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      07-10-2013, 01:48 PM   #1
cc3
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Chris Harris Drives the BMW i3 (Pistonheads Review)

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From: http://www.pistonheads.com/roadtests...?c=100&i=28060


Review from Chris Harris on the BMW i3 [official specs].

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"So, do you think it drives like a BMW" asked the man responsible for the way Bavaria's first electric hatchback handles and rides. And not for the first time that day. His earnestness and determination to score an answer hid the fact that he was asking the wrong question. Whether the i3 drives like a BMW - whatever that actually means - is immaterial because the i3 will have a role unlike any other car in the company's history.

It will need to excel over short distances, consume minimal resources and be both comfortable and safe. It will also need to appear irresistible to the metro elite, seat four adults in comfort and debunk the myth that electric cars either don't work in the real world, or offer about as much showroom appeal as ... a Nissan Leaf.

In fact the last thing the i3 actually needs to do is to drive like a BMW, assuming that means smoke its rear tyres and engage reverse gear with a long-arm to the left. What it has to do is prove that BMW's take on electric transportation is, much like its gasoline-powered equivalent, rather better than other offerings.

Carbon dating
It was the carbon fibre that did it for me. If the i3 was just a lump of steel festooned with posh Duracells I would have stayed at home and done some oversteer, but ever since McLaren launched the MP4/1 in 1981 we have been promised that this remarkable material would eventually be used to make ordinary cars. It has taken 32 years to reach that point. Sitting in a military hangar at BMW's Maisach driver training site near Munich, the i3's bare CFRP body structure looks to me like a decent approximation of the future. This isn't quite the full carbon machine we've been waiting for - the powertrain sits on an aluminium rolling chassis containing some gorgeously complicated castings. But the whole thing is beautifully engineered.

It is now rather late as I write this, so in the interests of my sanity, I'm going to post the full technical document released by BMW yesterday, comment on the aspects that caught my eye under the skin and tell you what it's like to drive on the smoothest section of asphalt in northern Europe. For 10 minutes.

Hurry up and weight
The DIN unladen weight of the i3 is 1,195kg. You can view this either as a triumph in the knowledge that a Nissan Leaf is 1,520kg, or a shame that something so physically small should need to breach a ton. The batteries sit under the floor, the motor is at the rear, as is the range-extending two-cylinder motor, should you opt for it. This engine is not connected to the drivetrain, it is merely used to provide energy for the batteries.

Weight distribution is a perfect 50/50 for the pure EV version, a little arse-heavy for the range-extender. Power output is rated at 170hp and torque is 184lb ft. BMW claims 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds and a little over 90mph flat out. The motor spins at up to 11,400rpm. Range in normal driving mode is somewhere between 80 and 100 miles. Using Eco-Pro adds another 12 miles, and the same again if you use Eco-Pro+. The range extender is not available at launch, but the nine-litre fuel tank allows the 650cc, 34hp motor to increase range to around 180 miles.

Charging times from a normal plug are around four to five hours, but can be reduced to 30 minutes with a 50kW/h system.

Loss leader
In cutaway form, the first observation is simple: this car must cost serious money to build. Those ally extrusions, the magnesium alloy hanger for the dashboard, the carbon - which is cooked in the US and then shipped back to Europe, the rather lovely aluminium lower suspension arms - all of it yells euros. The tyres are weeny, low-friction Bridgestones just 155 in section and 19 inches in diameter.

BMW will not release pictures of the cabin until 29 July, which is a crying shame because I think it's showroom gold. It re-casts the relationship between driver and controls in the cleverest way I've seen in years. People will sit in this car and want it. You push a chunky rotary control forwards to select Drive and then you roll in near-silence. The gearbox is carried over from the Mini E project, the rest of the powertrain is new.

Acceleration is of a quantity that makes you look at your passenger and grin. With rear-engined traction, i3s will be traffic light hustlers by the end of 2013. The first 40mph feels very brisk, the next 20 less so. I didn't get beyond that but suspect the final 20 might require some teasing. On a trailing, er, throttle, the i3 automatically regenerates bringing added range but also a maximum of 0.166g of braking. BMW makes much noise of how you can learn to coast and drive the car on one pedal. My only observation at this stage would be that the ability to coast tends to be determined by the speed of the traffic around you, and the i3 will be quite out of sync with just about anything else on the road, perhaps making it difficult to perform this trick.

Coasting along
Handling is sprightly and pretty agile, but I just can't tell you much more than that. Our friend from the chassis department confirmed that urban comfort was a priority over outright handling, and that the Bridgestone-only rubber was designed for minimal friction. The car is set to understeer, with the front still clinging on longer than the skinny footprint would suggest. The steering is a completely new electric system, shared with the new Mini, and is accurate and completely fitting for a car which feels too synthetic from behind the wheel.

