Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bridgestone's "Ologic Technology" and the i3

Much has been made about the tall narrow tires on the BMW i3. They are really unlike any tire on any other car currently in production and they certainly don't look like they belong on a BMW. However BMW and Bridgestone did their homework on this, and accomplished the goals they set out to. That was to develop a tire that is not only efficient, but also delivers the performance expected of any BMW.

How did they do it? Ologic technology. Yep, they developed something so new and advanced you have never even heard of it before! So while I as the Geneva Motor Show a few weeks ago, I made it a point to stop by the Bridgestone exhibit to ask about this new mysterious "Ologic Tech". As I approached the Bridgestone area, I could see they had a Capparis White i3 on display with it all lettered up promoting this new Ologic technology, and they even had an award in a case next to it that proudly displayed that Bridgestone won the 2014 Tire Technology International award for Tire Technology of the year! Fantastic! I was even more pumped up to find out what this new Ologic technology was. Could it be a new special rubber compound or tread pattern?  I was about to find out.

Tire Technology International Awards 2014 winner interview – Tire Technology of the Year

So after asking the information desk for someone to interview I was introduced to a Brigestone product manager to answer my questions. I didn't waste any time. My first question was: What exactly is Ologic technology? I don't have the exact words he used but to paraphrase he basically said "Ologic Technology is our way of creating an efficient tire that still offers optimum performance. By using a very tall narrow tire we simultaneously reduce drag, rolling resistance and tire deformation. The height of the tire in relation to the width also increases the contact patch which allows for retain the dynamic driving characteristics of a much wider tire" So Ologic is just a name of a concept, not any specific rubber compound or such? Yes. Alright well that was a little let down because I figured I was going to get a lesson on rubber or tread or something other than what I heard.

So why are they so special? They must have done something right to win the Tire Technology of the Year award, no? Here is an excerpt of how Bridgestone explains why these are indeed special:

"A Unique Concept for a Unique Car
BMW has achieved a genuine milestone with the i3 electric car. Doing justice to its unprecedented levels of both efficiency and performance demanded more than just a new tyre but an entire new tyre concept. Bridgestone’s answer came in the form of the ologic technology, which capitalises on the synergies of a large diameter coupled with a narrow tread design. The result is a tyre that delivers significant improvements in aerodynamics and rolling resistance, while still offering outstanding grip in wet weather conditions.

Combining a large diameter with a narrow tread pattern has several advantages. While the tread on smaller diameter tyres is typically inclined to excessive movement or “deformation” during driving, the larger diameter and higher belt tension significantly reduce tyre deformation and therefore conserve energy that is otherwise lost through internal friction which helps to reduce rolling resistance. By the same token, the narrow tread concept improves aerodynamics. The most spectacular achievement, however is that these improvements do not involve a trade-off in terms of safety. The tyre’s long contact patch (relative to its narrow width),  revolutionary tread design and compound still ensure outstanding grip in both wet and dry conditions."

They have obviously done something right because even though they look like they would be better suited on a motorcycle, the i3 handles exceptionally with them. I've spoken to quite a few people now that have had an i3 on a race track and all of them were genuinely surprised at how well the car performed. In a few weeks I should be taking delivery of my i3 and I can the really put the "Ologic Technology" to the test. :)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Ross from The UK

Ross and his new baby in front of  Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
Hello, I'm Ross from The UK and I was Born Electric on Saturday, March 1st, 2014.

Why an i3?

I will start this blog by saying that I am totally obsessed by cars.  I love cars, I always have, and the cars that find their way into our household are usually of the performance variety, ranging from TVRs to Hondas with even the occasional 4x4.  To be perfectly honest, electric cars had never really appeared on my radar.  I was aware of them obviously, but had never considered owning one.  My view was that most of them were slow, couldn’t go very far and generally a bit dull.  

However, one of my favourite websites is Pistonheads, and I happened to read their review of the new BMW i3 back in October.  Wow!  This sounded like one exciting little car.  So, at this point I started doing some more research, reading every i3 review I could find.  At this time, my car was an E92 M3 and my wife was driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee.  This meant that we had two cars that were pretty expensive to run.  Both had annual road tax of £490 and not so great fuel consumption.  So, the i3 was beginning to sound attractive as it was fun, funky and cheap to run.  That the electric only version could be run as a company car with zero benefit-in-kind was the clincher.

So, it came to be that I ordered an electric only i3 without seeing or test driving one - with the proviso that I could cancel my order if I didn’t like it when I test drove it.  I had to wait about 3 weeks till the 16th November before I could get my hands on one.

Is it a real BMW?
I have owned three BMWs previously, an E46 330i (saloon), an E91 335i (touring) and the E92 M3 we have now. My wife had also owned two minis, a Cooper S and a Cooper S JCW. So we had high expectations. Before getting our test drive, we had an opportunity to have a good look around the showroom car. The consensus from all the family was that it was larger than expected and that from the outside the overall appearance was ‘funky’. Inside the i3, it was even better; the interior feels really modern especially with the large central nav screen.

i3 curb.jpgWe were blown away on the test drive.  Putting your foot down just elicits a huge grin.  It is such a hoot to drive.  The instant and rapid acceleration takes a bit of getting used to but is addictive.  Also being able to drive with just one pedal is great and it only takes a few moments to become accustomed to it.  We were sold!

