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Behind The Wheel Of The Electrifying BMW i3

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Those who continually hark on about the future of motoring not coming fast enough can now be cordially silenced. The electric BMW i3 not only takes the notion of future mobility and rolls with it, it sets the precedence for what a modern city runner should be in 2015 – smart, stylish, efficient, spacious and ridiculously zippy.

It’s important to start off by saying that the i3, BMW’s first foray into electric car territory alongside its big brother i8, should not be mistaken for anything other than an environmentally-conscious urban vehicle. Once you can accept that, the car will teach you to fall in love with traffic all over again – and that’s something you won’t hear us saying everyday.

For one cruisy weekend, we were able to put our i3, equipped with an optional range extender, through its paces where it was pitched it against everything Sydney had to offer: Tight streets, motorways, dodgy roads, rolling inclines, start-stop traffic, carparks, sand, surf and a storm thrown in for good measure (our occupants and I managed to stay dry and non-electrocuted, so this was a good thing).

What else do you need to know about this little battery-operated Bavarian cruiser? Read on.

“The lines, colour combinations and extensive range of vision all work together to make you feel like you’re in a comfy slick lounge as opposed to a car.”

What’s In The Box

One of the defining traits of the i3 is the finely appointed interior. The free-flowing cabin is misleading in the sense that from the outside, the car looks like a cross between a hatchback and a small SUV, but once inside there’s a generous amount of space for four to be enjoyed. BMW’s use of ‘suicide doors’ – rear doors that are hinged at the rear as opposed to the front helps to further accentuate this space.

Speaking of doors which welcome you with opening arms, this design was a tick in our books and made entering and alighting from the car an absolute breeze.

Moving onto the trim levels, the i3 comes in three options suited to a bevy of buyers. There’s cool textiles with sound-absorbing properties to suit the modern and young aesthetic, natural fibre finishes such as wood grain across the dash and premium grade leather for the more discerning interior junkie.

Our i3 came with the ‘Suite’ option, a stylish execution on how to fuse premium natural leather into a modern vehicle. Found strewn across the seats, dash, steering wheel and door panels, the ‘Stellaric’ Dalbergia Brown is an easy win for enhancing the i3’s premium appeal (if that’s your kind of thing).

Combined with the curved woodgrain panels that form part of the dash, the car almost seems to exude a hand-finished feel usually found in designer furniture as opposed to a car interior.

Don’t let the bold aesthetics scare you though. The lines, colour combinations and extensive range of vision all work together to make you feel like you’re in a comfy slick lounge as opposed to a car. We couldn’t fault the seating position or feel in most driving cases. In this case, change is good. Change is sexy.

Embracing Futuristic Lines

One of the most polarising areas of the i3 has to be the exterior styling. Comments we received range from ‘cool’ to ‘quirky’ to ‘what-the hell’ to ‘I want to sail one’ to ‘can it speak?’

All of the above are legitimate observations as there has never been a car quite like the i3. In a sea of whitegoods-on-wheels, the car will standout because 1) it makes absolutely no sound when it moves and 2) because it sits kind of tall on skinny tyres and looks like it rolled off the set of Transformers.

To truly appreciate the i3’s design, one needs to understand the design language behind the car. BMW set out to make a statement with the i3 and they have achieved this with the car’s bold features. Wrap-around glass panels and fluid lines blend seamlessly with precise edges so that the car seems to have been chiselled from a single piece of material.

But let’s stop with the fancy talk. It just looks so out there that to us, it’s cool in a Silicon Valley kind of way. There will be those who disagree but BMW’s point was to give this car its own unique identity and the i3 has it in spades.

One of our favourite features of the i3’s exterior is the two-toned colour scheme which allows for a ‘Black Band’ starting at the hood which extends all the way to the rear of the car. This blacked out glossy section contains the glass panel sunroof which fills the space with natural light during the day and helps bring the LED taillights to life at night. Think TRON and you’re on the right track.

Engine & Drive

What engine? Well actually, our i3 did come with a small 650cc twin-cylinder petrol motor which BMW calls the ‘Range Extender’ or REx; basically a piggy back combustion motor designed to give worried drivers a peace of mind during long haul journeys. Being an electric car, range is paramount and the i3 gives about 120km on electric juice alone. Throw in the Range Extender option for an extra $6000 and you get about an extra 100km to play with before you’re truly stranded.

Performance-wise the car is surprisingly quick off the line and fun to drive. Don’t be deterred by the skinny tyres; electric motors have no issues putting down torque and this paired with a flat battery layout and innovative carbon fibre chassis means that the i3 can do 100km/h in 7.2 seconds without making a sound (except maybe for a slight tyre hum).

Torque is rated at 250Nm which is more than enough to lug around friends in town during heavy traffic whilst burning zero fuel.

ConnectedDrive is also a welcome addition to the i3 driving experience. Built into the car’s infotainment system, it was a bit confusing to use at first but quickly became a driver’s aid, providing extensive connectivity to multiple devices whilst making searching locations a breeze using a scrolling control.

Charging The Beast

We can’t stress this point enough: if you don’t have a garage with access to power, you cannot charge the i3. Extension cords are not recommended by BMW so running a line from the house to the car is a big no-no. Charging time will vary depending on your home’s power supply capabilities but a full charge will usually done in about 11 hours. Using BMW’s i-Wall box will cost you $1,750 plus installation but ensures the i3 gets a full re-juice in 6 hours. We had the pleasure of parking the car in a garage with a domestic power outlet and it charged the i3 overnight with no issues.

Why We’d Sell Our Kidney For One

For the city dweller after a car that will cost next to nothing to run, the i3 is your car even if it is a bit of coin to purchase. For those living further outside of the urban confines, you’ll need the Range Extender to do round trips without needing to stop off to find a power point. Planning is the key here. The interior, handling and comfort of the car should make up for this though.

Styling is certainly one of the i3’s strong points and if you’re after interior designer levels of aesthetics merged with a sustainable futuristic ride, the i3 is it.

RELATED: 4 Hours Behind The Wheel Of The Stunning BMW i8

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