i3 Test Drive at LA Auto Show
Yesterday my wife and I went to the LA Auto show. I made a point of seeking out the BMW test drive location to get behind the wheel of an i3. I'm currently driving an X1 but in the course of a year I've only put 8,000 or so miles on it. I've only had 2-3 trips during that time that would have been impossible in an i3. My wife really wants to go solar on our house so there are lots of reasons why an i3 might work for me.
The setup has a fleet of the orange color cars with leather interiors. You got to drive them around a rectangular course of downtown streets. We were in the car for about 8-10 minutes. Due to the nature of the drive and conditions I couldn't get a full feel for the performance of the car. I would have enjoyed seeing how it handled through some mid-speed sweeping turns for example, but those are not to be found on downtown streets.
Before talking about the drive some thoughts. First I really wish BMW had brought some of the other color options. Not saying the car doesn't look good in orange, but always nice to see variations if you are a potential buyer. Also would have liked to have seen the three different interior designs. The interior feels bigger than you'd expect from seeing the outside of the car. Back seats are tight but usable especially when you consider you won't be in them for a 300 mile drive. Trunk space is small. Weekly groceries probably fit but without putting the seats down you aren't getting much in there.
The overall impression I got was that BMW had really gone for a clean sheet of paper design. This is not a conventional car with some aero tweaks and the gasoline engine replaced with batteries. They have clearly spent a lot of time thinking about how to present an electric car. I have liked the interior from the first photos and I was quite happy with it in person.
On the driving side the biggest thing you take away is the strength of the regenerative braking. It is tremendous and will force you to change the way you drive. I am used to going off the gas and coasting to a traffic light using minimal brake. Trying to do that in the same distance in an i3 is impossible. Obviously you will get used to it over time but you have to hold the accelerator down much longer in the electric car. To me that change was similar in size to the difference between driving stick vs. automatic. You have to think differently about your relationship to the accelerator and brake.
Car is certainly quick off the line. 0-45mph (as fast as I could reasonably go) passed very quickly. Pull is instant and aggressive. All of this happens in complete silence as far as engine noise. Had to race another car off a light to get around a garbage truck blocking my lane and had zero problem sprinting ahead.
I spent most of the drive exploring the one peddle driving and never got a feel for the steering. Given that I'd guess it is far less communicative than what is on my X1. I only got to do a couple of 90 degree turns and only one of those at any speed. Car was planted with some lean and roll. It felt like I had some way to go before I ran out of grip.
I put the car in Comfort mode when I took off figuring that was going to be the closest to a sporty feel. Ride was compliant and going over railroad tracks feel very dampened and controlled.
At the end of the drive my feeling was that it is a very good car, but probably not the right car for me. I can think of several factors that push me away from the car, some of these are specific to my situation and needs so YMMV:
- I have a 5 year old daughter so I have to pay close attention to the rear seats. I think over time the rear of the i3 would prove very cramped for her.
- My wife has a sedan and my car has been the hauler in the family. That would be quite hard with the i3.
- I would miss the sounds of a gasoline engine.
- I don't particularly want to have to re-learn how to drive to accomodate the massive regenerative breaking.
- I'm pretty sure I'd worry about range and the extender makes an expensive car even more so.
- In California I'd get a combined $9K in tax credits but it would be a stretch in my tax position to use them all.
- Leasing would get around that but I tend to hold cars a long time so buying is my preference.
- Leasing makes the most sense for this type of car because it is a new design and because of the cost+tax credits. But I don't really want to lease.
- While I love the interior I'm just OK with the exterior, at least in the color palate on display yesterday.
I'm sure the car will work for some people and my driving impressions might change if I had one to tool around in for a day or two in my town on streets I'd use every day.
Anyone in So. Cal that is thinking about an i3 should try to get over there and test drive one. You do not have to attend the auto show to do so. BMW's lot is not part of the show so provided you can find a place to park you can just go do the test drive. Given the number of cars they had I wouldn't be surprised if some of them end up at dealers shortly as demo cars.
After the test drive we went through the show. In looking at future potential X1 replacements my wife hated the looks of the 3 series touring but really liked the 3GT. The one on display was an Msport package in Estoril blue. I really enjoy the X1 but I can see a 3GT possible ED in my future in 2-4 years.
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