:
My take on that may sound unconventional.
More range would have been inconsistent with the concept of “great driving experience in a sustainable way”. If my average daily need is 40, why should I store in my car 4, 6 or even 8 times the energy and resources that are necessary?  

In all fairness though, I must confess that I am still struggling with an instinctual range anxiety.
And this is where technology comes to the rescue. The amount of information that comes through the screens is just impressive. The dynamic range assistant, the Eco-route guidance, the graphics, everything has been thought and designed in order to alleviate whatever range fear that I still could have. And it works. On top of that, the resolution quality of the 10.2" screen (professional nav) is remarkable.

I know that there is a bit of controversy as to why BMW did not include a State Of Charge reading in the i3 as in the ActiveE or the Mini E.  Since I never had the chance to drive an EV with a SOC, I guess that my point of view may be considered as neutral on that.

The i3 is an expensive high-tech toy for tree-hugging geeks:
It is.
But it is much more than that at the same time.
It's a car.
With all the features, functionalities, looks, behavior, style, technology and feel of a great car.
And yes, it is electric.

So is my i3 living up to all of its promises?
Not quite all of them, for the moment at least.
In Belgium, some of the much anticipated 360° Electric services have not been fully rolled out yet. The Add-On-Mobility (Access or Alternate Mobility program as it is called on other markets) is still largely undefined and the ConnectedDrive services are having a bumpy debut.  Nevertheless, the local BMWi team is working hard on it.

As far as the actual car is concerned though, I can happily report that I haven't found the least flaw yet.
My i3 is the second BMWi to have been registered in Belgium.
And I am very proud to be among the first owners. 

2/5/14 EDIT:
Toni has had a few people ask him about the range since this post went up so he asked me if I could add these words to the post to cover what he has observed so far:

Hi, thank you all for the the nice words!

As for the range, I haven't pushed it to its limits yet. And I doubt I'll ever try to; I'd rather do away with my range anxiety in a non-traumatic way :)

Apart from the maximum range, I think you have to consider the "comfortable" range the car is giving you. By "comfortable" range, I mean the distance you can cover without ever bothering about modes, driving style or even outside temperature and this includes short highway portions. In the case of the i3 (BEV), my experience of the "comfortable" distance is ~62mi (100 km) on one charge.  Remember that, within this range you can drive the way you want. Of course, this "comfortable" range can be jeopardized by a particularly aggressive and non-responsible driving. But, as far as I know, only anti-EV journalists are capable of driving this way.

If your daily commuting includes larger highway portions and/or represents between 62 and 80 mi (100 to 130 km), then I recommend using ECOPRO. Mind you, ECOPRO is not a sub-standard COMFORT mode. The car behaves much like it does in COMFORT mode with only slight differences. Most of them remain unseen by the driver. The only one you do notice is the max speed capping. This speed capping works much like a speed limiter on a conventional car, i.e. you can adjust it in the settings and override it by pressing the right pedal down to "full throttle" when overtaking or in case of emergency. For Europe, ECOPRO default setting is 110km/h (~68 mph).

If you really need to go much farther than 80 mi (130 km) on one charge in a consistent way, you'll probably have to master hypermiling techniques and accept that the ride may become stressing sometimes :)
In this case, I'd recommend going to for the REx version.

If you own an i3 and would like to participate in the Born Electric series here, you can email me at: tom.moloughney@gmail.com


  1. Terrific post! (and that's coming from a writer)

  2. Thanks! I like the European attitude. After all, I am European, too.

  3. Tony, thanks for the write-up I thoroughly enjoyed it! I can't wait for the i3 to become available in the US, but range is a huge concern. What is an average daily range that you get out of it and what driving mode do you drive it in? I can't imagine driving on highway at 55mph in ECO PRO or ECO PRO+! Thanks!

    1. HI chr, I asked Tom to add some thoughts about range and ECOPRO mode at the end of article. Hope you'll find them useful.

  4. Congratulations on your wise choice Tony! and thanks a lot you for sharing your experience with us. And thanks to Tom for this great initiative! The "I was Born Electric on..." series plus the Facebook group (with 900 members now an counting!) really add value to the i3 buying experience.

    Just as Tony, I used to have some prejudices on BMW drivers and a more or less a negative perception of BMW as a car maker as a whole. I never thought I would cross the invisible line myself and go over to the BMW side of the road. The i3 and its far-reaching ecological approach changed things: we ordered an i3 last December (and expect it to be delivered at the end of March). It’s incredible how similar ours and Tony’s car lives have been: our first car was a second hand Mercedes-Benz A-class, we changed to a brand new A-class –with the works- when it’s second generation came. A car we thought we were to own for a good while but after we got corrosion problems that MB refused to take responsibility for, we changed to a second hand almost new dealer sold methane hybrid B-class, which we really liked as it was compact yet roomy and ecological more correct. We drove only on biological gas but the frequent visits to the biogas stations started to bore us as the range was only 250-300km on methane and we didn’t want to drive on gasoline. Time to upgrade ... but we had a family deal that our next car –in a couple of years- must be an EV, and brand loyal as we –used to be- perhaps a MB (after the corrosion issue we knew we were leaving MB sooner or later…). But when the i3 came last autumn we though: this is the one! And look CFRP will not corrode! But a BMW? Ok let’s give it a try! The first experience with the dealer was great. Very nice and well informed helpful people who allowed us to test drive a couple of times even for a longer four hour drive. We ended up with a double deal: we ordered the i3 AND bought an almost new Mini Cooper (a dream car for one of us) with a re-buy promise at a fixed price on delivery of the i3 so we could sell our old B-class privately with no hassle (which we actually did recently).
    So you see Tony same path to the i3 here, so similar as to the Mini, which is pepper white btw! And we also ordered the white one with the Lodge interior, no REx and –as I see in your pics- the same “Turbine 428” wheels. Don’t tell me you ordered Harman Kardon sound system as well for in that case I must complain that you got OUR car! 
    Btw in our longer test drive we did notice the airflow and just like you were not inconvenienced by it we thought it was cool and kind of part of the EV, almost Star Wars experience. We even enjoyed it. And if we ever get tired of that we have a fairly good sound system to match it. Btw regarding Star Wars experience I think the “Panda” Capparis white & black – looks a bit like a clone army soldier, which is really cool.
    Have great time with your new car!
    /CRC in SWE

    1. Hi CRC, Well, our parallel experiences are impressive indeed!
      But I did not order the HK sound system, so your i3 will be unique in this sense :-)
      As for the stormtrooper look, here is what I received as a birthday present last week :
      Seems that my kids had the same idea as you ;)