Yesterday I had the chance to be driven in +BMW i
's i3 electric car. It was a short ride, but I also had the chance to look at the cars in detail before and after the drive.
On the positive side, the cars are very quiet. I drive Solectria electric cars in the late 90's that +IBM
Research made available to us researchers, and the i3 doesn't any of the whine that the Solectria had. Also, while the Solectria had troubles getting up the hill from North White Plains (and once ran out of power doing the NWP->Hawthorne->Yorktown loop), the i3 was zipping around the stand like the climb was nothing. Also, the i3 is nicer in real life than in the pictures. I thought I'd prefer the burnt orange color, but in the end the white one was my preference. My wife and I called it the Panda.
There were some show-stoppers for us, though these need not apply to others. First, it was a 4 seaters and I was hoping for a 5 seater even if the 5th seat was just a jump seat. Also, there is nearly no storage in the back row nor are there any amenities like reading lights.
To compound that, it is nearly impossible to get out of the back without assistance. The suicide door in the back can only be opened if the front door is opened first, but it very hard to reach the front door handle from the back, even with the front seat folded forward. You'd also need to give the front door a big push risking hitting the neighbouring vehicle. And you do need to open the suicide door, because unlike the +MINI
Clubman (our current car) the mechanism for folding the front seat from the back row isn't coupled with the seat sliding mechanism. Our kids can enter and exit from the back row in the +MINI
Clubman by using one lever to fold and slide the front seats and then clamber out the front door or opening the suicide door. This doesn't work in the i3. Given that the car is from the same house, this is very disappointing and probably a show-stopper for us.
I guess it was designed for use by one or two people with no kids and only occasional need for carrying extra people.
Other than that, the car looked very well made, and practical. It has an excellent turning radius and the storage is good enough for a city car. It's not a car you will do major excursions with. The interior styling is very modern and I kept on thinking it was still a concept car, but it's not. They use a strange felt-like plastic for much of the trim which I hope would show a lot of wear over time. It has all the amenities you'd expect from an upmarket city car. The range is also more than enough for a city car in Europe.
I just hope that they backport some of the useful features from the +MINI
Clubman and make it more useful for families. I guess we'll have to wait for a design refresh or the new +Honda
Jazz Hybrid that may come to Europe next year.