Long-term test (Update 1): BMW i3 REx
At around 120 km into the trip from Cape Town to Stilbaai, I’m regretting my decision to use the i3 REx… Why hadn’t I taken colleague Sudhir Matai up on his offer to use his internally combustioned A4 for the weekend? I’m 10 km beyond Worcester on the R60 and the i3 has nearly depleted its batteries and has begun mining the range-extending petrol engine to top them up and keep the electric motor running. The fuel range is disappearing at an alarming rate, Robertson is still nearly 40 km away, overtaking punch has all but vanished and, annoyingly, the slab-sided i3 is proving disconcertingly sensitive to crosswinds.
But, as soon as I hit the hillier section of the R60 and the drivetrain starts recuperating energy on declines and under braking, the battery range creeps up and there’s accessible power underfoot. I’m feeling brave and skip Robertson’s filling stations for those of nearby Ashton. That town, too, comes and goes as the i3 and I engage in a game of will-it-won’t-it? en route to Swellendam. I finally pull over to refuel the 9,0-litre fuel tank at Buffeljagsrivier, 223 km from my departure point. Another 112 km later, brow now thoroughly moistened, I drive into Stilbaai on fumes in the tank.
The point of the exercise was to discover whether the R653 900 i3 REx could, at a pinch, function as weekender wheels. The answer, surprisingly, is yes. But I wouldn’t like to repeat the exercise…
Back in the i3’s natural habitat, I tried the new public charging stations at the V&A Waterfront (pictured). It’s a great initiative by BMW in partnership with Nissan, and as a bonus eliminates the hassle of looking for an open parking bay on a busy Saturday morning.
After 4 months
Mileage now: 5 025 km
Energy consumption: 16,36 kW/h/100 km
We like: absolutely brilliant in a city environment
We don’t like: compromised everywhere else
Long-term test (Introduction): BMW i3 REx
“May I please borrow the i3 over lunch?” “Are you taking the i3 tonight?” “Who will be using the i3 this weekend?” I’ve been bombarded with these clamouring questions since the day the i3 arrived in our test fleet.
Never before has a long-term car been so popular for commuter duties. The fact that CAR’s offices are about 10 km from Cape Town’s CBD, and that most of us head out over lunch time to run errands and grab a bite somewhere, contributes to the car’s current popularity. However, there are further reasons why the team enjoys BMW’s i3.
Our model is the range-extender (REx) i3, which means that, unlike the i3 we tested in the January 2015 issue, in addition to the electric powertrain, it’s equipped with a 647 cm3 petrol-powered engine taken from BMW Motorrad bike division that functions as a generator when the battery is depleted (it kicks in when there are a few kilometres of charge left).
When the batteries are fully charged and the petrol tank is topped up, the i3’s total range is about 220 km (split 120 km to the electric powertrain and 100 km on the bike engine when its nine-litre fuel tank is filled to the brim). This means that we rarely, if ever, use the latter when heading into town. My daily home-and-back journey of just more than 50 km is also done solely on electric power.
What that means is that the i3 is a relaxing compatriot on stressful, traffic-clogged routes because the instant response in electric mode is a joy to use and ride comfort over the Mother City’s rutted inner-city roads is commendable.
Owing to the nature of the drivetrain, the torque is immediately available the moment you press the throttle pedal. The result is that you take gaps in the traffic that you wouldn’t with any other type of vehicle, and harassing a few VW Golf GTI drivers in the process…
From the driver’s seat, there’s a real sense of having driven the vehicle straight off an international motor show stand. It’s hard to believe the i3 is already three years old, as it feels extremely modern and advanced inside thanks to such materials as real carbon-fibre and recycled plastics, and two floating information screens.
That said, it’s also practical – four adults can fit in acceptable comfort and the boot is well sized – well equipped and beautifully finished.
Perhaps this model’s biggest triumph is the fact that range anxiety, so often a concern with electric vehicles, becomes a lesser consideration thanks to the range-extender engine. Deputy ed Terence Steenkamp will soon test whether the i3 has the chops to take on the open road when he visits the Garden Route. Yes, he’ll have to stop at almost every town along the N2 to refuel the small petrol tank, but this journey should prove how multi-talented the little i3 is … or may just show how far electric vehicles still have to go.
After 1 month
Mileage now: 1 086 km
Energy consumption: 18,76 kW/h/100 km
We like: immediacy of power delivery
We don’t like: divisive exterior design