CRITICS' CORNER

Electric BMW makes statement ... sometimes rudely

BMW has made its i3 electric vehicle available with an optional range extender, an internal combustion gasoline engine to provide power once the battery's initial charge is depleted. BMW used innovative materials and design on the lightweight vehicle. Here are a few snippets from recent reviews.

"If, like us, you've noticed that BMW's traditionally sporty sedans are getting soft around the belly, the i3 might convince you that the Bavarians have now swung to the opposite extreme, still eschewing athleticism but now adopting a Fair Trade, locally sourced, Whole Foods outlook on building cars. The drive-mode chassis-adjustment selector here tops out at Comfort and the closest the i3 comes to a Sport+ mode analogue is Eco Pro+, a self-inflicted driving purgatory where top speed is limited to 56 mph and the climate-control system blows only unconditioned air from the outside. Around the skidpad, tires barely wider than an adult hand manage just 0.80 g of lateral grip with the undefeatable stability control nipping at the brakes. But while it's difficult to wrap your head around the i3 as a BMW, it makes perfect sense as an ambassador for the future of driving." -- Car and Driver

"While the batteries have juice, you're treated to the typical electric car smoothness; effortless launches are followed by serene cruising. It's all ruined when the range-extender kicks in. You ever see that photo of a Toyota Prius with a gas generator strapped to the back? Yeah, that's what this setup feels like. It's inelegant, and it doesn't seem to supply the car with adequate power for non-city driving. I'm pleased to see that BMW finally explored the limits of regenerative braking, though. Most hybrids err on the side of numb but more or less conventional brake feel; with practice, you can stop the i3 simply by taking your foot off the accelerator. It takes some getting used to, but this seems to be the best way to maximize efficiency -- I wish BMW would have gone as far with other systems on the car as it did with the brakes." --Autoweek

"BMW says the i3's 125-kilowatt electric motor driving the rear wheels produces 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. That's good for 7.2 seconds to 60 mph. Like the Tesla Model S, it takes off with an uncanny burst of quiet power. There are massive amounts of dialed-in regenerative braking, as there was in the ActiveE and MiniE, but the i3 feels far more stable and controlled. It's one-pedal driving at its best. Lift off the accelerator, and it rapidly sheds speed and comes to rest, as the charge indicator shows you're feeding the battery pack. There's no "creep," so you don't need the brakes to stay in place. The BMW i3 does offer a "glide" feature, intended to allow the car to coast (without regen braking), which can be effective on long down-sloped stretches of highway. Unfortunately, the glide feature -- activated by finding a sweet spot on the accelerator pedal -- can be difficult to achieve. All in all, the i3 feels part of the "ultimate driving machine" stable, with balanced responsive steering, taut ride, and very tight turning radius. This is one exciting city commuter car, even as the light weight and thin low-resistance tires put passengers in direct contact with bumps and uneven road surfaces." -- Plugincars.com

"For anyone accustomed to BMW's established cabin architecture, this interior's appearance is quite a step change. You perch elevated and upright on firm, flat seats, confronted not by a darkly imposing dashboard but by a stripped-back, light-toned design flooded with natural light from the enlarged windscreen. There's airiness, space and, yes, a definite cheeriness to rival any high-sided B-segment model. What separates the i3 from them (aside from its complete lack of a foot-hindering transmission tunnel) is the cherry-picked locations where either its price point or eco credentials poke through. BMW has done away with the instrument cluster completely, opting instead for a pin-sharp screen ahead of the driver. Most other functions are corralled on to an even larger 6.5-inch widescreen display controlled by the familiar, thigh-high iDrive." -- Autocar

You can reach at autonews@crain.com. -- Follow on Twitter

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