Driving review: BMW i3 and i8

The cars changing the face of electric motoring

Back to the future! That is all I could think of when I arrived at the launch of the BMW i3 and i8 in Cape Town last week. There has been so much hype about these two cars so of course I could not wait to get behind wheel of both of them.

South Africa is slowly but surely catching on to the whole electric car thing. To be fair, it isn’t like we really have the infrastructure for them. The Nissan Leaf, which was the first of its kind to land in South Africa, isn’t exactly flying off the showroom floors, with only about 30 sold so far. It’s not just the infrastructure, but also the fact that these electric cars do not come cheap. The BMW i3 for example will cost you between R500 000 and R600 000.

BMW i3

BMW i3

Let’s start with the i3. This is your every day run around type of car. Well it can only be with a range of 130km to 160km on the pure electric model. It’s very spacious and the seats are comfortable. The cabin overall is just great, but my only issue was with the reflection of the recyclable material used on the dash which caused a reflection on the windscreen that made it look as if I needed to give it a squirt with the wipers. But, you would get used to that.

BMW i3

It is a lot of fun to drive if you aren’t constantly staring at the km reading and experiencing range anxiety. However, once you know what the car can do, the anxiety will lessen. But if you want more peace of mind you could always opt for the range extender model called REX. This doubles the range to around 300 km due to a teeny 650cc two cylinder engine that charges the batteries as you drive.

BMW i3

There are other factors that affect your range and these include the three driving modes you can choose from. The ECO Pro Plus will ensure the most efficiency, the ECO Pro is the middle of the range mode and the Comfort allows you to drive as you will giving you all the power you want.

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The i3 has the edge over conventionally powered models of a comparable size and output in the sprints from 0 to 100 km, which it completes in 7.2 seconds and 0 to 60 km/h (3.7 seconds). With 125 kW of power and 250 N.m of torque, it is nippy and that instantaneous torque gets you moving very quickly.

Extensive road tests conducted as part of project i proved that the car’s range of 130 to 160 kilometres in everyday conditions is adequate to comfortably meet the day-to-day mobility needs of the target customer group. I imagine this to be true here even in Cape Town, but like many of my family and friends, having to charge the car every night would pose a problem. Mainly as many of us do not have a garage with a power outlet or even a garage for that matter. But then again, I am not the target market. But even if I were, the car needs eight hours to recharge and with Eskom’s current issues that might be asking a bit too much. However it will only cost you R15,16 to charge the car.

This car would certainly have to be your second or even third car. It could only be for your daily commute and nothing else. Not until charging stations have been set up country wide. And even then, a three hour drive could take you double that as you wait 30 minutes every 150 km for the car to recharge.

I see where the future is going with electric cars (By 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in cities ) and BMW is right to jump on the bandwagon. Unfortunately though, I still see it being a very long time before electric cars become the norm.

The i3 BEV will cost you R525 000 while the REX costs R595 000.  This comes with an eight-year/100 000 km battery warranty and two-year vehicle warranty.

BMW i8

BMW i8

The BMW i8 sees the world’s first sports car to be purpose-built with sustainability in mind complete in its journey from vision to reality.

The BMW i8 was first exhibited at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show and now adopted virtually unchanged for the production version. Which is very rare. And boy, does it look good. You wouldn’t usually expect this sort of design coming from BMW but they sure are moving in the right direction. Just think ‘Batmobile’!

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The i8 is what is considered a plug-in hybrid sports car and houses a wide range of BMW ConnectedDrive features: options include DriveAssist package with High Beam Assist, rear view camera, Surround View, Speed Limit Info display and Collision and Pedestrian Warning with City Braking function; internet access; standard features include Intelligent Emergency Call, BMW ConnectedDrive Services with Concierge Service and Real Time Traffic Information along with mobility services developed specifically for BMW i, such as the BMW i Remote app and BMW TeleServices.

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As good as this car looks, it unfortunately leaves you wanting more when it comes to performance. Not that it isn’t exciting, but for the price you pay (R1 755 000) you would expect figures you’d find in other supercars. But remember, this car is all about being ‘green’! Plus, it does have a Mini engine under the bonnet. I know, I know, crazy right? But remember, this is the supercar of the future, in the now! This 1,5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine produces 170 kW and 320 N.m of torque which drives the rear wheels. The front wheels are powered by a 96 kW/250 N.m electric motor and battery pack that then gives the i8 a figure of 266 kW and 570 N.m. Sounding better right?

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Speaking of sound, thankfully BMW took care of this with the augmented roar coming through the speakers which still manages to give you that thrill you expect to feel when driving a sportscar.

Regardless of wanting that extra oomph when it comes to performance, this car will give you that thrill just by looking at it. It really is something from the future and you cannot deny the excitement in that.