Have you ever stepped into someone’s else’s house for the first time, and it felt just like home? You knew where everything was in the kitchen, and where each bathroom was located, and what dirty laundry was behind each closed door.
That’s what driving the electric BMW i3 was like for the first time.
Yes, the interior of this house looks completely different—there are more rooms, and those rooms are decorated in a distinctive style—but once forward drive is engaged and the go-pedal is pressed, it all feel wonderfully like home.
Well, home if you’ve been living with a BMW Active E electric car for the past eighteen months.
BMW flew journalists to Amsterdam to drive this very urban car in a very urban environment. We spent two days in a burnt-orange i3, dodging bicycles and scooters, squeezing between delivery trucks and parked cars, avoiding pedestrians, and experiencing the controlled chaos that is the mix of motive types in this old and beautiful city.
At no point did we fall into any canals.
Should I cut to the chase and tell you if this is the next great BMW? Sorry, it’s just not that simple. This isn’t the next 7 Series. It’s not the next M car in a long and storied line of well-known performance vehicles. There isn’t any real baseline for comparisons.
What we have here is the product of a blank canvas painted with colors not formerly used by this artist. It’s like the first time that Van Gogh put down his brushes and picked up a can of spray paint, or the first time Rembrandt used Photoshop. This is where the future meets the past.
But the i3 is not supposed to be like other BMWs. It isn’t supposed to be your next track-day horsepower monster, it is supposed to be efficient. It is meant to be connected and coordinated with the outside world. It is intended to be renewable, from cradle to pick-’n’-pull.
It is all of those things.
The i3 is that funny-shaped car from the science-fiction movies you’ve seen, except you can actually have one of these in your driveway—very soon. It’s a lightweight car—for a modern BMW—at 2,700 pounds. It doesn’t feel weak or flimsy; it has the expected heft and solidity of a typical BMW. The car is quite tall, and as a result, it does get a little buffeted by strong crosswinds, but it didn’t actually wander on the road as a result. The linear torque of the electric motor propelled it though tricky inner-city situations with ease. See the tiny hole in traffic between that bicycle and that taxi? No problem—the car silently jumps forward to insert itself in the flow.
Sadly, we did not get a chance to experience the Range Extender, but the consensus of journalists during our dinner conversations—where all Universal Truths are identified over bottles of regional wine—was that it really was just the equivalent of a reserve tank, and not a way to have better range every day. It’s there for the exceptional incident, not a solution to allow a long road trip. That’s not what this car is meant to do.
It’s meant to connect you to your urban environment. Heading to an event? Enter the address, and the car will tell you whether you have enough range to get there, show you charging stations along the way, and tell you if you should use Eco Pro+ mode to extend your range. The car will help you find a charging station, or a parking place, and then hand off your final destination to an iPhone or Android app to give you public-transit or walking instructions for your Last Mile. Turn around to go home afterwards, and the app will guide you back to where you parked—and warm up the interior of the car before you get there.
My fellow Active E drivers want to know how the i3 compares with that electric 1 Series. Quick answer: It is better—newer, with a full complement of electronic aids to assist the whole experience. Quicker, by having 1,300 fewer pounds to throw around. Different, in that it is still eye-catching. (It drew constant stares and questions.) Futuristic, in that it separates itself from every former BMW with a new interior design language.
You might miss your 1 Series design, but not for long. The i3 is still genetically BMW. It is still Home.—Don Louv
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