AN ELECTRIC EXPERIENCE
A strong believer in electro mobility, motoring journalist PIERRE VELLA can be considered one of the local pioneers of driving all-electric cars in Malta. The thought of zero-emission commuting intrigued him, but he wasn't convinced he could effectively travel with the somewhat limited electric propulsion range. This fear proved unfounded and he can proudly say he has covered over 5000km around Malta in an all-electric vehicle. In a guest spot for SWAG he writes about his latest electric car adventure, courtesy of BMW.
During a recent visit to Salzburg courtesy of BMW, I was given the opportunity to test drive the all new BMW i3. This was definitely a bigger challenge then driving around the roads in Malta: however I was excited as I was to be testing one of very latest electric cars that BMW had kept under wraps for quite some time before being launched. BMW wanted to make sure that their first electric model was a success story.
Well many would be those that would argue the Austria highways are meant for fast revving cars and here I was taking out an electric car for a ride. From my local experience driving an all electric car is pleasant and relaxing, the upcoming experience had to be the maximum coupled up with the magnificent Austria countryside. Just drive on, relax and appreciate the tranquillity of what Salzburg can offer: these were the comments advised prior to my departure.
Well things were expected to go as planned regarding tranquillity. The i3 is quite attractive and innovative in design, and works purely on electric power; it has a rather futuristic vision yet is quite pleasing to look at. Getting in the car is quite easy, with high seating; all-round visibility gives a sense of openness, while the dash configuration needs a good second glance.
I do take the time to acclimatize myself with all the controls before heading for the road especially when I know I will be driving on the wrong side of the road (no offence to our neighbouring countries). I adjust my driving position and steering wheel, making sure that the clear dash display is visible, not to control my speed but to make sure that power regeneration is visible. The i3 is quite comprehensive in its instrumentation and being an automatic there is on gear shifting but as my intention was to drive as far away as possible, I set the car to ECO PRO+. This function increase brake energy regeneration.
Being an innovative design, the drive module is situated behind the steering wheel and flowing towards the top... I did find it a bit strange but with hindsight I see that it is situated in a way that one can shift without taking your hands off the steering wheel and, most importantly, not having to look down, missing what is on the road.
The i3 really adapts well to the driver and I was soon on the road negotiating the afternoon Salzburg traffic, heading for the countryside. The i3 instantly gives a sense of belonging; the sheer silence gives the driver and occupants total enjoyment of the drive. It's incredibly easy to negotiate traffic, with a brisk response coming off from standstill. Having experienced electric cars before I was soon grasping the opportunity of power regeneration.
The i3's free standing dash clearly illustrates this and clearly indicates what is being consumed and generated. With a full charge the car had its stipulated range but here I had to keep with the flow of traffic that means relatively high speed, so regeneration had to be one of my priorities to maximize the journey planned.
Soon out of traffic zone, I decided to head towards the various villages, looking out for that occasional uphill to add up to the thrill of energy generation. The car felt normal... I suppose one can't expect otherwise from BMW. The Germany brand took its time to reveal its electrical secret; the project was kept under wraps until the very end and the company never mentioned that it was planning such an innovative and a totally electric vehicle. Well the wait was worth it: I pushed hard on the i3, especially negotiating tight and winding corners. These type of test drives shed a totally different light on the kind of tests we do locally.
On these roads one finds the opportunity to really come to terms with the vehicle in question, appraising its innovative qualities especially when driving a new generation of road vehicles. I tackled the corners aggressively and the i3 held its line. If this is the future, I like it.
It was time to stop to admire the view as Austria offers some excellent scenery. I stopped next to a wonderful lake and was the centre of attention for some people there thanks to the i3. The car is an adequate four seater with no b-pillars, a four-door variant with the rear doors in what is called a 'suicide' style, hinging on the lower and upper support beam resulting in a pleasant and spacious way to enter and exit from the rear seats. Here one has to make sure that the rear doors are closed properly because if the dash indicator shows that the door is not fully closed, you will need to open the front door to release the rear door. This is just a technicality but it reinforced the car as both doors act as a supportive b-pillar.
There actually was a power pillar to top my i3 near the lake, but I wanted to challenge the car’s performance and distance travelled without charging.
It was time to head back and I decided to avoid the winding roads where I experienced BMW engineering at its best, and go for speed instead. It is a fact that electric cars have instant torque from standstill and can be fun starting off from traffic lights, but I wanted to also test out the stability of the i3. From standing, full marks, the car kept its path and immediately picked up speed. The car is electronically locked at 150kms, and with no speed camera around I arrived very close to that figure. At this point the car was still generating electric propulsion, still silent, extremely stable and solid on the road.
Making sure that I had a clear rear view I braked, and instantly the car went into energy generation as I noted an incredible stability under braking.
I definitely experienced the future on this test, but I feel that more is to come; the project has clearly demonstrated a solid projection and things will only improve from here, especially in the field of range.
The internal combustion engine has remained the same for nearly 200 years, but I am convinced electro-mobility will evolve and is the current challenge for car manufacturers. I think BMW have already taken up the challenge successfully.
Sporting driving characteristics and excellent agility; acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 7.2 seconds, 0 to 60 km/h (37 mph) in 3.7 seconds and from 80 to 120 km/h (50 to 75 mph) in 4.9 seconds; top speed, electronically limited: 150 km/h (93 mph); turning circle: 9.86 metres
BMW eDrive technology including electric motor and high-performance lithium-ion battery developed and manufactured independently by the BMW Group; hybrid synchronous electric motor developed specifically for the i3, maximum output: 125 kW/170 hp, peak torque: 250 Nm (184 lb-ft); power sent to the rear wheels via an integrated differential gear; lithium-ion high-voltage battery with usable energy capacity of 18.8 kWh; intelligent drive train and charge management using power electronics developed by the BMW Group; battery can be recharged from a domestic power socket, BMW i Wallbox or public charging station.
Energy consumption: 12.9 kilowatt hours per 100 kilometres (62 miles) in the EU test cycle; more efficient than any competitor, efficiency further optimised through specific BMW EfficientDynamics technology, such as Brake Energy Regeneration, ECO PRO and ECO PRO+ mode including coasting function; range under everyday conditions: 130 – 160 kilometres (approx. 80 – 100 miles) when COMFORT mode is engaged using the Driving Experience Control switch; range can be increased by 20 kilometres (12 miles) when ECO PRO or ECO PRO+ mode are activated.
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