The new BMW i3
Nothing but wind and tire-roar and the cheery raspberry of a 1970s BMW 2002tii. And then the V6 snort of a DeLorean DMC-12. And the cackling French insanity of a Renault 8 Gordini. And the tenor of a Datsun 240Z. The flat-four racket of a Porsche 356. The rumbling V8 of a Pontiac Beaumont.
All these, the sounds of the past, as heard from an all-electric front-row seat. They fizz, rasp, and parple up the Sea-to-Sky highway, headed for a lunch stop in Pemberton; we glide along on electrons, squeezing past on a wave of instant-on electric torque. The classics all sound great, and everyone’s having a great deal of fun. What’s surprising, I suppose, is how much fun the future is.
This is the BMW i3, and many of you have already skipped ahead to the comments section, there to poke fun at its boxy appearance. If the i8 is a sort of bionic swan, then this thing is the ugly duckling before picture. The BMW kidney grilles look like the pushed-in nose of a pug, the greenhouse profile is a strange blob of divots and floating roof, and the tall-skinny wheels look like there’s some tractor in this car’s DNA.
It’s so bizarre. I absolutely love it.
Yes, the i3 is weird, but it shouldn’t apologize for it. Aping conventional car design would be a total mistake, and BMW’s binning of the rule-book is a win. Just as that classic 2002tii’s boxy shape belied an agility that made the big-bore land yachts of the time look silly, this little oddball has a trick or two up its sleeve. It’s hardly perfect, but it’s very likeable.
Manufactured of carbon-fibre and aluminium, the i3 immediately feels different once you step into its interior. The swell of the wooden dash and the bright, floating screens broke up an otherwise slightly Spartan interior; dour-but-cheerful, that’s BMW for you.
The longer you sit in this car, the more surprising it is. Instead of de rigeur do-nothing shiny carbon-fibre-look trim through the cabin, you get actual composite peeking through the door sills and door cards that look made from dryer balls. The steering wheel looks like it’s on upside-down. The floor is totally flat.
And yet, it’s still a BMW, which means that anyone already familiar with the Bavarian’s menu setup and control devices will be immediately at home. Apart from the twist-to-select-drive gearshift to the right of the instrument panel, the i3 offers some conventionality to its control layout. You could trade in your 328i and be setting your radio presets and pairing your phone within minutes.
Another surprise comes when you attempt to use the i3 as a family car. Having decided I was going to tag along on a hodgepodge classic car run, I brought along the kid and her choice of Hot Wheels (one DeLorean DMC-12, one E30 M3). Thanks to the rear-opening half doors, getting the Isetta-sized car-seat wrestled into place was easy. The flat floor meant she could clamber in with ease, and the scalloped sill on the rear window meant her view was as good as mine up front. She also loved how quiet it was, and spent the rest of the week pointing out the roundel on every BMW she saw.