It really does drive like a BMW; the way it handles the road and the feel of the steering all felt familiar.  Since taking delivery of my own i3, I have also taken it to a local sprint circuit.  The circuit is only 600 metres in length but over 3 laps the i3 was great.  It really surprised most of the people there and I was posting times that were quicker than two MX5s, an MR2 and and an E36 328i.  I have also since discovered that the i3 is compatible with the ///M laptimer app.  That said, don’t buy one as a track car!  The range was down to just 43 miles on the day including driving there and back on a dual carriageway.  The M3 is much better suited to track work.

The Options
For anyone considering the purchase of an i3, the options list can be a bit daunting.  I chose laurus (laurel in the US) grey which I am really pleased with and the standard interior because I liked it!  Suite was a consideration but at £2,000 I felt it was too expensive.  I have recently discovered that the mood lighting with colour change is not included with the standard interior - this isn’t mentioned in the brochures or the website.  I was lucky to get the Pro Sat Nav free as I placed my order early and I think everyone should consider this as it really suits the interior of the car.  I ordered the heat pump option as BMW erroneously told me this was required to preheat the vehicle - it isn’t. Supposedly this gives better range in cold weather due to more efficient heating, but as I have nothing to compare it too I have no idea how effective it is. The Harmon Kardon hi-fi option is utterly brilliant and I am really pleased that I added that to my spec. In my opinion the standard wheels are awful, and the 428 alloys I ordered receive very positive comments. The heated seats are the fastest / hottest of any car I’ve owned and therefore a must.

I’ve had the car for just over two weeks and already done more than 900 miles.  Range anxiety really hasn’t been an issue although I have got home a couple of times with only 3 miles left.  It’s a great car and it seems that for the distances we generally travel it is going to meet most of our journey needs. For those occasions when it doesn’t I will just have to put up with that howling V8...

This makes the seventh Born Electric guest blogger here. The other posts can be viewed here: 

Andy from The UK 
Hil from Holland  
Toni from Belgium 
Jan from Belgium 
Steven from The Netherlands   
Jon from Norway

If you own an i3 and would like to participate here in the Born Electric guest blogger series, email me at:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Comprehensive i3 Video Review By Nissan LEAF Owner in the UK

It seems that nearly every day now there are new short video clips of i3 reviews posted on YouTube. When I come across one that I feel is done very well, I'll post it here. Such is the case with the above video made by Grant Thomas from the UK. Grant maintains a blog called "The Grant Thomas Blog: Sustainability, Electric Cars & Technology News and Comment" where he posted this i3 video review.

Grant owns a Nissan LEAF so he is an experienced electric vehicle owner and in my opinion that gives his review a little more credibility than some others done by journalists with very little real life electric vehicle experience. The video is about a half hour long and he does manage to cover a lot so pour yourself a nice cup of coffee (or a glass of wine), and kick back and enjoy!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Jon From Norway

So Far we've had Andy from the UK , Hil from Holland , Toni from Belgium, Jan From Belgium, and Steven from the Netherlands.   We'll now be traveling to Norway to see what Jon has to say about his Solar Orange BEV i3.

Hello, I'm Jon from Norway and I was Born Electric on February 13th.

Until now I’ve been "partly electric" by cycling once a week (not in winter) to work with an electric bike. It's 17km each way and I've done 1000km in total. Living in the southwest of Norway, in Sandnes and working in Stavanger, nearby.

Electric or hybrid?

I first started looking for a hybrid vehicle that could go electric to and from work. Toyota and Lexus could just go a few kilometers in electric mode which wasn't enough for me. Then Volvo came up with one, but it was too expensive. The i3 was the first all-electric that I found interesting. In the past two years the most we have driven at any time was about 100km. If we need to travel longer than that, we go by air. After reading just about everything I could find about the i3, I decided to sign an informal agreement to buy one on July 11. Since then, Audi and VW have announced a few interesting hybrids, but the Norwegian tax system gives the all-electric cars some advantages (at the moment). That meant the all electric BMW i3 is actually less expensive then the competing hybrids, plus it gets toll free passage and is free on ferries!
I like the blue LED interior lights when you lock or unlock the doors. You can also change the color if you don't like the blue
Buying it:

In October, BMW put an i3 in front of the Oslo Marathon to serve as a pace car. The BMW shop Bavaria in Stavanger lent it for a day and had it on exibition in town. I went there, took a glance, and felt in love. Unfortunately the salespersons knew even less than I did (Hi Tom, It’s the same mess in Norway!), so I spoke with two engineers that came to look at the charging system. Together we agreed that BMW needs another type of way to sell these electric cars. Speciliasts that have been properly trained for these unique vehicles. My experience earlier was that coming in to the BMW car shop speaking Oslo dialect got them to believe that I worked with Statoil and was looking for an expensive model. The salespersons focus on status models with big engines is not suitable for electric cars! These cars are different and the sales processes should be different as well. When i3 was introduced in November, I took it for a spin and was convinced. I was about the 50th person to sign a contract out of the 550 in total in the southwest of Norway. After seven long months of waiting, I finally have it!

