The BMW i3 experiment

Ocean's Loan BMW i3

Massive thanks to Carly and Charlie at Ocean BMW for the loan of their i3. It’s fair to say our recently acquired 10-year-old Audi A3 hasn’t filled the big hole left by our departing BMW 1 Series. I loved that car way too much.

BMW 116d ED
Gone, but not without leaving big shoes to fill

IBM’s not so great company car scheme, UK company car tax, and building a house put an end to ordering a replacement. However, enter the BMW i3 as a possible new contender. With a £5000 contribution from the Government’s green motoring initiative, and only 5% benefit in kind (BiK), it’s a good value way to drive a BMW company car.

BMW i3 at Porthtowan

Preconceived concerns can be summarised as range anxiety and charging hassle. Our car usage is fairly typical for Cornwall/more rural dwellers. My better half commutes 40 miles a day, and I mostly work from home. At the weekends, we tend to average around 60 miles. We only need the i3 for commuting and short trips. We’d keep our 5 Series for longer journeys (and towing duties).

BMW offer the i3 with a range extending petrol generator (REX). The REX increases the i3’s range to over 100 miles, and would be essential. If we missed a charge the purely electric i3 wouldn’t work. We’re too far from a fast charge network to risk no backup. My occasional work trips also wouldn’t work, Hursley and London are both too far to consider. Even with rapid charging points at Cornwall Services and Exeter. Therefore, for the i3 to work it has to be the ultimate commuter and ideal for our shorter journeys.

The good

Charging is easy, and plugging in saves a fortune at the pump. Even after IBM’s poor car scheme, the i3 would net cost us around £100 a month. Factoring in savings on fuel and assuming we charge it at home every night. By contrast the 10-year-old Audi A3 will likely cost us more than that in depreciation, tyres, servicing, insurance and road tax <<man maths alert>>.

The charging system is well thought through. Far from being a chore charging was simpler and less hassle than we anticipated. With the reassurance of the REX, our preconceived concerns were significantly reduced. For any journeys over 100 miles, we’d use the 5 series. Unless we could use the fast charge network and treat range anxiety as part of the adventure of owning an i3.

Very easy to drive, curiously requiring a different but satisfying driving technique. BMW implemented a one pedal driving system for the i3. Lifting off the accelerator causes the motors to regenerate which brakes the car. A big lift will even see the brake lights come on. After a few minutes of adjusting, the pedal is quite sensitive, this proved very enjoyable. A rewarding skill to balance the car, keep cornering smooth and try to avoid touching the brakes. Pre-planning and a further focus on road-craft reserves the brake for parking and emergency situations only. If everyone had this pedal driving standards would significantly improve, mine included.

Lots of nice touches and detail. From the carbon fibre sils to the latest iDrive, the i3 is very cleverly packed. The suicide doors and rear leg room make it easy to transport four adults. Access to the rear seats is surprisingly good, helped by the front seats sliding forward. The dash and interior are the usual high-quality BMW items, familiar across the whole BMW fleet. With the odd random material used for its green credentials rather than aesthetics. These odd materials served as reminders it’s an eco car rather than detractors from the overall quality of the cabin. YF64 GPO even came with some bamboo dash inserts I’d not bother spec-ing, but each to their own.

Torque, constant torque. Up to 30 mph not much will keep up with an i3. Certainly not much you can buy new for similar money. It’s electric *BOOM* *BOOM*. As a life long petrolhead who’s been lucky enough to drive a lot of different cars it’s certainly unique. Flat to the floor it just keeps going, and going, and going. A constant and consistent shove from the back of the seat until around 45mph. For city driving it would take some beating. Fear one if you challenge it to a traffic light Grand Prix.

Ocean BMW i3 side on

The not so good

Three biggies for us:

1. The boot is too small. We’ve a dog, and that either means we’re down to 3 seats or no boot. Even down to three seats the boot is still small. Too small for our current and future needs.

2. Over 45 mph, especially on exposed roads with poor surfaces, we found it very loud. Road and wind noise seemed to affect YF64 GPO badly. My better half enjoyed her commute and time with the i3 but complained it was too loud for her to want one. The next day I did 90% of her commute and begrudgingly knew what she meant. Over 45 mph it seems very loud, even compared to our tractor Audi A3.

