BMW's i3 leads the electric car field


Are you any nearer wanting an electric car than you were when the Nissan Leaf was launched three years ago? Me neither. Or at least I’d have said that a week ago. Today I have a different view, for now I have driven the BMW i3.

True commercial success rarely visits those who merely invent all new products. Instead it comes to those who let others do the inventing and instead spend their time learning from the mistakes without which no genuinely revolutionary product has ever been brought to market.

For example, while the Boeing 707 is rightly credited with ushering in the jet age, it actually went into service almost a decade after the de Havilland Comet first flew, an aircraft so sophisticated that save for the unknown catastrophic defects in its structural design, today Britain might still be a world leader in aviation.

In similar fashion BMW bided its time and let others make the running in the brave new world of electric cars. And until recently, sales have been slow and the date when a decent return could be made on such massive investment has disappeared further and further beyond the horizon.

£30,690 (£5000 government grant available)
Engine 25kW 647cc, two cylinders
Power 170bhp
Torque 184lb ft
Transmission automatic, single speed, fixed ratio
0-62mph 7.2sec
Top speed 93mph

It seems however that BMW’s timing could be perfect, the i3 arriving in showrooms just as Tesla – the only other maker of premium electric cars – reports its first profits and sales constrained not by demand but supply.

But BMW deserves more credit than being merely opportunistic and happy to let others do the hard work. The i3 itself is an electric car unlike any other and you don’t need long with the numbers to see why. At £25,680 (including the £5000 Government grant still available) it costs less than £200 more than a top of the range Nissan Leaf.

i3 vs Leaf

But while the Leaf offers a 0-62mph time of 11.9sec, the i3 manages it in 7.2sec. This is partly because your money will buy you just 109 of Nissan’s horsepower but 170 of BMW’s, but more significant still is that while the Leaf weighs 1567kg, the i3 tips the scales at just 1195kg.

The reason for this is simply that BMW has tried harder, providing a car with an all aluminium chassis and a body made from carbon-fibre reinforced plastic. Staggeringly, this makes the i3 lighter than a 1-series hatchback or, indeed, any other BMW car on sale. With this sylph-like figure comes not only the performance mentioned above but added range and handling that’s worthy of the BMW propeller on its nose.

Range restrictions

I will review the car fully in the next issue of Motor Sport but for now I’d say that if it has a problem it is that it’s almost too good. You’d be happy never to leave the urban environment in a Nissan Leaf because while it’s a pleasant and effective car in its chosen environment, it was never intended for the open road.

By contrast the i3 is a car you’d want to drive in the country for the hell of it, or take across Europe; but because it’ll only do 100 miles before needing to be parked for at least three hours (seven or eight if you’re using a standard three pin supply) you can’t.

Cleverly BMW does market a version with a tiny 0.6-litre scooter engine that drives a generator to maintain charge in a depleted battery but it’ll only extend the range to 160-180 miles and you’ll pay further £3500 for the privilege. With a car this good I want to be able to drive and drive with the timing of each stop to be determined by me, not my car’s inability to proceed.

Click here for more on road cars

Click here for more from Andrew Frankel

opinions  Charles will be missed at Morgan

You may also like