With BMW’s i3, the switching hour has struck. This innovative and compact electric car combines expressive design, impressive engineering, exceptional efficiency and persuasive practicality with a good deal of driver appeal.
Both admirable and desirable, the i3 is the car that signals, loud and clear, electric propulsion’s readiness for the road ahead.
For its far-sighted clarity of vision and unswerving execution, the i3 is Wheels Car of the Year 2014. It is the first electric car and the first BMW ever to win our award.
Efficiency is the obvious strong suit of the i3. Its underfloor lithium-ion battery pack stores the electric equivalent of just two litres of unleaded, but it’s enough to endow the i3 with a 100km-plus pure electric driving range. Easily more than the 40km the average Australian drives every day.
When recharged using renewable energy – and it’s hard to imagine anyone who buys an i3 wanting to use anything else – this urban warrior delivers practically emission-free mobility.
Range anxiety, however, remains an electric car reality. BMW offers a cure for the condition. The Range Extender version adds immensely to the BMW’s flexibility. It brings the freedom to make unplanned trips as well as longer journeys.
The i3 doesn’t only shine in comparison with fossil fuel power. It’s also more efficient than other electric cars.
Unlike previous electric cars, the i3 is not slow. Neither does it need to be driven gingerly. It accelerates smoothly and silently to 100km/h in 7.2 seconds. The vivid initial thrust makes it seem, if anything, faster than these figures suggest.
It also contributes to a real sense of driver involvement.
The i3 is a genuinely agile car, with sharp steering and, thanks to its rear-drive/rear-motor layout, a super-tight sub-10-metre turning circle. These attributes, along with the instant urge of its electric motor, make the i3 a very adept city car.
Don’t be fooled by the skinny tyres, specifically chosen to reduce the BMW’s aerodynamic frontal area; the i3 doesn’t lack for grip, and is unmistakably a well-balanced car.
Inside, the i3 emphasises its difference from the rest. This is a properly premium environment, a successful mix of eco and electronic.
There’s a genuine sense of spaciousness up front, and driver vision is exceptional.
The BMW’s overlapping ‘coach’ doors provide a wide opening to access the pair of adult-size rear seats.
Questions have been raised about the i3's four-star EuroNCAP status. There’s no question, however, that the BMW i3 does a good job of protecting its occupants in a crash. And this is the central requirement of the Wheels COTY Safety criterion.
While not compelling on pure value for money, the i3's cutting edge technology goes a long way towards justifying its price.
The i3 also scores strongly against Safety and Function,
and shines super-nova bright against Efficiency and Technology.
Crucially, it’s also an involving drive and well adapted to its city streets role, admirably satisfying our Function criterion.
The i3 is a car both courageous and convincing.
Other brands surely possess the know-how to have created something equally visionary. BMW had the bravery.
It’s been a long time coming, but Munich has well and truly earned its first Wheels Car of the Year award with the BMW i3.