Green pioneer test: BMW i3 94 Ah
BMW has added a new version to the electric i3 line-up. With a new 33 kWh battery, the i3 ’94 Ah’ boasts 80 to 100 kilometres of extra range. Or does it?
The i3’s success so far can be described as discrete. BMW had hoped to sell significantly higher volumes by now, but the market is only starting to open up for electric vehicles. One of the reasons of the slow uptake is the lack of infrastructure. Another one is the prohibitive price of this electric city car. However, the most important drawback so far was probably the lack of a reassuring range. The first i3 (60 Ah) came with a 22 kWh battery pack yielding 190 kilometres (NEDC). BMW now adds a 94 Ah model with 33 kWh, increasing the official Reichweite by 50 percent to 300 kilometres.
E for expectations… and elusive
300 kilometres: sounds a lot more convincing, does it not? The Bavarian carmaker is fair enough to add that realistically speaking, you can count on 200 kilometres, compared to 120 for the 60 Ah model. That still suffices for 95 percent of all commuters, we would reckon. Our expectations are high when we push the start button of our test vehicle. Finally an EV that does away with range anxiety.
Battery? 100 percent charged. Indicated range? 200 kilometres. Sat nav destination input? The coast, some 110 kilometres away. And then the first negative surprise: the range suddenly drops to 160 kilometres, without having moved a millimetre. What just happened and made 40 kilometres of promised mileage evaporate? Baffled and hesitating, I make my way to the Brussels ring road.
E for enlightened… and enthusiastic
As I hit busy city traffic, the i3 immediately makes clear that this is its habitat, with its compact dimensions, swift gearless acceleration and pleasantly small turning radius. The silence aboard this eye-catching piece of hi-tech has a soothing effect on my eagerness to claim every square decimetre of free asphalt. Suddenly, heavy traffic does not seem that strenuous anymore.
In fact, because EVs brake regeneratively, i.e. they recover the energy at the wheels when you are decelerating, you hardly ever have to push the brake pedal. It takes a while to get used to it, but once you master the skill of taking your foot off the accelerator at exactly the right time to come to a halt exactly where you want to by simply ‘coasting’, driving the i3 is great fun in the city.
The calculation game
Still, the range question remains unanswered. Until I dive into the i3’s (impressive) infotainment system and start playing around with the settings. In fact, when you set the sat nav, the onboard computer takes into account the type of route you will be taking to calculate how quickly you will drain the battery. You can choose between Fast, Short and Eco. When I left Brussels, the system was set to Fast, meaning lots of motorway. That’s one thing.
Another is that the i3 has three driving modes: Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+. The first spills the most electricity, the last conserves as much power as possible, for instance by switching off the air conditioning and limiting the top speed. Changing from Comfort to Eco Pro increases the range by roughly 15 percent, our experience learned. Eco Pro + adds a few kilometres more, but demands climatological sacrifices.
The planning game
Which brings us to the essence of how to evolve from an e-dummy to an e-expert. It’s all about planning ahead – something BMW is happy to help you with if you opt for the Professional Navigation system and the suite of apps and connected services that come with it. And then it is a matter of discipline. You have to plug an EV at every single opportunity you get and, of course, when you come home at night.
With the BMW i Remote app, you can check the charge status, program charging times and pre-heat or pre-cool the car – which is absolutely essential if you want to avoid unpleasant surprises. Leaving your i3 out in the sun ‘unplugged’ and then drive off with the air conditioning at full power may cost tens of kilometres of range – and force you to stop halfway your destination to ‘fill up’ – as yours sincerely can testify.
The bottom line
Is an EV like the BMW i3 a realistic option for company car drivers? If you are well-organised, you don’t stress out when the range drops below 40 kilometres, you never have to leave unexpectedly for a faraway destination with no possibility to charge on the spot, and you are willing to engage in a way of motoring that takes some getting used to, but is very rewarding, then the answer is yes.
The concept has its limitations, especially outside the city, but BMW never claimed this was a motorway cruiser. The interior does look a bit as if it still is in prototype stage, but the build quality is worthy of the brand. So is the pricetag, of course. One final word of advice: get a domestic fast-charger (i Wallbox). It will make e-life so much more practical.
Viable alternative for disciplined e-pioneers
Holistic approach (apps, ChargeNow, Wallbox)
Fun to accelerate, fun to regenerate
Limitations of the concept (tyres, lateral wind sensitivity)
‘Prototype’ interior look
Pricetag, necessity to add (expensive) options
Power: 125 kW
Torque: 250 Nm
Transmission: single gear, rear-wheel drive
CO2 emissions: 0 g/km
NEDC e-consumption: 13,1 kWh/100 km
Distance travelled: 800 km
Average speed: 58 km/h
Average range with full battery: 175 km (EcoPro mode)
Average e-consumption: 17.3 kWh/100 km (EcoPro mode)