Top Gear's First Drive of the BMW i3: Did they like it?

by Bernie McGroarty on October 10, 2013, 10:25 am

BMW's first electric car, the i3, has made it's way to the crew at Top Gear. Oh no! That's what I was thinking, when I caught the article in my Facebook feed. I guess I thought back to all the times they poked fun at the Prius on the show, and figured maybe this would go the same way. Now this isn't TV, but after a quick read through the review, it looks like they liked it.

While many think the exterior looks are a bit questionable, here's what they had to say:

While the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S or Vauxhall Ampera all look like modern conventional cars, the i3 is designed to reflect what's underneath. There's no attempt to hide the narrow, low-drag tyres, or the advanced aero. No attempt to hide the fact that it's high because the battery is under the floor, or that it's snub-nosed because the motor and gearbox are in the back.

That's because it's a car for cities and suburbs, where you really can gain by being in a car that's short, and has a high eyepoint and a glassy cabin and vertical sides. You can see what's up around you, and be a bit cheeky about squeezing into gaps. And when there are no gaps, you can at least enjoy the view.

Lets not forget the interior:

The interior, too, gently smoothes the rough edges off your mental state. It's distinctly non-automotive, but in a good way. The floor's flat, and the dash doesn't have the usual consoles and divisions between the people. The materials and the shapes are like some slightly groovy domestic room set.

We have all looked at it, be it in pictures or in person, so it's always nice to have another opinion. However, the driving is the big thing. How does it get on down the road? This is a completely new idea, how does it all work together?

In most normal suburban driving the i3 is somewhere between quick and actually fast. Normally it eases its way from rest with impeccable smoothness, but floor the thing and it departs as if high-voltage electrodes have been applied to its derrière. Which of course they have. OK, listen hard and there's a slight whining noise, but overall, even compared with other electric cars, it's miraculously silent at town speed.

Smoothly, at somewhere above 70-mph, the motor's acceleration begins to taper away compared with your expectations. This is a 170bhp car sub 60mph, but at bigger speed it isn't. That's precisely because it has just the one gear, and it's now revving beyond its power peak. Anyway, to prevent energy-sucking high speed running, it's limited to 93mph. But it's not a deal-breaker: you can move into the outside lane without it betraying you.

The acceleration is better than most e-cars because it's so light.

So that's acceleration. Guess I should go on about the brakes now, but to be honest I never noticed them. I drove for miles on end without ever touching them, even in traffic that was changing speed, even when I came to traffic lights and junctions and roundabouts from dual-carriageway speeds. Instead, the slowing comes from simply lifting off the accelerator.

And the handling:

And it corners like a BMW. Sort of. OK, a short, wide BMW with narrow tyres. Pile into a bend and it'll understeer. Jam the accelerator hard in a tight bend and the front end goes light and it'll understeer. But be smooth, or give a slight lift to dig the front tyres in, and it's neutral, the driven rear wheels finding plenty of traction. The chassis gives you good feel for what's up, the steering less so. But the steering is direct and the wheelbase short, so the i3 is always agile.

Because you sit high, there's some lateral rocking on undulating roads, but nothing to upset the applecart. Otherwise the ride is decently controlled, if fairly taut. Because the body feels so strong and rigid, you've got confidence.


So yes, it's an electric car, and range is a limitation. But it needn't be scary. The car is very precise at letting you know how much you have left, and offers you options (trains, range extender, another car) as get-out-of-jail-free cards. Of course electric cars won't do unexpected 500 mile journeys, just like two-seaters won't unexpectedly transport a family. You know that when you buy them and if that limitation is too much for you then shop elsewhere.

If the i3's range fits your life, here's what you get. A car, a gadget, a suite of furniture, a greener option, a talking point. And a slower heart-rate.

Check out the complete review from Top Gear here.

More on the i3 here.

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1 responses to Top Gear's First Drive of the BMW i3: Did they like it?

Capobranco commented:
October 15, 2013, 1:25 pm

The i3 is a "car" for people, who on a very fundamental level, are suspicious of automobiles, and their implications. BMW recognizes that the world is changing and today's emerging young "opinion leaders" who set fashion and eventually cultural and political agendas do not see cars as aspirational trophies to be coveted, or even as symbols of freedom. At best, cars are tolerated as unfortunate utilitarian necessities, and generally as a very wasteful 20TH century idea. I work in the art/design world - very smart kids in my office view my M3 as an retrograde indulgence, and find the i3 more intune with their aesthetics and priorities. BMW - always keenly attuned to emerging markets recognizes that The Ultimate Driving Machine for the coming age is more likely to be defined in terms of The Ultimate Un-Driving Machine.