Unplugged

As the i3 departs, modern life strikes a cord

TOBY HAGON

DESPITE societyís obsession with lycrainfused bike riding and 24-hour gyms, weíre generally a pretty lazy bunch. The thought of getting out of your seat to change the TV channel or answer the phone long ago went the way of home-delivered milk and affordable houses. Walking to the shops?

Forget it in this app-happy world.

So Iím not as surprised as I once might have been that plugging in a power cord feels like a chore. Yet I havenít had to visit a petrol station for weeks. Thatís life in an electric car for you.

Three months into my time with a BMW i3 and itís time to say goodbye, only Iím not ready to wave it off.

Sure, I could live without the oddball looks (itís dorky and skinny from behind), the headlights are more about preserving electrons than lighting the road, and the front-rear pitching is about as fun as vacuuming. Oh, and Iíve never really got used to the rotary gear selector.

But thereís a lot to like, and Iíve had an interesting glimpse into an electric-car world. I was expecting the i3 novelty to wear off, like a holiday romance. Except it hasnít.

Iíve come to love the car the Wheels voted its 2014 Car Of The Year.

It starts with traffic, something difficult to like. But I hated it less in the i3. Being able to dart away from a set of lights on full throttle without the noise of a beefy V8 or frenetic four-cylinder was pretty cool. And when the gridlock banked up again Ė yep, just 300 metres later Ė I knew Iíd be turning some of my kinetic energy back into electricity for the next mini grand prix.

I came to value Connected Drive, the app that allowed me to check where the car was and how much charge it had (you can also monitor energy usage). OK, itís gimmicky, but itís also handy, like when I knew Iíd only be driving 20km the next day so I didnít have to wander out on a cold night to plug it in.

Yet it struck me after these few months that I had no idea how much it was costing to run. After all, 15kWh per 100km doesnít mean much.

So, off to the filing cabinet for an electricity bill. Iím paying 25.0926 cents per kWh precisely. Each 100km in the electric Beemer has therefore cost me something like $3.90. Thatís half what Iíd be spending in a Toyota Prius, but amounts to plenty when itís comes in one three-month lump sum added to an electricity bill already bloated with three months of heating, cooking and lighting.

My final month with the i3 threw up a disconcerting warning that a tyre was underinflated. On closer inspection it was only 0.2psi under the threshold, yet it decided to alert me it was Ďdangerously lowí.

The only way to so shut it up was to go to one of those petrol station thingies I was learning to forget about. Being the rangeextender version, I also gave it a shot of fuel to top up the tiny nine-litre tank; driving a noddy-looking electric car is odd enough, but fuelling it is simply weird.

But thereís plenty of feel-good factor about driving the i3. Apart from doing my greenie bit, I also found myself looking down the nose of Prius drivers, in much the way they did to other drivers a decade ago.

Such old technology...

Range reality

BMW claims an electric-only range of 170 kilometres for the i3 Rex (and double that distance if you use the range extenderís nine-litre fuel tank) but we never got close to the battery-only figure. Typically it was between 110 and 125km before the drone of the 647cc two-cylinder petrol engine kicked in. That was fine for most of our city-based driving, though, and we often went two or three days before plugging in for a charge.

BMW i3 REX

Date acquired: April 2015 Price as tested: $69,900 This month: 817km @ 15.1kWh/100km (plus 3.0L of fuel) Overall: 1633km @ 15.4kWh/100km (plus 8.5L of fuel) Da Pr Th Ov

Grid-locked

THE solar power system Iíd waited months for arrived two weeks after my i3 went back. But at least my next electric car will be largely charged for free Ė assuming I can charge it during the day. My 4kWh system only works when the sun is out, reverting to dirty old grid power after that. Battery systems that take you off the grid are the hot topic in solar energy circles, but theyíre a lot more expensive than the increasingly common quality sub-$10K systems.


NO WEAR

Regenerative braking means you can drive without touching the pedal, so i3 brake pads could outlast the car