My love affair with our little electric car, the G-Wizz has been long, but flawed. We had a lot of fun whiz-zing around town, sneaking down side streets (and the occasional cycle way such is its size), squeezing nose to kerb, and revelling in free parking in Westminster and zero congestion charge. But our family has literally outgrown its diminutive proportions, and there are safer, and sexier options available.
So here is our new i3. As an early adopter, and optimist, I was hopeful when the BMW Park Lane showroom opened last July, but quietly concerned the realities of battery performance in the changeable British climate would still be a challenge. The i3 is all I hoped for, and more. A great leap forward, and testament to BMW’s attention to detail and engineering.
It is a hot hatch, without compromise. The high-voltage lithium ion battery provides 125 kW/170hp of power and torque of 250 Nm. With electric motors full torque is available from standstill, instantly propelling the car 0-37mph in 4 seconds, and 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds. And it is a very comfortable ride with super soft suspension. Driver and passengers are all up high, sitting on top of the battery pack, and my small children love the view. I may no longer be able to park nose to kerb, but it does have a turning circle to rival a London black cab.
The i3 is certainly eye-catching with a distinctive ‘Black Band’ that runs from the bonnet over the roof to the rear of the car and large 19inch alloy wheels. The lightweight Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) passenger compartment is matched by the use of innovative, natural, and sustainable materials inside. KENAF a fast-growing member of the cotton family is used for door panel livery. The leather has been naturally-tanned, using olive leaves. 25% of the plastic used in the interior comes from recycled material or renewable resources and all the seat textiles are from recycled fibres. I only hope as much design consideration was given to the end of the car’s life-cycle.
It is a revolution. Driving an electric car is no longer an act of enlightened self-interest, but a pleasure, even in London traffic. Now heads turn from awe and admiration, rather than amusement. As Elizabeth Farrelly said “the best, most dramatic and most reliable motivator of human behavioural change is beauty”. Judging by the looks on people’s faces as I drive by the i3 is desirable. All reputational risk has been removed. I have even spotted drivers usually associated with a Land Rover Evoque gliding through the West End in an i3.
So how far can you go? The all electric i3 has a real world range of 100 miles (depending on driving style, traffic situation and road conditions) in the Comfort setting. The ECO PRO+ mode extends the range by about 25% by reducing the top speed to 55mph, and deactivating heating and air-conditioning. The Range Extender (a small petrol engine) enables a range of up to 186 miles, with the usual caveats about driving style. In 2012, the average trip length in the UK was 7 miles (according to the National Traffic Survey). It is an average, so some of us drive much further, but 66% of trips are less than 5 miles and 95% of trips are less than 25 miles. The average car in Britain travels around 20 miles a day, so well within range.
For longer journeys, the electric super highway is becoming a reality. In fact, the BMW i3 we test drove had made a trip to Old Trafford. In July 2011, Ecotricity installed their first electric vehicle charge point at a Welcome Break. Ecotricity are also installing charge points at IKEA. AC fast-charging can take less than 3 hours (0-80%), so a typical IKEA trip would probably top you up enough to get home!
Electric cars are kinder to urban air quality, but they can not improve congestion levels. To have fewer cars on the roads we need different transport models. Car clubs and car sharing have grown in popularity in recent years. Although London accounts for around 137,000 car club members (80% of the national total, Carplus annual survey 2013/14) and 2,230 cars, schemes are being rolled out in a number of other major UK cities. At Show RCA 2014 this week, I met Jaana Tarma (pictured left), graduating from the RCA MA Service Design programme. Her final project, Worksparks, is a platform that provides ad-hoc, immediate travel for commuters who could even be matched to drivers with similar interests. The app for geo-location enabled smartphones allows commuters to request a lift from colleagues either in advance, or in real time. In an organisational setting, participating drivers could receive preferential parking or even financial rewards as savings from building or leasing few parking spaces provide a saving. I wonder if I can get the new school run Mums to trial it in September? The incentive, a ride in the i3.
For a the full technical specification visit the BMWi3 website. The BMW i3 is around £25,ooo including the government grant.
Image credit: BMW, Jaana Tarma & my own!