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ULTIMATE ELECTRIC driving machine? Yes, it’s the BMW i3 e-car

The smart ‘leccy car from the folks at Bayerische Motoren Werke

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Modern interior

Inside, the i3 is awash with strange fabrics and materials, all of which are sustainable and recycled or recyclable. It’s painfully modern and open plan, a bit like driving an Ikea show home, but still a perfectly nice place to spend an afternoon. It all feels very well made too. The driver environment, meanwhile, is dominated by the 6.5- and 5.5-inch LCD displays mounted on the dash.

BMW i3

The i3 has a 6.5-inch LCD in place of traditional instrumentation

The latter serves as the driver’s instrument binnacle, the former houses the highly connected communication and navigation system. Drive is selected through a rather strange twisty-knob to the right of the steering wheel. You simply turn to D, R, N or Park after pressing the on/off button and away you go. From the pictures, the i3 may not look an easy car to get accustomed to but trust me, it is.

Thanks to the carbon-fibre passenger compartment there’s no need for strengthening b-pillars so the i3’s coach doors open to provide very easy access to the surprisingly spacious interior much like a Ford B-Max. Leg room all around is generous with more than enough space for five six-foot adults.

Thanks to the electric motor, the boot is not exactly deep but at 260 litres it’s not bad. The REX version has the same size boot as the BEV despite having to house a petrol engine.

BMW i3

The drive selector

The i3 has telematics coming out of its ears. The satnav can show you a real-time range map and take you to free charge points. BMW is working with Chargemaster to give i3 owners access to 85 per cent of the charge points in the UK in an effort to overcome the Balkanisation of the e-car charging network.

And there is the inevitable iOS and Android apps that will let you control and monitor your i3 while still in bed or on the loo. Apparently a Windows Phone 8 version is being developed.

BMW expects 70 per cent of the first i3s sold to be the REX models and to be purchased on a new personal lease scheme cooked up by the company’s finance and insurance division, though as it was quick to point out, the bulk of its smaller cars are sold in this fashion already and the numbers are only increasing.

BMW i3

Under the hood

People apparently like financing their cars like their mobile phones no matter what the drive train, and to this end BMW has come up what it calls the 360° Electric ownership package, full details here.

The Reg Verdict

Is the BMW i3 a better e-car than Renault’s Zoe? Yes, not least because it has a much more powerful motor but because it weighs a lot less and so goes like stink.

But that is like saying the Renault Clio isn’t as good as the BMW 1 Series. Price makes a mockery of the comparison. The i3 BEV at £25,680 OTR – the i3 REX will set you back £28,830 – is considerably more expensive than the £14,000 Zoe. Granted you have to lease the battery with the Zoe, but many people I’ve spoken with think that leasing the battery is a Good Idea because it removes any worry about the power pack degrading down the road.

Still, the i3 is a very impressive vehicle and lays to rest any claims that electric cars are fundamentally impractical. The fact that you can go out and chose between two such fine examples of the e-car makers’ art can only be regarded – by a rational person at least – as a most welcome state of affairs. ®

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