3. While it’s true our loan period covered a blustery few days, it left an impression of i3s being easily affected by the wind. Where the A30 is exposed in places I found myself constantly having to correct the car and adjust it. At the end of a long day, my better half doesn’t want to be wrestling a car up the A30.

I get the feeling YF64 GPO’s optional 20s do it no favours in the handling stakes, I’d like to try one with the standard wheels. The 20s might contribute to the road noise issue we faced, especially when combined with poor road surfaces. Despite the 20s it turns in very well and offered a lot more grip than the narrow tyres suggested. My friend Ross, an i3 owner and advocate, encouraged me to find some good B-roads. He’s not wrong. On a B-road, it’s surprisingly fast and fun! Especially once you’ve spent some time getting used to the one pedal driving technique. I saw the range rightly plummet as my smile widened and hedges became a blur.

This is not a car for shy people. The car gets a lot of attention. People stop and stare. I’d almost listed this a good point because some people even let us out, or gave way, just for an extended opportunity to look at it. Drive an i3 and you get noticed. For better, or worse.

Conclusion

A good exercise in evaluating our driving needs, and a great experiment. Glad we’ve done it. Very thankful for our few days with the future. At this stage, it’s sadly a ‘no’ from us. As a city car, I don’t see how it’s rivalled. But for our needs, it’s too small, too loud at higher speeds on open roads and too light to not be affected by the wind.

Thanks again to Ocean BMW, and thanks to Ross and the UK i3 Facebook Group. It’s a truly brilliant car, and I mean it when I say the future. If you can align it with your needs you won’t be disappointed. Book a test drive today and find out for yourself.

Sun going down a BMW i3

Advertisements

DN10 – Sticking to even numbers

Post DN10 (Destination Nurburgring 10) depression and work have kept me sufficiently busy that this post is now inversely proportional lateness to its relevance. It’s also melodramatic… 75% happy to have been able to attend DN6, 8 and now 10. 25% sad an imminent grown up things mean this may be my last DN and Nurburgring trip for a while (hopefully some house building posts to follow, after a rant on how poor Cornwall Council Planning are….).

Making new friends at the Chunnel. Some DN10 attendees were easier to spot than others.

My first solo voyage, all previous trips have been with friend paxing. Unsure how the 666 mile journey would go I looked forward to meeting new and old friends there. Thankfully I needn’t have worried. The 1 series proved a faithful companion. Discovering the excellent Tim Ferriss’ podcast helped too.

BMW One Series at the Nurburgring
Very much at home

With the news European speed cameras will soon be able to get our details from the DVLA, and this being the 1 series’ last trip, I was keen to set a good time. How good I’ll enjoy and shorten each time I mention to people silly enough to listen. When the company car people collect the 1 series expect a very sad Olly!

Lots of miles done with only one fuel stop!

With getting to the Nurburgring sorted it was time to settle into the excellent Gastehaus Fuchsrohre. After a quick shower and freshen up I headed for the sign on and briefing. Being a Rent4Ring customer this isn’t strictly necessary. We have a separate briefing and sign on at Rent4Ring the morning of day 1, early! Even as a regular it’s still a requirement, and a further reminder to take things easy to start. The main briefing is still worth attending, a chance to see some of the cars and meet up with friends. Lots of nice cars in attendance. Everything from exotic Alfas to multiple 911s 4.0 RS, with Atoms, Schirmer m3s and new 991 GT3s thrown in for good measure. This briefing we also learned the T13 pits were in use and gathered a full appreciation for just how many people are attending the event. Lots it seemed!

Matching BTG T-shirts with AI's colour scheme
Rocking the BTG look…. (me, Mr. BridgeToGantry and Ray)

Massive thanks to Ray, my GT6 buddy and Nurburgring veteran, for sharing DN10 and our R4R Swift ‘AI’. His coaching over the two days and paxing with him really helped. A great three days: good food, company and impressive to see how fast Ray can pilot a Swift around the ‘Ring.

Day 1 – HOT

We skipped the DN sighting laps: the track opened at 8am with a strict no overtaking rule until 9am when the track goes live. Our Rent4Ring Swift package came with 24 laps, using 1-2 of those for sighting laps seemed a waste. If it’s your first time, or you lack confidence this equation may change for you. Solo I’d of been more tempted but with Ray’s experience and offer of going first it made sense to save our laps.

