BMW i3 Range Extender test drive

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The BMW i3 Range Extender reviewed by Tiff Needell

The BMW i3 Range Extender –is an electric car that can win the hearts and minds of indifferent drivers… unrepentant petrolhead Tiff Needell is a convert

There’s nothing new about electric vehicles, of course. When I was a boy they were everywhere – delivering milk to the population! However, if the great supermarkets all but made them redundant, lately there seems to be a new electric car launched every week – and now BMW have joined in the fun.

While the ecological debate about these battery-powered devices rumbles on, there’s no doubt they spell improved air quality, especially in city centres.

That said, there is of course one major concern about going electric and that’s ‘range anxiety’: when you run out of spark you can’t just walk to the nearest garage and buy a can of electricity. Which is why I’d immediately opt to pay the extra £3,000 for the i3’s Range Extender model featuring a tiny 647cc two-cylinder petrol engine that recharges your batteries as you go. And although the government’s happy to bung five grand your way to help you buy electric, the i3 Range Extender costs less than a BMW 320d and gets you to 62mph 0.1secs faster.

The second challenge in winning over cynics is an image problem – those aforementioned milk floats and the ridiculous G-Wiz (embarrassing to be seen in and dangerous to sit in) – and this is where the i3 is an instant hit, with its futuristic styling and minimalistic interior. No pulsating graphs here, but a simple thin line under the speedometer that gives the range left driving in both electric only and extended modes.

P90138640_highResFrom the moment I climbed into the high ‘command’ driving position of the BMW i3 Range Extender, engaged ‘D’ and tapped open the throttle, I was a converted cynic with a grin on my face and a halo over my head. The third concern about electric vehicles is performance – and the BMW i3 Range Extender has plenty; surging acceleration, with the instant torque provided by electric power, and a 95mph top speed.

I had the BMW i3 Range Extender for a week and covered over 500 miles, including a round trip to London where an overnight charge easily covered the 180 miles. Meanwhile, the rear seats flopped down to easily house golf clubs and an electric trolley, with space to spare.

The boot isn’t the largest, as both petrol and electric motors sit under the floor, but that’s one of the few negatives. Skinny tyres to reduce wind and rolling resistance supply plenty of grip for surprisingly enthusiastic cornering – albeit at the expense of a fairly firm ride.

You can drive the car in three different modes: ‘Comfort’ gives you maximum power; ‘Eco Pro’ dulls everything down a bit; while ‘Eco Pro+’ limits you to a maximum speed of 56mph.

But however you drive theBMW i3 Range Extender, you’ll love it: whether driving 70-plus miles on electric alone and then another 70 with your little petrol engine recharging the battery, or choosing a combination that might use some petrol to recharge during motorway driving and thus keep the electric for all the slow stuff.

I still dream of having a Ferrari in my garage and wouldn’t part with our seven-seat petrol BMW X5 for big family outings. But if I had an i3 in front of my house it would be the car I’d use most – and that’s an avowed petrolhead talking!

About author

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell is a former Grand Prix driver who spent most of his professional career racing in the World Sportscar Championship including 14 Le Mans 24 Hour races where he had a best result of third in 1990. He is however perhaps better known as a former presenter of Top Gear throughout the nineties and then helped to create ‘Fifth Gear’ which enters its 14th year in 2015. Tiff recently wrote his autobiography Tiff Gear, is Director magazine’s columnist, races whenever the opportunity arises and has now rejoined Clarkson, co-presenting at Top Gear Live.

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