I think the i3 is a car that will make anyone who drives or rides in it smile. And that probably matters more than anything else. I suspect it might be a little firm on craggy London streets, but on the plus side, I have been assured by the development team that with all the safety systems switched off (sadly not possible in production cars) it will oversteer in the wet. Just thought that needed mentioning.

Launch (i)pad
As you'll read in the launch materials, BMW has effectively launched a whole EV motoring world on the back of its i brand, much of it linked into a SIM card located in the car which can communicate with either a web browser or a smart phone. Given that BMW took the time to actively monitor the behaviour of motorists using EVs with its Mini E program, you can't fail to be impressed by the rigour of its research.

But there are some fundamental aspects of intended i3 usage that bother me. BMW expects 90 per cent of owners to home charge but in a big cities how many people have off-street parking? It also intends to offer a kind of car-sharing service for those wanting to occasionally do a longer journey - the only trouble here is that the i3 is so damn funky that people will want to show it off to their friends. Having an i3 and not using it all the time is a bit like leaving the family hound at home when you holiday - somehow a bit wrong

The real cost
And the emissions need some scrutiny too. When is the EU going to standardise some kind of lifetime CO2 measurement? BMW claims that the i3's emissions are zero in full electric mode, but they've actually nearer 80 g/km - that being the cost of generating the power you pull from your plug. BMW has cleverly offset the hugely energy-intensive CFRP process for the bodyshell by using hydro power for its plant in the US, but many of the raw materials come from Japan and the parts are then shipped to Europe. The i3 has emitted a fair quantity of CO2 before it even turns a wheel in silence. It makes me wonder if a Mini D, built, bought and used in the UK might still be a slightly greener choice over a 15-year lifetime. Someone clever should do the maths.

And so I find myself reaching the same conclusion with the i3 as I do everything else I've driven with batteries in the past 12 months. I love the way a new technology is forcing engineers to embrace new materials and thinking - the results are fascinating, but they are always blighted by, for want of a better phrase, the electricity itself. The hideous weight of the batteries, the limited range, the lack of infrastructure - I know this will begin to change, but just imagine an i3 with a 1.0-litre, 150hp motor that weighed 750kg and would do 100mpg. With a range of 600 miles. Now that would be something special.

Specialness is something that pervades all aspects of the i3 though. People will flock to it because the cabin, suicide rear doors and packaging are exceptional. It redefines urban chic. That it is powered by electric motors is almost incidental. I'm still trying to work out if BMW intended it to be that way.
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      07-12-2013, 09:37 AM   #2
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Can't wait to have a go!
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      07-12-2013, 09:47 AM   #3
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Plug in cars are not for me. I do believe that gas/electric hybrid will become the dominant drivetrain in North America by 2020. Hopefully, we will see interesting designs with small batteries, rear drive petrol and front drive for the electric motor.
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      07-12-2013, 09:54 AM   #4
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I was hoping it would be a video segment!

I do implicitly trust Chris Harris' opinion.. I am slightly more curious about the i3. I could never ever go from a straight six turbo to an electric car, but agree that this cutting edge tech is forcing the industry to evolve, and that is a very good thing.
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      07-12-2013, 10:11 AM   #5
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Why do I always read these reviews using the reviewers voice?! Another example; every Top Gear review is read in Jeremy Clarkson's voice...ahhh the madness.

I'm ok, no need for
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      07-12-2013, 10:13 AM   #6
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Quote:
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I do implicitly trust Chris Harris' opinion.
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      07-12-2013, 10:29 AM   #7
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I have one interesting question, that 80g/km carbon quote... where does he get that information from? Also, when quoting like for like, so the i3 has 0g/km but takes electricity that may (MAY) come from fossil fuels and therefore have an XXg/km part to it. What about fossil fuelled cars, so lets say my car outputs 200g/km right, was any co2/carbon created when processing the fuels to make the petrol? I bet there was! So I don't have accurate data, but lets say my car again does 200g/km co2, the company that made the petrol surely used electricity to make the fuel right, which might add XXg/km on top of the 200g/km still making electric a low emission fuel.
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      07-12-2013, 11:02 AM   #8
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Excellent review. Electric cars are just silly. Hydrogen fuel cells FTW. Where are those?
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      07-12-2013, 11:20 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IancoleTX View Post

