The tech lover’s wheels

The tech lover’s wheels

Screen-Shot-2015-06-16-at-2.08This is the most popular electric car in New Zealand so far this year, BMW New Zealand communications boss Ed Finn slipped into the conversation when AutoTalk picked up the BMW i3 for a brief weekend test last month.

He then proceeded to slip the point in again, and then a few more times after.

Ok, we get the hint.

To see a brand known as much for sports cars and V8 SUVs, getting excited about a relative handful – 22 this year, 28 overall – of electric vehicle sales, is a good sign people are becoming increasingly excited, and accepting, of the technology.

The i3 is one of two electric vehicles in the BMW range now, the i8 sports car the flagship. At this point sold from just one dealership, Auckland City BMW, they can be delivered around the country.

Some would be surprised BMW have managed to move that many i3s, when on the face of it buyers are paying $83,500 for a small car, albeit an electric one.

I looked at it a little differently. As a bit of a gadget-nerd – my desk is littered with more devices than I can use, and an Apple Keynote presentation is prime viewing for me – I saw the i3 as the iPhone of cars.

That starts with the build. Say hello to the plastic car, the i3 being the first mass-produced using carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. Open the door and you can see unpainted carbon-fibre style structure in the sills. Other materials include recycled-plastic guards, renewable eucyliptis wood panelling inside, and even enviromentally-tanned leather on the interior of Kiwi-bound models.

fdgfd5-06-16-at-2.08In electric-only models found overseas, the i3 weighs 1195kg, in New Zealand, where you can buy only the i3 with a two-cylinder range extender engine from BMW’s motorcycle catalogue, weight is 1315kg – still svelte considering the need to lug batteries.

i3 is a four-door, the rear set back opening, but more of an assist to access than full doors. Once in, room is excellent for such a small foot print. Inside is modern in the extreme, floating-look screens replace traditional instruments and only basic audio and HVAC controls remain.

To drive, you push a start button to power up, and then select forward and reverse through a twist-lever on the right of the steering wheel. It takes some getting used to. As does the throttle, which is tuned to provide aggressive engine breaking on liftoff.

The drive is lively. Like all BMWs the i3 has optional drive modes for – in this case standard Comfort mode or two efficiency options. In Comfort, with the 125 kW and peak torque of 250 Nm available, the car is incredibly zippy, and paired with very direct steering and tall, skinny tyres, around town it is a barrel of fun.

On the motorway, at 100km an hour the i3 is more than capable, but feels a little twitchy, particularly on bumps or with a little wind. Finn was keen to reinforce the i3 is a city car.

How far from the city will it go? A 6-8 hour charge will get you up to 130km, slightly less in reality. The petrol motor and its 8-litre tank, which is purely automatic and cannot be switched on and off, extends range to about 350km, theoretically.

When it kicks in it is barely audible, but it will not full power the car in all situations. We found on a run up the Bombay Hills the i3 could not maintain 90km/h on the extender, but for NZ conditions that is a relatively rare situation.

So does AutoTalk like the i3? Of course we do. If Apple does not produce its rumored car, the i3 appears to have that segment covered.

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