Wipperman Kerb usage
Using the Kerb a little

Paxing with Ray I learnt a lot. He was also very patient with coaching and we safely knocked 15 seconds off my previous best BTG. To be clear we didn’t time, we just filmed with a GoPro and reviewed footage. More than chasing a time I’m trying to improve my knowledge of the track, safety and have fun. A drop in lap times hopefully a bonus biproduct and a good yardstick to measure progress. The Rent4Ring Swift proved far greater fun than a sum of its mighty parts. The weather was glorious and my 6 driven laps were over all too quickly.

Day 2 – Still HOT

Day 2 was great fun but only managed 5 driven laps. Amazingly the weather was again perfect even if the day was marred by silly mistakes, lots of traffic and a few closures. Still far from a bad day and I managed to get out paxing with friends in other cars that proved a highlight in the afternoon.  There’s lots to be learnt and experienced from the pax seat, thanks to those that offered me a PAX. I also finally got a pax lap with Mr. BTG by sacrificing one of my driven laps. Soooooooooo worth it!

No wheels on the ground
Flying

My first lap the fuel light came on at Hatzenbach, rookier error! Went to get fuel and then took another friend out for more coaching / tuition / being shouted at. Aborted due to a red flag at miss-hit-miss. It was then lunch time with no sign of the track opening soon. With all the closures and two false starts it looked liked getting my laps in was going to be an issue. Thankfully I had a solid 3 lap stint in the afternoon.

 

I had great fun and learnt a lot from the laps and more of Ray’s coaching. Additional traffic held me up and none of my laps were clean. Straight from the racing driver’s handbook of excuses for not going faster. A particularly poorly driven M3 wouldn’t let us, and many other drivers, through. They constantly blocked lines, held us up and made dubious decisions. Having waxed lyrically to several new recruits to DN days I was sad DN10 didn’t live up to my previous experiences of DN6 and DN8. I’m hoping lessons are learnt and less people are on DN11 :D. Still a great event and so glad to have been able to attend.

Until next time…..
Highlights…

Realising what fast is and paxing while Dale and Ray pretty much overtook everything. A real privilege and worth the entry fee alone. Considerably less than 9 min laps with lots of traffic in a Suzuki Swift! At the end of Day One another R4R Swift driver complained AI was much faster and driven by a ‘maniac’. Technically two maniacs (Dale and Ray).

GTR Fishing 😀

Low lights…

Closures and some terrible driving: Undertakes, line blocking, indicating right then diving left for an apex and the feeling far too many people were let loose to play. Not the usual DN experience I’ve come to know and love.

The Channel Tunnel Train
Home time (La Chunnel)

Looking back make that 100% happy and very lucky to have been able to attend another two great days at the Nurburgring. Will I really be able to not go back out for a while…… We’ll see…

When will I see you again….

Nurburgring June 2013: Destination Nurburgring 8 #DN8

The main event: What’s better than a track day at the Nurburgring, exclusively for a small number of cars (less than a VLN race), no barriers and the ability to drive DH flat out? A two day event! DN8 included Wednesday and Thursday. Without fail before every track event I jump through a succession of loops:

  1. WTF am I doing?
  2. Why do I pay to feel like this?
  3. Are these butterflies going to escape in an Alienesque scene?
  4. Do I need the loo, again?

These feelings grow during event briefings. Strapping myself into a car I am all fingers & thumbs, and usually shaking from adrenalin. Halfway into the sighting lap sessions all of this disappears, replaced by a euphoric high.  Like a small child eating a tub of Haribo in one, it’s on! As the day progresses, if it’s all going well, this feeling grows. Until the day is over, then it’s straight into craving doing it again as soon as possible. A two day event helps with this. Wrapping up day 1 knowing you get to do it all again the next day, without the butterfly start, is an utter joy. Even better if Michaela is running a BBQ at the Gastehaus Fuchsrohre that night. It also takes the pressure off trying to ‘make the most of it’. Yes, you want to get all of your laps in but the two days generates space to gain confidence and speed at a slower, less pressured, rate.

