First Impressions: 2014 BMW i3
Calling itself a sedan though it looks more like a compact SUV, we couldn’t help but wonder what was in store for us when we got in the all-new BMW i3, an electric vehicle that (dare we say) looks like it took some design cues from the Pontiac Aztek. Here’s what we found during our ride:
The i3 is a striking vehicle. Some drivers will likely enjoy the European flair in certain design elements while others will see it as a quirky EV experiment. The overall aesthetic is definitely modern. There are not yet a lot of colors available; a white, varying grays, and Solar Orange Metallic all contrast with a black hood panel, roof, and rear hatch.
With an eye toward handling, BMW mounted the 450lb lithium-ion battery pack toward the rear of the vehicle near the rear wheels, the drive wheels, giving the near 50/50 weight distribution expected of BMW. Handling is precise with the car going where you steer it. Feedback from the wheel is enough to communicate road conditions to the driver while smoothing out the ride for passengers. The i3’s turning radius is tight and steering is responsive.
Seating was a study in contrasts. The driver and front passenger had an open airy space that was almost not car like. There is no need for a transmission tunnel, so the flat floor and free standing steering column increase the feeling of space. Rear seating was the opposite. Accessed through half-size carriage doors, the backseat was cramped and was too small for any but the smallest of adults and children for any length of time. With the split rear seats folded flat, the rear cargo area provides 11.8 cubic-feet of storage with a few thoughtfully placed floor and side mounted elastic straps to help secure cargo.
The infotainment system in the i3 features BMW iDrive 4.2. A rotary control mounted on the center console allows driver and passenger to access infotainment selections easily. Two flat panels, one mounted immediately in front of the driver and one large screen spanning most of the dash area provide easy to read and navigate information and controls.
Driving the BMW takes a bit of getting used to as BMW has incorporated what they call Single Pedal Driving Concept. Pressing the accelerator elicits the expected response with a surprising amount of steady torque with no shifting necessary. Releasing the pedal initiates immediate Brake Energy Regeneration as the lack of power sent to the wheels causes the vehicle to slow immediately. There was more than one stop from a relatively low speed that required no brake input on our part. While this requires some tweaking of your driving technique, we were easily negotiating the throttle and regenerative braking seamlessly about halfway through our short urban course.
With its short learning curve, the i3 is a snap to drive. With its road feel, solid-but-not-heavy-steering feel and tight turning radius, the i3 finds itself getting surprisingly close to the fun to drive category.
images courtesy of BMW
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