My son and grandson like the i3 too!
Driving it:

It is a pleasure to drive! It is fast when you need it, yet with smooth and easy ride. Small and quick in town and with an impressive turning radius! Many Norwegian families have two cars because both parents use a car to come to work and the i3 can be a perfect second car for many of them. Quite often they will have a large car to go to their cottage in weekends. However from now on, the second should be all-electric like the i3! Moreover, for some of us it is the primary car, the one that gets the most use. The one foot driving is perfect! In the morning rush, I used to step on the brake pedal hundreds of times to avoid crashing. Now I just regulate the speed by the accelerator pedal. Even better, I go into the line of cars on the motorway and turn on the adaptive Cruise control. It's possible for me to travel the whole 15 km on the motorway just steering, not touching the any pedals! (Try that, Tesla!) I have a very good second car, a Saab 9.3 automatic, but I will now use it only if we decide to go by car to Oslo (500km, We have only Japanese fast charging system here now) or if I need to fetch something with a trailer. Last week we went to visit some relatives in the Archipelago north of Stavanger. The car did fine on the 80km drive, even with 5 degrees Celsius and strong winds. I was worried about the distance and how much air conditioning (heating) I could use, but was relieved when the car showed 55km to go after driving the 80km. Since the i3 is a tall car, strong winds do affect the steering more than I am used to, but it is not a big deal once you get used to it.

Perfect choice?

As a city car, I believe the best choice for the i3 is the all-electric car version now. Agile, quick and fun to drive. I like the narrow tires because they will not float in snow and they will not follow tracks in the asphalt. Norwegian roads have often tracks from cars with studded tires. The i3 REx would definitely make my range anxiety disappear, but here in Norway, it is too expensive because of the special tax system. To have the newest in security, you must add much of the extras BMW provide!  I paid 36% extra to get the essentials! (Tyre Pressure Monitor is free). I believe i3 is the only all-electric car with adaptive Cruise Control. That is a great, but soon  the electric VW Golf comes with it as a standard feature! Relative to the range anxiety, both Audi A3 and VW Golf comes with 204hk hybrid cars that uses 0,15l/10km! If BMW does not come up with wider range of electric cars, or hybrid 4x4, then VW-Audi will achieve their European goal, being the leading automaker here, also in electric and hybrid cars. As for the sound system, the car is a virtual concert hall with the Harman Kardon loudspeakers. I have a lot of music stored on the hard disk in the car. To listen to quiet parts of classical music without disturbance from the petrol motor is perfect. The extras are from the ordinary BMWs, and suits the i3 well. To give i3 the right premium feel along with the rest of the BMWs, I think you need optional equipment like adaptive Cruise Control, stop and go and Harman Kardon loudspeakers. However, as said before, these features do cost a lot! In Norway the base i3, the Leaf and Golf cost about the same without optional equipment. For me, i3 wins even though you do not buy optional equipment.

Two practical things about the i3 that I'd like to recommend: Floor mats in white velor are nice to look at, but not to use in winter. Also do not put the electric cables under the bonnet. The wet environment might damage it, they said. Therefore, I recommend using a waterproof bag for them like I do.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

State of Washington Approves BMW i3 REx For Sales Tax Exemption

A little over a month ago we learned that BMW i3 REx buyers in New Jersey wouldn't have to pay sales tax on the vehicle as the State was including it in the zero emission vehicle tax exemption. That will obviously help i3 REx sales immensely since it will likely save the average i3 REx buyer in New Jersey about $3,500. There was never a question of whether the BEV i3 would be tax exempt, since it is truly a zero emission vehicle, but the i3 REx isn't. The range extended Chevy Volt, for example is not tax exempt in NJ. The reasoning behind the i3 REx exemption is two fold. First, the i3 REx has about an 80 mile all electric range which is more than double the Volt's. This means for most buyers the i3 REx will likely be driven on electric much more than the average Volt owner drives their car on electricity. Secondly, the i3's range extender isn't as robust as the Volts. You could easily drive the Volt all the time without ever plugging it in. I don't know why you would buy a Volt and do that, but you could without any problem. The i3 REx on the other hand could not be driven like that, and it really needs to be charged and driven in electric mode most of the time.

So today we got news that Washington State followed New Jersey's lead and certified both the i3 BEV and i3 REx to get the State's zero emission tax exemption, saving i3 REx buyers in The Evergreen State a good chunk of change. In fact, most i3 REx buyers there will likely save as much as the REx option costs-$3,850!

