On the 16th June, I was handed the keys to a brand new BMW i3 and asked to drive around it in for 6 weeks and report back on my findings. I had applied to be a part of the #GoUltraLow campaign as husband and I have spoken about hybrids before but never got any further plus, I am constantly hearing such negative comments in relation to electric cars. If we were ever to invest in one I’d want to be pretty sure that we can do all the things we can do today in our diesel fuelled car.
What is an ULEV?
An ULEV (ultra low emission vehicle) is a motor vehicle that emits extremely low levels of emissions, it produces 75g or less of CO2 per kilometre from the tailpipe. They fall into three categories; Electric, Hybrid and Range Extender. Our BMW i3 is a Range Extender.
You can find out lots more on the Go Ultra Low website
These are zero emission, 100 per cent electric vehicles, they have a very quiet operation that drives the wheels via an electric motor that uses a single gear.
It is recharged via charging points or by plugging into your home supply – usually via an outside power point. When using the brakes, some of the energy is recaptured and the battery can recharge itself whilst on the move.
Plug-in hybrids supplement an electric motor with a conventional petrol or diesel engine, either system can drive the wheels.
The battery can power the car for 10 – 20 miles – more than enough for your average journey on British roads. After this, the petrol or diesel engine kicks in giving CO2 emissions of 40 – 50 g/km. Conventional hybrids do not need plugging in, but the new types use electricity to extend their zero-emission range significantly.
E-Rev stands for Extended-Range Electric Vehicle – our BMW i3 is one of these – where the electric motor always drives the wheels using a conventional engine as a generator to recharge the battery.
They provide 20 – 30g/km CO2 emissions making them the most eco-friendly compromise.
First impressions of the BMW i3
There is no denying that the BMW i3 is a gorgeous car, a lot of care and attention has gone into the design making this an object of beauty. From the excellent use of space, the choice of interior furnishings and the exterior colours available, BMW have not held back and sitting in this car is a very comfortable experience.
The two child seats were easily fixed to the ISO bars in the back seat and there is no worry of children opening the back doors as they can only be opened once the front doors are open. The children also have two containers in the middle of their seats to hold water bottles.
The car is an automatic drive which is easy to get used to; you have four options, P- Park, D – Drive, R – Reverse and N – Neutral.
It has automatic lights and windscreen washers which come on as and when needed.
The onboard computer is a novelty to us and we LOVE it. A big screen with lots of options to put in at the start of your journey.
There is a ‘joy’ stick on the centre piece between the front seats which accesses the menu and after a quick look around I think you could quite easily set up office in your BMW i3. There is also a USB to connect your iPod, Phone or Touch directly to the onboard computer.
Cruise control was something that husband was very impressed with and used on our trip to the beach last weekend, a 55-mile journey (more about that later).
Our first impressions were extremely favourable and it’s been amusing watching local petrol heads slow down in their cars to get a better look or even walk up to the house and chat to my next door neighbour whilst he’s gardening out the front asking for more information.
Performance of the BMW i3
One very exciting discovery for me has been the performance of this car. For some reason, I had assumed that electric cars wouldn’t have a lot of power in them and boy was I wrong. As I headed down the slip road onto the A2 to try the car out on a motorway for the first time, I was amazed at the power I had under my foot and quickly had to take my foot off the accelerator to avoid speeding – like in seconds!
My second amazing discovery is there is no engine noise! The car runs silently which at the beginning is confusing after years of listening to the engine. However, on our first long trip to the coast, we were able to detect the fuel engine kicking in (seamlessly I must add) and could hear the hum as we drove along.
As you are driving along you have a second screen placed directly behind the steering wheel where you can check how much charge your battery has, how much fuel you have in the tank and the computer keeps tabs on how many miles you can drive on each individually AND offers an overall total too. It also shows exactly which fuel you are consuming at any one moment.
On coming to a stop, I have learnt to coast the car – (take my foot off the accelerator and let the car come to a natural stop). This also recharges the battery as does applying the breaks. You can actively watch this as you drive along on the screen; when the car is recharging itself a white line is displayed between the two fuel gauges.
First impressions: After two weeks of driving the BMW i3 I can honestly say it is amazing to drive.
Re-charging and re-fuelling
The car comes with two cables both kept in the boot of the car. One is to connect the car and charge from any household plug and the other is to use at a service station (which we have yet to trial).
As part of this trial, we have been fitted with an external charge point. It took the best part of a day to fit and has its own trip box connected to our home electric fuse box. This is to avoid affecting the entire house should the charger trip at any moment.
Each company have their own charger and from what I understand at this early stage there are two different kinds of plugs. The engineer who came to fit ours said the companies were already looking at agreeing to one communal plug to ease future buyers.
The external charging box will become a permanent feature to your home so choose wisely where it will be placed. Had I known how big the BMW one was I would have chosen a different spot to the side of the house in all honesty as it’s a big unit on the front of the house.
I was disappointed to see that on this huge unit there are no other plug points available for outside use. A household plug point would have been handy for vacuuming the car and maybe a point to attach a caravan or at least the option to do so in the future would have been very handy indeed.
The charging box is a better charge, it is quicker and a full charge can be gained in 4 hours or less whereas attaching the car to the household mains never manages a complete charge and takes 8 hours or more.
I have found this perfect for everyday use, jump in and off I go – school runs, after school activities, shopping at the supermarket, trips to Bluewater and meeting friends too. I rarely use the entire battery for all of my weekly normal activities so I have only recharged twice so far. Whereas a tank of fuel on our family car costs around £60 and will last 3/4 weeks with our normal activities, I have yet to work out what a full charge has cost us but it lasts about a week. Costs of running the BMW i3 will follow in my second post.
Husband was initially very negative when he heard we had been selected for this campaign and this made it all the more interesting for me. He is now reformed in his ideas, he agrees the car is beautiful, that it runs exceedingly well, it is easy to charge and a dream to drive. My next hurdle with him will be the recharging on longer journeys as it will mean allowing half an hour for the charge to complete and adding this time into our journey.
App for BMW
For all BMW drivers there is a handy app to download
Cost: Currently the BMW i3 costs between £25,680 or £28,820 and the government are offering a £5000 electric vehicle grant
More reading for the BMW i3
The Daily Telegraph
Disclosure: We have the BMW i3 on loan for 6 weeks for the purpose of this review and we will be reporting back to you regularly with our opinions and how we find, as a family, the BMW i3 Range Extender fits into our lives. To follow will be posts on longer journeys, planning a journey and recharging via the Rapid chargers at supermarkets and service stations.