I do implicitly trust Chris Harris' opinion
Quote:
Originally Posted by eMvy View Post
This
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      07-12-2013, 11:27 AM   #10
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Quote:
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Excellent review. Electric cars are just silly. Hydrogen fuel cells FTW. Where are those?
I'm with you on this. Electric cars are a trend and they will eventually go away to Hydrogen.
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      07-12-2013, 11:29 AM   #11
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Chris Harris is always spot on with these assessments. Seems like a pretty fun car to drive, and I'm looking forward to the production interior pics.
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      07-12-2013, 11:42 AM   #12
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Chris Harris is always spot on with these assessments. Seems like a pretty fun car to drive, and I'm looking forward to the production interior pics.
His reviews are always thoughfull, intelligent and fun!
Love this guy!
And his approach to the I3, sounds about right to!
Can't wait to see it in person!
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      07-12-2013, 01:52 PM   #13
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Quote:
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Excellent review. Electric cars are just silly. Hydrogen fuel cells FTW. Where are those?
Hydrogen production issues aside, the principle issue with hydrogen, and why it may never be a viable reality is distribution. It took many decades and heavy government subsidization to build out our network of gasoline distribution (gas stations). Same goes for our power grid.

To create a viable network of hydrogen distribution would take decades and a tremendous amount of money/investment. Who would make such an investment without a market for it? Likewise, who is going to bring hydrogen cars to market in mass, without a hydrogen distribution network that can make that market segment sustainable? It’s a chicken or the egg dilemma here, whereas the aforementioned technologies have an existing distribution network to leverage off of.

note: US centric opinion.
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      07-12-2013, 03:16 PM   #14
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Absolutely correct, but it's the future, while electric is not. I'm sure there is a LOT of money to be had in hydrogen fueled cars. See James May's review of the Honda FCX to learn why hydrogen is what we need.

http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/honda-clarity
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      07-12-2013, 04:13 PM   #15
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You are underestimating the future of electric mobility. Once water cooled batteries come into play, range will be close to 1000 miles per charge. Having to stop every 250-300 miles to refill the tanks with water. We might be going back to the steam engine days... Nice video BTW.

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Absolutely correct, but it's the future, while electric is not. I'm sure there is a LOT of money to be had in hydrogen fueled cars. See James May's review of the Honda FCX to learn why hydrogen is what we need.

http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/honda-clarity
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      07-12-2013, 05:14 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eMvy View Post
Why do I always read these reviews using the reviewers voice?! Another example; every Top Gear review is read in Jeremy Clarkson's voice...ahhh the madness.

I'm ok, no need for
LMAO! I did the same thing!
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      07-12-2013, 05:20 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Transfer View Post
Absolutely correct, but it's the future, while electric is not. I'm sure there is a LOT of money to be had in hydrogen fueled cars. See James May's review of the Honda FCX to learn why hydrogen is what we need.

http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/honda-clarity
An electric car is as environmentally friendly as the power grid that charged it. This is a negative point for electric cars today since a lot of the world's power still comes from coal and other dirty sources, but it will be easier in the future to upgrade the relatively small number of power plants to clean energy than it would to build out a global hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Once the majority of cars used for everyday transport are converted to electricity, you can change power plant technology to ever more environmentally friendly sources without having to redesign the cars. Italy announced the world's first hydrogen power plant in 2009 and batteries are only going to continue to get smaller, lighter, and have shorter charge times.

I personally don't want to drive around in a silent electric car, but they seem like a good solution for the average commuter who spends much of his life sitting in traffic anyways.
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      07-12-2013, 05:41 PM   #18
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Talking

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Originally Posted by kunal_d View Post
This

Chris Monkey Harris is the older brother we all wish we have !

I forsee that everyone with some sort of Apple product in their hand will be flocking toward this i3...

... and even android users such as myself LOL, despite this car laking a manual transmission (to say the least).
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      07-12-2013, 06:01 PM   #19
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Sorry, I've been out of things for awhile but can anyone tell me how many people the i3 seats?

Looks to be a good everyday car to get to point a and b
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      07-12-2013, 08:41 PM   #20
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Sorry, I've been out of things for awhile but can anyone tell me how many people the i3 seats?

Looks to be a good everyday car to get to point a and b
Designed to seat 4 adults...
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      07-12-2013, 08:56 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Diver View Post
Plug in cars are not for me. I do believe that gas/electric hybrid will become the dominant drivetrain in North America by 2020. Hopefully, we will see interesting designs with small batteries, rear drive petrol and front drive for the electric motor.
As with everything, there is always a trickle down effect. We saw systems like KERS in Formula 1 slowly make it to production cars like exotics, eventually it reached consumer cars and will continue to make its presence in the industry. The same thing will happen with hybrids first, then pure electric cars after that.
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      07-13-2013, 05:51 AM   #22
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Great review and he knows what he's talking about. I have put a deposit down as I want to experience at the outset what the future looks like. Carbon fibre, new interior design etc. Still keep the 1M but I like to embrace new technology. BMW says it will flow down into future models.

Surprised by some of the comments from people tying to rubbish the car before trying it.

All the press reviews are very positive about the car. They even say it looks ok once finally revealed.
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