I noticed that InsideEVs just put up a post about this and since I'm currently in Geneva covering the Geneva Motor show for them I figured I'd "borrow" Eric Loveday's post on this. Below is the full post he made for

“We ARE smarter than California,” says Washington state representative Chad Magendanz.
BMW i3 With REx Qualifies For Sales Tax Exemption in Washington
BMW i3 With REx Qualifies For Sales Tax Exemption in Washington
Magendanz made that statement before and now he’s saying it again.
When Magendanz stated that previously, it was to make it know that he was urging the state of Washington to grant the BMW i3 REx sales tax exemption.  This idea was that Washington would jump in front of California, a state that seems reluctant to award EREVs due to the ICE on board.
Now, Magendanz is saying “We ARE smarter than California” again, but this time it’s to celebrate the fact that the i3 REx will be sales tax exempt in Washington.
Per the press release sent to InsideEVs:
  • Dept. of Revenue reverses itself, says new electric BMW with made-in-WA parts will get tax exemption after all
  • State Rep. Chad Magendanz was happy to find out that one of his prime-sponsored bills is unnecessary, now that a state agency has reversed its position on a tax exemption for electric cars.
The Issaquah Republican had been pushing legislation to clarify that electric vehicles such as the new BMW i3 qualify for a state sales tax exemption. The state Department of Revenue (DOR) told Magendanz last month that the i3 – which has carbon fiber parts made in Washington – wouldn’t qualify because of an optional gas-powered “range extender” BMW offers to consumers worried about their car running out of power. Magendanz introduced the bill to counter the department’s interpretation of the exemption law, but last week DOR informed lawmakers it had changed its mind.
“It’s a great thing when common sense prevails in government,” said Magendanz. “Unlike California, Washington is sending the message that we encourage innovative, environmentally-friendly automotive technology.”
The issue of the sales tax exemption came to Magendanz’s attention when he read that California had backed out of a deal with BMW to grant the i3 the state’s coveted “Clean Air Vehicle” white decal, which gives drivers full access to HOV lanes. California said the range extender – even though it’s optional and not permanently connected to the car – compromised the i-3’s status as a solely electric vehicle.
The i3 is expected to hit the U.S. market this spring. SGL Group in Moses Lake produced carbon fiber components for the car’s passenger compartment.
The bolded statement of “not permanently connected to the car” is clearly inaccurate when one opts for the i3 with REx.  And some of the anit-California comments are untrue too, such as the i3 not qualifying for the white sticker, which is actually does, provided its the BEV version.
Washington joins New Jersey, site of BMW’s US headquarters, in exempting the i3 REx from sales tax.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

BMW i3 Places 2nd in European Car Of The Year Voting

Some say there are no moral victories and if you don't win, well, you just lose. I think that may apply to sports more than in other types of competitions, like say, the European Car Of The Year Award.

The BMW i3 finished 2nd to the Peugeot 308, and it was in fact by a substantial margin. However it is worthy of noting that the i3 did finish ahead of the Tesla Model S, which is largely considered the best electric car available. In fact, some automotive journalists say the Tesla Model S is flat out the best car available, electric or otherwise. So in this case, while I'm sure BMW had hoped to win the award, I think the consolation prize of finishing ahead of the Model S was definitely something they privately celebrated.

Autocar was the first to reveal the winner, getting the scoop on everybody. I'm actually here in Geneva now at the Geneva Motor Show covering it for InsideEVs and I didn't even know until I read what they posted! It seems Autocar may have in fact been surprised the i3 didn't win, and blamed the loss on the i3 and the Model S splitting the "electric vote". I'm not too sure I agree with there being an "electric vote" though, and the margin of victory was large enough to consider it a clear victory . However I really know very little about the voting process for this honor and perhaps Autocar knows something about this that I don't.  Here is what they had to say about the results:

“Peugeot wins ECOTY ahead of BMW i3 and Tesla Model S, which clearly split the electric vote. No quarrel with the 308, which is a very well sorted example of its kind, but still feel it’s an opportunity missed to pass over a revolution like the i3 in favour of something so very conventional.”

Here's how the voting went:

Peugeot 308: 307 votes
BMW i3: 223 votes
Tesla Model S: 216 votes
Citroen C4 Picasso: 182 votes
Mazda 3: 180 votes
Skoda Octavia: 172 votes
Mercedes Benz S-Class: 170 votes

So while the i3 didn't take home the trophy, it's clear the voters were impressed with what the i3 brings. To finish ahead of the Model S is pretty incredible, because the Model S is really an incredible car in its own right. So even without a win, this bodes very well for the i3. This is definitely an example of a worthwhile moral victory if I've ever seen one. Now we'll see if the people agree with the results. So far the demand has been very strong for the i3, but will that continue once the original pent up demand subsides and production ramps up to full volume? That's the three billion dollar question that BMW is praying for.

The action around the i3 on the show floor was very good, as it was basically surrounded with journalists all day. I was a little surprised by this because the i3 isn't "new" to the auto show circuit. It may be just launching for the public but journalists have had access to it at many of the past auto shows and by now I would have expected the buzz to have subsided a bit. Perhaps there was renewed interest because of the 2014 European Car Of  The Year competition.
Here are some more picture from Geneva:

Sunday, March 2, 2014

An Aerospace Engineer from the UK Compares the i3 and the i3 REx

Lucas flying formation in the Crimea
Lukas Willcocks is a member of the BMW i3 Forum and when I noticed that he posted about having the opportunity to take both an i3 and an i3 REx each for 24 hour test drives I asked him if he wanted to offer his thoughts and comparing them here. What I didn't know was that Lukas is an aerospace engineer. A few of my friends are engineers and the one thing I've learned about them is not to ask a question about something without expecting an answer that involves thoroughly explaining every aspect of the subject. Well, I found Lucas is not very different from my friends! :) His response was about three times as long as any post I've ever put up here and below is actually the condensed version! Warning: We're going off into technical geek land here folks! Special thanks to Lukas for the time and effort he put into this guest post:
To REX or not to REX: 24h with the BMW i3 BEV and another 24h with the BMW i3 REX:

Greetings from darkest Lincolnshire in the English Midlands. Winter this year is mild but very very wet and windy! Educationally, my background is in aerospace engineering but long before that I helped my father fixing old Land Rovers in the Kalahari and later Fiat Twin cams and VW GTis in the EU. I'd always found rally and race cars exciting and in recent years had the privilege of racing in historic motorsports with a 1969 Lancia Fulvia HF.

