Monday 19 March 2018

The lessons I've learned about electric cars after driving BMW's i3

Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I HAVE learned a few things with this.

The first is that I wouldn't buy an electric car without a little petrol engine on board to charge the batter and extend my range.

The second is that would be really costly.

The third is how well organised you have to be to make the likes of the BMW i3 worth your while.

Twice I nearly emptied the petrol tank and twice I left only a few kilometres of charge in the battery. And that was without going too far from base.

I drove the i3 REX (range extender) quite quickly sometimes, to Kildare and to south Wicklow on a couple of separate expeditions – as well as flitting around suburbia.

I could not have done that with the purely electric version. It was only possible because the 650cc 2cyl petrol engine kept the battery charge up. The engine does NOT drive the wheels. It acts as a generator.

I have driven the pure electric version around Amsterdam for a couple of days but this was different. It was raining, windy, miserable and, while I could call people if I ran out of fuel (electric or petrol), I didn't want to waste anyone's time.

I kept a close watch on the small screen behind the steering wheel which updated me on how many kilometres were left in the battery pack and fuel tank (nine litres).

I became exceptionally sensitive to the little blue line shrinking before my eyes.

In the centre was a bigger screen with sat nav – it was excellent at telling me where I could get a battery charge and fuel if needed.

It also had a big range of 'connected driving' smart apps.

I used the button that let me save what was in the battery – that meant the engine kicking in to keep its charge from dropping. Clever.

Obviously just how far I could travel was all down to how harshly or sedately I drove.

My goodness the 'tanks' emptied quickly when I pushed it to near its limit on the motorway but was reassuringly conservative when I drove sensibly around town.

It was so easy to drive and in electric mode I quickly reacquainted myself with how these cars slow so dramatically when you lift the foot off the accelerator. I seldom had to use the brakes.

I'd expected the combined resources to give me more than my projected 250km after a few minutes out on the road. I must say the 'pure' electric element really used up the power when I had lights and air conditioning on.

But let's be really generous and say you'll get 300km.

That's not bad is it? Especially, if you drive nice and easy. It means you can expand your horizons - and with some ease.

Could you survive without needing a second car?

Well, this costs €41,040 after official grants and that's a lot – even if you are getting a radically different looking car with an unusual cabin and a lot of space.

But the boot is tiny. Too small and sort of defeats the purpose of having a city run-around.

Yet, it is so different it appeals. With a carbon-fibre passenger cell, the i3 weighs just 1.3 tonnes and has low centre of gravity as the battery is in the aluminium chassis.

And it was quiet.

And lively – you get all the pulling power from the start as is the nature of electric cars (170bhp, 0-100km in 7.2 seconds).

Realistically for the vast majority of us it just doesn't do enough. But . . . . the real running costs are small – a lot less than the most frugal of small diesels, the cabin is both eco and fun.

And did I mention it drives so well? No matter how hard I tried to sell it to myself I had to admit I would always feel the need to have another car for the longer journeys.

That is my lesson from driving this. It can't do what a conventional car can do – yet.

I don't know when electric cars will, but I reckon this, despite its drawbacks, is a significant step along the way.

Even if in my case it needed a little help from the motorbike engine.

Maybe the pure electric version is a better proposition for an urban run-around.

You can charge it at home, at work, at special charging points and cover 100km for 30pc to 40pc less than it would cost you in a conventional car.

I suppose the real lesson I've learned is that we as motorists have to extend our range too – by thinking differently about how we want to get around and organising our journeys accordingly.

It's a tough lesson and one I think we'll take a good while to learn.e

BMW i3 Key facts

Cost: REX €41,040 on-the-road; electric only version: €34,010.

Charging: 3-6 hours with standard AC fast charge. Eight to 10 hours on standard domestic full charge.

Eight-year battery warranty.

Irish Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Also in Life