BMW i3 Takes Sustainability To A Whole New Level

Sometimes doing the right thing means doing something totally different.  As a California native, I am expected to be a left wing tree hugger surfer skater dude.  Some of that is right, some of it wrong.  The great thing about California is you can’t judge anyone by their boards, surf, skate or snow.

When you think of an electric car, you think of super cool super expensive Tesla’s or the genuinely uninspiring Nissan Leaf.  While there are many others out there, the Ford Focus Electric looks like a regular Focus and the Honda Fit looks like a Fit.  About the only way you know they are electric is the HOV decal.  For some reason people don’t really think of my Volt as cool or electric.  It is just a car, even though I am at 787 miles for the month and have used only 3.5 gallons of gas.

So what do you think a BMW electric car would be like?  Will it be a BMW or an Electric?

Since I know you want to know that question, I went down to BMW and got a sneak peak at the new i3 so I could take you inside the new electric BMW.

For you BMW owners, you already know that BMW makes the most fuel efficient engines out there.  They produce more horsepower per gallon than anyone else.  In 2003 the BMW 3 series was so much better than the Honda Accord, a major car magazine used a Honda Civic for the mileage comparisons.

Even BMW diesels that are pushing 45 miles per gallon are fun sporty cars with lots of torque when you ask for it.  So how do you translate that to electric?  Can BMW pull it off?

Before getting in the new BMW i3, I had to sign a form that said this was a European version and it had not been approved for sale in the US.  Our version may be slightly different they said.

The first thing you notice as you approach the car is the styling, something like a BMW designed Honda Element.  A little cooler than the element, but not quite BMW.  There are currently three models planned, Mega, Giga and Tera.  Like Bytes, good better and best.

They didn’t have a model with the gasoline range extender which will add a small generator and a two gallon gas tank.  The Volt has about an 8 gallon tank, but only goes about 40 on electric.  The BMW i3 is planned for the 70-100 mile range before you are out of battery power.

The BMW i3 is very different from what you would expect from BMW on the surface.  When you dig deep, you see that BMW took the theme of sustainability to an entirely new level.  The car is claimed to be 100% recyclable.  Additionally, recycled materials are used throughout.  The two models we saw were both very nice.  One had recycled vinyl seats, the other, naturally died and tanned leather.

The center opening doors made access to the rear seats very easy.  Folding down the rear seats makes a great space even though you don’t get the depth of the trunk due to all the batteries.  The over all interior layout is very nice.  The mode selector on the steering column is quite a bit more elaborate than it needs to be.  So much so the demo person didn’t understand it.  Only because I have an electric did it make sense to me.  The Navigation screen was a very nice size, and the updated graphics were pretty good for a built in system.

So the big question, does the i3 drive like a BMW?

The i3 drives exactly the way you would expect it to once you accept the idea that the car is designed to be sustainable first.  The i3 has plenty of torque to jump on the freeway, but the high efficiency razor thin tires aren’t going to pull any 1g corners.  In fact the demo engineer was quite clear this was intended to be a city car, not a highway car.  This is where BMW doesn’t get California.  We restore 1956 Volkswagens to take them on the road and Californians will road trip any car anywhere for better sun, surf or snow.  City car or not, someone is gonna take an i3 to Las Vegas.

One of the best driving features was the regenerative braking system.  In the Volt, if you drive around in “L” all the time, the car feels like it is gently braking if you lift your foot all the way off the accelerator.  Since I do this all the time I didn’t expect to notice it in the BMW i3 after the demo person explained it to me.


The i3 does a much nicer job of regenerative braking and a lot more of it.  In the Volt I occasionally have to use the brake.  During a 3 mile city test run, which I drove a bit aggressively, I did not once need to use the brakes.  I just wonder if the brake lights come on to warn people behind me.  I forgot to check that.

In the Volt, I have achieved 99% and even 100% efficiency scores from the onboard computer several times.  I would really like to have an i3 for a week and see how it does, and if I can go a week without touching the brake pedal other than starting the car.

The verdict?

If you have been waiting for a nicer electric that really sets the bar for sustainability without breaking the bank, the i3 is planned for US deliver in late April.  It might just be the car you have been waiting for.


A Truly Sustainable Electric Car?
A Truly Sustainable Electric Car?
BMW i3 front small
BMW redoes the Element?

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