Colin Chapman (of Lotus racing car fame) is quoted as saying to his engineers “add lightness!” In fact the quote is from Sir Geoffrey De Havilland who gave the world the amazing wooden composite Mosquito WW2 fighter bomber- a machine that could leave fighter aircraft for dead. He also pioneered the first Jet Airliner the DH Comet 1:

Aerospace is about efficiency and optimization for specific roles. Whatever the debate on the environment, the world is attempting to move towards more sustainable living. Only 8% of the planet is suitable for arable farming and we all hate traffic jams. Conurbations are increasing at an alarming rate. My old home of Gaborone Botswana had just 40,000 people in the 1970s – now it it has well over 250,000. That country (the size of Texas or France) had 10 miles of tarmac road. Now it has the Trans Kalahari highway!

No cyclist or pedestrian likes petrol or diesel fumes. Electric cars are seen as a way of improving air quality in built up areas. That's all well an good as long as folk don't claim they are emission free vehicles! Most countries still rely on coal fired power stations and acid rain and CO2 is still produced when an EV is used. Even California is not 100% Solar PV / Wind farm dependent.

What is the most efficient means of getting from A to B? An interesting question and much depends on the task – is it to transport 40 tonnes of produce to market 1000 miles away or 2 miles to the grocery store to pick up some tomatoes for lunch? I recall a study that said even cyclists put out at least 15g/km CO2 based on toast consumption!

Intro over!

My thanks go to Hamish of BMW Soper in Lincoln UK who provided the i3 BEV in white which was fitted with lots of toys! And also to Chris Whitmore of BMW Statstone Derby UK for the loan of the grey i3 REX.

So how did the BEV compare with the REX?

That is the ultimate question on most potential owner's minds. Interestingly both cars when fully charged used the same amount of energy on the 29 mile commute to work. The BEV was quick but it's advantage over the slightly heavier REX was not noticeable in normal use.  Both cars had the same tyres front and rear so there was no Cd advantage for the BEV either. Unless you go to the Drag Strip regularly, I very much doubt any driver would notice a difference between the BEV and REX in acceleration terms. If anything the REX felt a little more planted in the corners but this may have been subjective. The rear motor/RWD layout allows far more steering angle than a regular vehicle so the turning circle is very tight at low speed. In muddy conditions it is possible for the traction control to give up and the tail does wag a little if you are too enthusiastic with the go faster pedal.

The biggest change is when you get down to around 6 miles of range. In the BEV there is mild panic even in Eco Pro Plus mode. In the REX the motorcycle engine kicks in with an annoying drone but it is not really noticable above 40 mph.  Some were concerned about speed restriction reports when the REX gets down at lower battery charge levels. I tried 0-50mph max acceleration and this seemed unaffected but there was on screen advice to go easy on the throttle pedal to enable battery charge level maintenance. It could well be that 70 mph uphill on a freeway would not be sustainable at these lower charge levels. That said,  my return journey was with REX activated manually at around 30% SOC. It did not maintain it precisely but achieved around 27% SOC over the 29 miles. Refueling was done at the same Shell station with same grade of petrol - tank was topped off both before and after commute. Economy on REX is not that great but it is really there to get you home or to nearest fast charger.

My guess is the battery in a REX will be in a far better state than that of a BEV after 3 years of similarly hard use. The damage associated with running the LiON batteries to an absolute minimum are more likely to be avoided by the car that maintains charge at low levels.It should also be noted that when the doors are unlocked the charge goes down whether plugged in or not because displays and system heating are activated and run off the main battery.  This might be fixed by a BMW phone app for users who wish to configure for a trip whilst charging. Showing off all the gizmos to your work colleagues will also deplete charge! 

Overall I like the purity of the BEV and only wish it could better 60 miles in mild winter commute. If it could do 100 miles at 60 to 70 mph I would buy one right away. As it stands if committing to an i3, I'd have to go for the REX and downgrade on the options list.
Now for some thoughts on the i3 in general: 

What can we compare the BMW i3 with? Existing cars have come a long way since Henry Ford. On the other hand the past decade has seen an explosion in ULVs (unsuitably large vehicles) sold to consumers of a “super size me” culture. Now I am all for the old Range Rover V8 doing 16 mpg through deep Kalahari sands where a Ford F250 got just 8 mpg. However for the grocery store run?
That might be acceptable in Arizona but on cramped narrow British roads with passing places in hedgerows or London's residential road width restrictors? Bigger normally means heavier and less aerodynamic so the term gas guzzler still applies. How is it that in 40 years fuel consumption has not really improved significantly? Part of the answer is heavier structures and crash worthiness regulations but that's often an excuse. Take the Fiat X 1/9 2 seater 1970s mid-engine sports car – it featured 50 mph impact bumpers and roll over protection for the US market – they even rammed one with an AMTRAK ! It passed but then the Feds reduced the regs and Fiat lost out. However that small car was tough (apart from on UK salt laden winter roads) yet still much lighter than today's machines:

