Reviews

2017 BMW i3 Driving Impressions

BMW i3 acceleration is smooth and quick, with its 125-kilowatt motor (about 170 horsepower), making 184 pound-feet of torque. The regenerative braking is so strong the brake pedal is only needed to bring the car to a full stop, not to slow down. Other electric cars aren’t programmed so radically as the i3, even with its coasting mode between acceleration and regeneration. The i3 doesn’t coast smoothly or decelerate gently. These are sacrifices so the battery keeps it charge longer. Range is everything.

The all-electric i3 zips from zero to sixty in 7.0 seconds, while the optional range-extender engine slows it to 7.8 seconds. We’ve had an i3 up to an all-electric 83 mph, but at that speed you might get 10 minutes of battery.

The top-model’s range extender (REx) and generator package that supplements the electric motor has its limitations. Up long steep grades, and at 70 mph with the a/c on and stereo blasting, REx gets maxed out, and full power can’t be reached. The range extender doesn’t generate enough current to deliver full power.

The two-cylinder is basically a motorcycle engine, a 650cc twin making 34 horsepower and 40 pound-feet of torque. Think 1967 Triumph Bonneville. Heartbreakingly, it’s not used to power the wheels, but to power a generator that charges the battery. With its 2.4-gallon fuel tank, it increases the overall range to 150 miles, but cuts the electric range because of its weight.

A road trip with the i3 better be short. Stop for two gallons of gas every 140 miles, and pack real light.

There are modes on the console to increase range. Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ add 12 and 25 percent more miles. (Eco Pro+ gets more conservative with the heating and cooling.) If you need quick acceleration, those modes are instantly overridden. But the eco modes still allow decent power, unlike the eco modes on most cars.

The handling is nimble and crisp, with a small turning circle of 32.3 feet, to make parking very easy. It rides well enough, but it drifts in crosswinds, and rides stiff on those high-mileage skinny tires, which probably also contribute to the drifting in the wind.

The front tires start squealing way early. The rear jitters and skips in a fast choppy turn. The high seats mean more head roll.

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