The new BMW i3 has just been officially launched in Australia.
The new BMW i3 has just been officially launched in Australia. Mark Bean

BMW i3 road test | Going flat-out gives electric blues

PLACING my bag in the boot of BMW's new electric i3 car that was parked in front of the company's Munich headquarters, I closed the lid and turned to find a queue had suddenly appeared.

There was a German family of four, including an eager 10-year-old son and pouting 13-year-old daughter; a young South African couple plus an assortment of individuals.

The queue certainly wasn't there when I had arrived at BMW Welt, the company's large showroom and display centre that's a popular tourist destination.

Though as my companion, BMW's Edward Finn, unlocked the car I did see a few of the tourists turn towards us.

But it only took them a couple of minutes, while our backs were turned placing our bags in the boot, to go from tourist to curious.

The electric car has just gone on sale in Australia starting from $63,900, but as I was at a BMW launch in nearby Austria I had a chance to have a preview.

I was given an afternoon, and a half-charged battery, to test the car around Munich before flying home.

The BMW i3.
Inside the new BMW i3. Mark Bean

Because of the silent engine, we precariously negotiated our way through the Welt crowd who were photographing our departure.

Because of the unique shape of the i3, the car instantly gains attention, even in the hometown of BMW, with other drivers of the electric car waving at us as we whooshed silently through the residential streets.

Eager to test the vaunted torque of the i3, I moved off the streets and on to the autobahn. Foot down and the car instantly surged ahead and effortlessly hit 130kmh.

I laughed as we sped past other cars and smiled as other drivers looked agog as we drove past.

What range anxiety, we joked, with the air conditioning blasting in our face and the i3 maintaining 130kmh.

Oh, that range anxiety, we yelped when a warning light flashed and we were alerted to the fact that at our speed we wouldn't make our destination, BMW's test car storage facility.

"If we run out of battery power, you're pushing the car to our destination," I told Edward.

Fearing I really would make him do it, he altered the setting to economy mode, turned off the air con and searched for a nearby charging station or even a cafe where we could grab some electricity.

Where once we were zipping along at 130kmh, we were suddenly at a sedate 70kmh in the slow lane with drivers angrily overtaking us.

I searched ahead for an off-ramp so we could escape our embarrassment but there was only kilometres of autobahn ahead.

Suddenly my palms were very sweaty - it wasn't due to no air con - and I glanced at the energy display that showed we had a near-empty battery.

Thankfully Edward recalculated our route, an off-ramp appeared and we headed to the power-saving residential area.

There was nervous silence in the car as we arrived at the storage area and slotted the i3 next to the fast charging point.

But as we tried to plug in the car, a BMW staff member pointed out that our test vehicle wasn't a fast-charge version that we would have back on the road within an hour - instead it would take eight hours to "fill up".

"It will be ready at eight o'clock, is that okay?" the staff member said.

"No, we'll be in a plane heading home," I said.

He shrugged and left our i3 and us in similar states - feeling empty.


Model: BMW i3.

Weight: 1195kg (1315kg REx).

Electric motor: Generates 125kW and a maximum torque of 250Nm from rest. Optional 650cc two-cylinder petrol range extender engine used solely for recharging batteries.

Power consumption: 0.13 kilowatt hours per kilometre.

Range: i3 up to 160km, i3 with range extender up to 300km. 

Fuel consumption: 0 litres/100km; 0.6L/100km (REx).

CO2: 0g/km; 13g/km (REx).

Performance: 0-100 kmh in 7.2 seconds, 80-120kmh in 4.9 seconds; top speed 150kmh (limited, to maximise range).

Warranty: Three-year unlimited kilometres, battery has an eight-year 100,000km warranty.

Bottom line plus on-roads: i3 $63,900, i3 (REx)$69,900.