A few visionaries still exist. VW developed the 3L cars – 3 litres of fuel for 100 km of travel. They produced the shortened Polo and called it the Lupo 3L with magnesium and Aluminium panels. Audi developed the all aluminum A2 which many have cited as an influence on today's BMW i3. The 3L version of the A2 was designed to carry 4 German sized adults and their luggage from Munich to Turin over the Alps with minimal fuel cost and low emissions. It had a Cd of just 0.25 – the same as the original 2 seater Honda Insight hybrid and weighed just 855 kg.

This has been my everyday transport for some 190,000 miles over the past 12 years: Sadly the car was poorly marketed compared with the less efficient Toyota Prius and productionceased in 2005. But not before an H2 and electric variant were prototyped. In 2010 DBM Energy claimed their modified Audi A2 could travel 375 miles at 55mph on batteries alone.

Sadly the factory and prototype burnt down.

VW have moved on into the extremely expensive ECO car with their impressive XL1 – but it's no longer a Volks-Wagen (people's car) at £100k !

Others have compared the i3 to Tesla. A bit like comparing a 1 series with an Aston Martin.

This review will look at basic everyday practicality and make some suggestions for BMW's further i3 development.....

External Colour choices:

Not a lot of choice. Mostly greys, silvers and one for the Dutch : orange. I don't mind the
contrasting black panels. One dealer suggested the i8 Protonic Blue might become available next year.

The biggest downside if you want orange is the extra you have to pay to upgrade the interior. Someone should tell BMW to have a look at Irn Bru (Scottish Soda – orange, black &blue can work!). Not such an issue in USA.

Interior space:
Many reviewers have posted that the i3 has an airy feel – at least from the front seats. I would agree that the large sloping front windscreen and uncluttered dashboard appears to offer more light and the high seating position reduces any bathtub parallels by giving a more commanding view of the road ahead. However, whilst the i3 is around 15cm wider than the A2, in the rear it has almost 4cm less headroom, 20cm less foot room and just under 7cm less elbow room. The larger rear side windows help to mask the latter somewhat.

The white i3 BEV had a white LOFT interior – nice if you never drive in the real world. The white carpets soon became muddy grey brown! The REX had the standard interior which was very practical.

I like the futuristic flat screens that appear to hang in space over the dash.

Whatever your view on the construction material, the anti reflective properties of the dash work well with the black bonnet rather like a 1960s Rally car.

The driving position is very comfortable and has a good degree of adjustment. The seat height shift is a little awkward compared to rival cars where body weight has to be lifted on the steering wheel before raising.

The seat heating is a very worthwhile option for winter driving and means you can save energy on interior heating.

Side bolstering of the front seats is minimal. Had the car been designed with conventional rear doors and without forward tilt on these front seats, maybe BMW could have gone for a fixed back sportier option like a Recaro Pole Position (just 7kg!).

Load space:

One disadvantage of RWD with rear Motor placement is the much high than normal load area and reduced volume.
(litres seats up /litres seats down)

i3: 260 / 1100 litres
A2: 390/1085 / and approx 1400 litres with rear seats out
A3 Coupe: 365 / 1100 litres
A3 Sportback: 380 / 1220 litres
A1 Coupe: 270 / 920 litres

Quite a bit of space is taken up with American sized Soda Cup holders between the seats!

Weight Saving:

BMW has made much about the lightness of the underlying CRP structure on the i3. They are to be congratulated for bringing this to a sub £26k (base model with £5k UK grant) production car.But it is still a heavy car even making allowances for the EV battery pack.

One wonders whether 19 or 20” wheels are more about style over substance – certainly a larger diameter spinning mass has a greater effect on vehicle dynamics. It would be interesting to know what each wheel design/tyre combo weighs.

Areas where lightness could be added:
1. Make it a 3 door or go for conventional rear doors with CFRP B pillar.
2. Go for 1 front wiper blade with full sweep. Remove rear wiper mechanism and install
better rear tailgate with aero screen cleaning. (NB: the front wipers DO NOT sweep up to 90 degrees so there are a couple of unswept patches either side at eye level).
3. Make rear seats removable like briefcase design in A2 and front seats fixed back like Audi TT Quattro Mk1.

5 Doors or 3 door with Access panels?

In terms of accessibility we have already seen reviews of the difficulty in releasing rear occupants with driver or front passenger in place. The suicide rear doors are a design statement more than a practical solution to rear seat entry/egress. Such an arrangement in a UK Supermarket parking space with an SUV either side, it could get too tight to let the kids out of the rear seats. In some ways a 3 door hatchback or Coupe might have an advantage, although those front doors tend to be longer. It seems odd that the designers made the front seats forward tilting and indicates that a 3 door option may have been in mind.

