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Tried and tested: BMW i3

PUBLISHED: 13:43 06 May 2014

BMW i3

BMW i3

Archant

Innovative and distinctive, the new i3 from BMW could be the car that finally gets the electric car bandwagon rolling

Electric cars are the future, but the necessary spark (sorry!) to excite consumers has been missing.

Of course, price is an issue; even with the Government’s £5,000 grant, most look expensive against conventional equivalents.

Another worry is the paltry range delivered by the onboard batteries, while battery weight and bulk hasn’t achieved the pace of reduction that allowed mobile phones to catch on.

It could also be that they simply haven’t been cool, which is why BMW’s new i3 (£30,680) could be a breakthrough.

Unlike other electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf - ugly sister to typical family hatchbacks - the i3 breaks rules. Indeed, classify the i3 if you dare.

I reckon its 80-100-mile range between eight-hour charges – halved if you install BMW’s fast charger at home or the office – makes it a four-seat urban MPV cum commuter car.

However, the range extender version (£33,830) with compact 650cc BMW motorcycle engine to top up the batteries, means range is confined only by the network of filling stations.

This was the version I tested, courtesy of Broad Oak BMW of Canterbury and Ashford.

First impressions are more positive than in pictures or video: tall yet compact, with the small on-road footprint an eco warrior would approve of.

Slip inside though – and you do because access is easy front and back – and the cabin appears huge.

Part of this is the lofty design, but BMW has also done away with the centre console, as no gearshift or transmission tunnel is needed.

The car’s rigidity is looked after by copious use of expensive carbon fibre, an incredibly strong yet light material used in F1 cars, employed here presumably to counter any electric car’s Achilles Heel: battery weight.

The bonus is that it also makes the i3 a pleasant and easy drive; despite its relative height there is no heeling on bends and braking is handled largely by backing off the throttle, which recovers forward energy and feeds it to the batteries.

The cabin is typically well made and organised, with great seats. Some sturdy crackle finish plastics highlight BMW’s message that the car contains a high level of recycled material.

The boot is modest, but the ‘clamshell’ doors arrangement are a bonus. The rear ones open backwards; a real boon to mums, particularly when strapping in kids, who can also see more easily out of the ‘dropped sill’ rear windows.

FACT FILE

BMW i3

Price from: £30,680

Driving appeal: ***

Image: ****

Space: ****

Value: ***

Running costs: *****

Reliability: *****

How green?: *****

Best rival: Renault Zoe

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