REVIEW: 2014 BMW i3 -When high-tech collides with organic

REVIEW: 2014 BMW i3 -When high-tech collides with organic
Modern, modular and bold, there's no short circuit in the design of the BMW i3.
By Kathy Renwald
Posted on August 12th, 2014
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2014 BMW i3

Price: $44,950 after Ontario rebate $36,450
Engine: Electric traction motor
Power: 170 hp /torque:184 lb.-ft.
Competition: Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt
What’s best: bold design, roomy cabin, sustainable materials, perky drive
What’s worst: No impulsive road trips allowed
What’s interesting: i3 designed to attract people who have never considered BMW before

Bold car travels up to 160 km under pure electric power

A botanist, Brian Gluckstein and Dr. Oz — I see room for all of them on a new BMW think-tank. At the recent meet and greet for BMW’s fresh electric car, the i3, plants, interior design and new-age living all loomed large.

We heard about the eucalyptus-clad dash, the evocative loft design and the holistic approach to production of the i3. It’s as if the car was born on the pages of Dwell magazine.

Enthusiasts hold BMW and its lineage of thrilling cars sacred. Sacred is one thing, paralyzed is another, and BMW has no intention of being trapped by the past. Look what happened to Kodak when it missed the digital revolution.

“We are prepared for a changing world,” was the mantra floating through the situation room where journalists were briefed on all things i3.

And what a briefing it was: flip charts, spread sheets, apps, video, testimonials. All very in depth and intense. If you’re pressed for time, here’s my Twitter version:

Electric. Eclectic. Edgy i3. Goes fast. But not far.

And perhaps it doesn’t have to. BMW dove deep into “range anxiety” as it developed the i3. They studied and scrutinized driving habits. Their findings? The average commute of urbanists is 47 kilometres, well within the range of the i3, which BMW says will go 130 to 160 kilometres under pure electric power. Opt for the two-cylinder gas-powered range extender for $4,000 and double the fun to about 300 kilometres.

The i3 starts at $44,950, but qualifies for an $8,500 rebate under the provincial Electric Vehicle Incentive Program. Then get ready to customize. Choose from one of three interior design versions: loft, lodge or suite. Then pick finishes like you would for a condo, only try to get translations first. Solaric leather, Cassia upholstery, Andesite silver metallic paint, it’s a new electric lexicon.

That’s the thing about the i3, there are no tepid strokes. Inside and out, it’s injected with flavour. The interior is an intriguing collision of high-tech and organic surfaces.

Interior of the 2014 BMW i3

From the driver’s seat the vibe reads airy spa. Eucalyptus wood curves over the top of the dash. It’s splashed with so much light it’s like a raised bed waiting to be planted with salad greens. Seats, doors, carpets and the roof catalogue BMW’s commitment to using recycled and renewable raw materials. Even the leather is treated humanely, tanned naturally with extract from olive trees.

Our meet and greet included a short test drive on highways and country roads. Enveloped in the passenger cabin — or life module as BMW calls it — the comfort of the seats, the clear visibility and the roominess is impressive. BMW says the i3 has the space of a 3 Series on a 1 Series footprint.

Once underway, there’s nothing geeky about the way it drives. Power cranks out earnestly from the 170 horsepower electric motor. The i3, relying on carbon fibre-based plastic and aluminum for weight reduction, goes 0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds, and the more important passing range of 80 to 120 km/h in 4.9 seconds.

Lift your foot off the accelerator and the i3 slows down like it’s getting hugged by a bear. That squeeze play is recharging the battery. Given more hours behind the wheel, it’s likely you would develop some finesse in this area.

The i3 is almost inseparable from your smartphone. BMW ConnectedDrive and the i Remote app working with navigation allows for route planning to the micro level of detail. If the destination is out of battery range, solutions are suggested, like altering the route, the driving method, finding a charging station or even the last ditch — catching a bus.

Control also comes from being able to charge the battery fast. On a 220-volt circuit at home, the lithium ion battery pack charges in about three hours. As for curb appeal, the i3 has a distinct space-age look, with some curvaceous aquatic touches in the meandering belt line. It’s modular and bold without being awkward.

The i3 will only be sold in three cities: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

In the world of electric cars, plug-in prophets come and go, but in the impish i3, BMW believes a new revolution starts where the carbon fibre meets the eucalyptus.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Kathy Renwald was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca.

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