BMW has been teasing us with talk about the full reveal of the BMW i3 coming later this month and now we are starting to see the first drive reviews of the i3 coming from some of the major media outlets.
Thanks to its relatively low weight, the i3 offers instantaneous acceleration and entertaining pace up to and beyond typical city speed limits. The official performance claims appear entirely conventional for a car of this size, but the reality of the whole 250Nm being delivered to the rear wheels the very moment you brush the throttle relates to genuinely urgent properties – the sort you just don't get with a traditional petrol or diesel powered car.
The combination of such strong accelerative properties, a seamless power delivery and an energy recuperation system you can rely upon to provide an instant braking effect the moment you come off the throttle gives the impression that the i3 will be a terrific city car. We've only driven it on a test track, but our limited test drive revealed it possesses all the likeable traits of the earlier Mini E and 1-series ActiveE, but with even more impressive performance, added range and a far more commanding driving position.
But this is not the best it has to offer. Sheer agility is the defining characteristic of the i3. With its lightweight carbon fibre body structure and lithium ion batteries mounted as low as possible underneath the floor, the new BMW boasts a centre of gravity that, at 470mm from the ground, is described as being close to that of the X1. Combine this with typical rear wheel drive dynamic qualities and the super responsive driveline and you have the ingredients for a truly engaging drive.
There is a pervading sense of completeness to the 2014 BMW i3. This is an electric car that you could actually consider buying and driving all the time. We have yet to experience it on public roads, but in the wide-open spaces of a BMW test track it managed to impress on many different levels.
There is little doubt the new BMW, with its high-tech carbon-fiber construction and stylish appointments, represents the direction personal mobility will take in the not-too-distant future. The question that remains is: Are customers ready for a BMW without an engine?
Our brief drive at a BMW test facility focused on agility and handling, but we had enough time in the car to note that the i3's electric powertrain feels quiet and smooth – with less whine, on this evidence, than rivals such as the Nissan Leaf.
Power delivery is instantaneous, as you'd expect – all of the 184lb ft of torque is available from rest, after all – and in the most performance-oriented of the car's modes, Comfort, you can easily squirt up to 40 or 50mph in refined haste.
It seems odd to say this, but the i3's agility at speed is likely to surprise you. It's a tall-looking car, after all, but its centre of gravity is extremely low thanks to the battery cells mounted in the base of the chassis. That means it has excellent change of direction at speed, and it also feels very secure under braking. Brake-energy recuperation alone can do the braking if you think far enough ahead in many situations, in fact.
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