Some commentators have made comparison with the Mazda RX8. In both cases these sucide doors have had to be strengthened considerably and fitted with larger closing mechanisms and hinges to cope. From a weight and energy saving perspective this is a little absurd. Matters are made worse if a child seat is fitted in front without ISOFIX. Note the weight limit is just 18kg (40lbs) for an ISOFIX attachment so heavier children will require the seat belt attachment. This makes it impossible to open the rear door on the pax side if the child seat is up front.The deeper rear windows are good for rear seat occupants but do not open – not even to a vent position. Again why bother with rear doors? Make it a 3 door Coupe like the orange prototype or offer a CFP B pillar / Avant version with normal rear doors and hidden handles ( a la Alfa Romeo 156).

Aerodynamics - What a Drag!

The i3 has a closed front grill / kidney emblem and commendably flat under tray free of the usual incursions. But for an ECO minded car it is somewhat surprising that BMW did not strive to improve the Drag Coefficient or reduce the frontal area of the i3.

If you never go over 40 mph (London UK inside the M25) this isn't going to affect you. But most London workers live outside due to ever spiralling house prices and will likely need to use the Motorway (Freeway) network. Greater aerodynamic efficiency (and hence lower battery consumption) could have been achieved by replacing the BMW X5 like wing mirrors with VW XL1 rear view cameras or at least more compact examples. The Cd is 0.3 (about as bad as a 1992 Toyota Camry or 1993 Subaru Impreza). The i3 is much wider than most pure 4 seaters and the MPV styling and battery floor makes it quite tall. Frontal Area of 2.38 m2 x 0.3 results in a CdA of 0.714.

Compare this to a 2001 Audi A2 1.2 TDI : CdA 0.544 or 2013 VW XL1: CdA 0.279.

At 100km/h (62mph) the i3 BEV creates 326 Newtons of drag. The REX model a little more at 336 Newtons. The A2 a mere 257 Newtons.

More meaningful to the average punter is BHP absorbed by drag. Here we are not considering the drag from the drive-train / single gear or tyre friction and this is for a flat road with nil wind.

At 40 mph the i3 consumes a minimum of 3.33 BHP (2.5kW) in drag alone. Not a lot! But accelerate to 60 mph and it goes up a factor of 4 to 12.5BHP (9.317kW). Get on the freeway in Montana or de-restricted Autobahn and at 93 mph the i3 requires 42.14 BHP (31.44 kW)!

It is no wonder that i3 test drivers have noticed a massive reduction in range when driving on faster roads. If you add in tyre resistance, wheel well turbulence, and a less than optimal gear ratio (optimised for acceleration rather than cruising then expect about 60 mile range from a BEV and a bit less all electric from the REX).

What if BMW had optimised just the Aero side?

A2: 2.54 BHP(1.894kW),
XL1: 1.30 BHP(2.54kW)

A2: 9.52 BHP (7.10kW)
XL1: 4.88 BHP (3.64kW)

93 mph:
A2: 32.1 BHP (24kW)
XL1: 16.5 BHP (12.28kW)

The i3 could be improved by careful modification of the front profile (which could include improvements to pedestrian safety), an extension or redesign of the tailgate and a longer rear spoiler, vortex generators at the rear (perhaps incorporating the trademark aerial) and more ducting air dam style under the car to improve wake and add almost drag free down-force. The door alignment and rear wheel arches could be improved to lessen drag.


The i3 internal SPL is actually about 2dBA louder at 50 mph than the diesel Audi A2 due to wind noise. But at lower speeds the ICE can't compete (except with Start Stop at the lights!).

Driver Technology:
The BMW i brand is all about connectivity and city mobility. This test drive did not spend much time in the City. It is not possible to test the iphone/Android app without making a purchase as it is linked to the vehicle's VIN number. I was able to link my phone via Blue Tooth and play music through the radio functions. This worked 90% of the time. Both cars had standard audio which is of reasonable quality. The other 10% there was electronic signal distortion.

The layered menus were not as intuitive as a touch screen app. The iDrive handwriting recognition didn't work for me as a Right handed scribe in a RH Drive car ! My other cars are LHD!

The start up procedure could be simplified. It's not a get away car! Unlike the A2 that tells you to put your for on the brake pedal before start, the i3 makes that assumption. The electronic handbrake took some getting used to but when trusted it seemed to work OK even on hill starts. NB the CFRP Alfa Romeo 4C has a traditional handbrake and is the lightest car in it's class.

Unlike other EV manufacturers the battery regen mode is all about the accelerator pedal. The sweet spot for freewheeling downhill is hard to find with the small text on the Tacho indicating minimal kWh/100km use. This could be corrected with a Head Up Display or peripheral coloured lights to aid the driver to drive more efficiently. Similar displays tell pilots about optimum wing angle of attack in flight.

The white i3 BEV had all the goodies in terms of rear view camera and automatic parking. This worked well 4 times out of 5. The 5th was the same spot as the 4th but for whatever reason the car refused to park itself once it found the spot. One issue is the position of the camera which is right on the rear bumper (fender) where it gets covered in road muck. A better spot might be behind the rear glass within the wiper's swept zone.

