Thursday 26 April 2018

BMW's new and improved electric i3 powers its way into our affections

First drive: BMW i3 Ah 94

Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Your new BMW i3 electric car will now go further on a single charge.

As such the i3 (94Ah) as it is called, encapsulates substantial progress on the one hand but raises a few questions on the other.

The progress is that the thoroughly likeable 4dr electric car will now cover more ground thanks to lithium-ion cells with a higher energy density.

They give the high-voltage battery pack a capacity of 33 kilowatt hours.

Even though there is no change to battery size the improvement is claimed to push its range from 190km (118 miles) to more than 300km (186 miles).

In real-life driving (with air con, lights on etc) you'll get 200km (124 miles), BMW say. That is decent by any standard. The charging system has been upgraded too.

Driving it in Germany last week, however, did raise a few questions for me.

What about the 'early adapters' who already have the 'shorter distance' i3?

BMW say they will replace the new battery pack with old - but it will cost a few grand.

And therein lies a problem, I think.

I spoke with senior BMW executives about this and they concede that the rate of improvement in electric car technology needs to be managed in such a way that people do not defer purchase until a 'better one' comes along.

By the way the existing i3 with 60 Ah battery remains in the line-up.

I'm not exactly sure why; I suppose it is grand for people who don't need anything like the longer range of the new one.

Anyway, driving the i3 was a pleasant reminder of how enjoyable a car this can be on the road.

It is strikingly quick off the mark (thanks to full torque from the start). Few cars of this size and class are quicker to 50kmh. Yet it was notably quiet with little or no road or wind noise.

But you have to watch out for the 'braking effect'.

Lifting your foot off the accelerator feels like you have applied the brake, such is the slowdown as the motor begins acting as a generator.

I found myself having to re-accelerate after leaving myself short of intended stopping spots but I got used to it.

I did like the upright seating, excellent visibility and high driving position.

It is, I have to say, a lovely way to get around. And with 200km now a realistic range, I paid little or no remarks to the dials whereas before this I would have been straining a bit.

Performance is unchanged with a 0-100kmh time of 7.3 seconds (it felt quicker).

There will also be a version with the 2cyl range-extender engine.

They reckon the little engine can increase range by a further 150 kilometres (93 miles). That's a lot and shows, again, how considerable progress is being made on the technology.

We all expect next-gen cars to be better but in the case of fast-changing electric car capacity, there is a real challenge for manufacturers to make sure existing owners can upgrade or switch for a reasonable amount too.

That's a key element for the immediate future, I think.

Indo Motoring

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