The large centre screen was a delight if a little distracting on the move. It is especially good in the rear view camera mode (with a clean camera!). But you must still scan between screen and real world to avoid pedestrians who can't hear the i3!

There is no SOC on the BEV which is a shame. The REX has it hidden away on a “hold state of charge” menu.

The vehicle pre-conditioning menu takes some finding but worked on both BEV and REX. It's important to realise the extra electricity you will use to get the car up to temperature in winter. I set 16 deg C for an 0715z departure time on both cars. The mistake with the BEV came when I tried to charge at work using a 13A socket. The car did not charge because the menu had a timer setting (for cheaper home night tariffs). In the end I managed to cancel that and got just an hour's worth of charge.

Breakdown cover:
The i3 has no jack, no spare wheel, no wheel brace. Back in 2003 I learnt the hard way that tyre gunk doesn't work as advertised. In fact I had bought a full set of winter wheels and tyres for the A2 but had left these at home on the daily commute. One of the skinny Bridgestone B381 Eco tyres gave up the ghost at 60 mph. There was no drama and no wheel damage but it was a busy road . Had I had a spare I could have used the underfloor tool kit and Alloy jack to get back on the road within 20 minutes. Instead it took over 4 hours to get a recovery truck out and go home to change wheels.

The i3 cannot be towed in the conventional fashion and must be lifted onto a low loader! I would rather carry a spare. But 19 or 20” in that small boot (trunk)?!

In Germany a full set of Winter 19” rims can be had for 900 Euros. In the UK BMW are charging almost double! LED lights: The BEV had the optional LED headlamps for normal (dipped) use. This gave a pleasant blue / white light. The adaptability was not noticed on country lanes. Main beam was still halogen and no better than other vehicles. The mix of blue and yellow light is a little odd.

How does it drive?

Short answer: Very well!
In fact it is great fun to drive and the novelty of silent startup and acceleration to 40+ mph is superbly smooth. The downside of fun is the temptation to use the available torque. Only once did my free hand reach for a non existent gear stick! Yes I would have liked a second cog for more efficient highway motoring.
The bar graph (approx SOC indicator) goes down like fuel gauge in an English Electic Lightning!

For a newcomer to EVs it feels very odd to start moving in near silence. This requires even greater lookout and anticipation than normal in built up areas as pedestrians do not hear you coming. That is a positive aspect that should re-energise driver skills.

The acceleration is excellent – the REX was not noticeably more sluggish than the BEV. I spent most of the time in ECO PRO mode (with a maximum of 70 mph set for motorways). ECO PRO + was used to get from work to the dealer in Lincoln with a depleted battery. The car felt much more fidgety on the twisty B roads than in Comfort or EP. Perhaps the stability electronics and throttle/extra regenerative braking response has this effect.

Visibility from the driver's seat was better than expected and very similar to the A2. The driver just has to move their head around the thick A pillars when approaching junctions. The grip from the 155 front and 175 rear standard tyres is more than adequate for dry road cornering at speed. The rear tyres did struggle when there was a little mud on the tarmac and the traction control flashed on these occasions. Winter tyres offer a good 3 times the grip and much shorter stopping distances so it would be interesting to compare in winter conditions.

I was surprised that the BEV had 175 section rears and this may have added drag to match the REX. Apparently the REX has a slightly narrower rear track. Steering feel was good even if not direct (servo assisted). Narrow tyres bring steering benefits and
the turning circle impressed all who witnessed it. The cruise control was very good. Neither car had the lane keeping/auto braking technology.

First off BMW deserves credit for bringing the i3 to market. It offers an alternative approach to EV design and manufacture. The blue sky thinking maybe went a little overboard in the style over substance department.

However, the looks grew on me. Even the cheap looking interior panels! The car drove far better than a car of this mass deserves. In practical terms it is not as good as it could be. BMW could learn a lot more from a similarly sized car built with practicality, ECO credentials, lightness and aerodynamic efficiency that is 15 years older. The aluminium Audi A2 (especially the 1.2 model). One thing they did far better than Audi was in marketing the i3 more aggressively like Toyota did with the Prius.

Improvments: If I were responsible for product development on the i3, for 2015 I'd introduce tat least some of the following:
1. Three door version like Coupe concept
2. Aero optimisation
3. Further weight reduction programme.
4. HUD option with SOC indication
5. More obvious ECO / Freewheel indication
6. More colour choice not linked to interiors
7. Lightweight Biodiesel or CNG REX options
8. More practical 5 door version with B pillar, removable rear seats and FWD to improve rear load space and traction in snow.
9. Better seat raising design.
10. Full LED lighting
11. RH iDrive for RHD and LH iDrive for LHD markets
12. Fairer winter wheel/tyre pricing
13. Better rear camera positioning
14. ICE FWD option without EV for long distance commuters in countries without decent electrical network.
15. Spare wheel/ jack options as alternative to tyre gunk.
16. Better Driver info menus
17. Better English translation of manual
18. Work with Solar PV controller manufacturers to offer old i3 batteries as storage and the likes of “Immersun” to offer Solar PV charging.
19. Encourage Fast DC network expansion in all markets – like FastNED.

Special thanks to Lucas for the in depth review!