CU Rent4Ring Swift in action at the Nurburgring
CU, good weather and day 1

Day 1: A great success. Neil drove the sighting lap and unfortunately realised his biggest fear, other than crashing… Holding other cars up / being too slow. Wish I could have taken a wing mirror pick as we did a lap of the ‘Ring with 20+ supercars in the mirror. Thankfully Neilo realised this was par for the course on a sighting lap and in a car with relatively little power. Momentum is key and a sighting lap isn’t a place to carry it. It enabled us to go over some lines and corner names. Letting Neil get a feel for the Swift and his first ever lap of a race track!

The rest of the day went by all too quickly, I felt slower and like I’d lost a fair bit of confidence while Neil steadily progressed and grew his confidence more. We finished the day with an epic BBQ and Neilo retired early to watch lots of Gopro footage and youtube laps.

Day 2: After a good nights sleep I dropped Neil at R4R to collect CU while I parked my car in the overflow. 10 minutes later….. no sign of CU / Neil. 15 minutes later….. no sign of Neil / CU. 20 minutes later and I started to worry / ask marshalls if they’d seen an orange and blue Swift…

It appears turning left, driving 500m and then turning right at a roundabout was too much for Neil. He took it upon himself to turn right and take the scenic route. How he made it to the circuit even he doesn’t know. Then it was my turn to be in for a shock. I’d spent most of Wednesday reassuring Neil he could go faster. First lap out and he was a good seat of the pants 2 minutes quicker per lap. Youtube, sleep and watching Gopro footage had transformed him overnight. Gone were the worries of holding cars up and me continually saying you can go faster. Replaced with brake, PLEASE brake :D. I also received my first lap of tuition, which has really helped (see video below).

The Karussell
The Karussell

How did we get on vs. our Mission:

  • Learn the corner names – Tick: during our only two red flag laps, walking the circuit and buying a track map we pushed each other / tested each other on names. This has greatly helped. Learning corners and names helps a lot with visualisation and familiarisation.
  • Guide Neil safely through his first laps – Tick: 12 laps successfully completed each.
  • Improve our knowledge of the track – Tick: See learn corner names. Walked 1/3rd of the track, used printed corner names and the Yoko signs on track to test each other and go through corner names.
  • Tick off some touristy things – Tick: Walked up the castle, located the inner Karousell and greatly enjoyed tourist Tuesday.
  • Soak up being at the Nurburgring – Tick: Neil successfully hooked. Great people, food and time had by all.

My Highlight and first lap under instruction:

Part 1: Nurburgring June 2013: Neil’s first Trip and Trackday

Part 2: Nurburgring June 2013: Tourist Experience Tuesday

Missed DN9 but can’t wait for DN10 this year!

Nurburgring June 2013: Tourist Experience Tuesday

All previous trips have seen me arrive late the day before a track / TF day, drive the circuit and head home the next day. This time would be different, with Tuesday set aside to soak up being at the Nurburgring. After a full breakfast Neil and I set off to check-in at Rent4Ring

BMW Rent4Ring #R4R
Signing on with Rent4Ring #R4R

Neil’s first opportunity to see and check he fitted into a Swift. Nice to catch up with the Rent4Ring team and be re-united with CU (SC is already worried for when R4R decide to sell it and the inevitable discussion arises)

Rent4Ring Suzuki Stage 2+ Swift
CU Suzuki Stage 2+ Rent4Ring Swift #R4R

Next stop, the castle. For 6 Euros (don’t forget your wallet and have to go back to the car) and a brisk dabble with danger. The likes of which UK health and safety would cry over as you can climb several ‘steps’ and access the very top.

Nurburg Castle
Nice view at the top, Döttinger Höhe to the right

The Eifel region of Germany has a thousand micro-climates all nestled together. This matters more on a day you’re driving. However, the Destination Nurburging Team have signed a deal with someone high up. All DN days have a reputation for being sunny and mostly dry. Neil and I used the closing-in weather as a sign to head for the local town of Adenau, and lunch.

Adenau
Moody Adenau

With the weather improving a plan was hatched to explore some of the track. Today’s challenge: locate the inside of the Karussel and marshal post 143. We parked at Brunnchen to make a walk of it. For whatever reason the powers that be decided the track was closed today (clean up from the festival we suspected). At no point did we get overly excited and ‘sneak’ onto the circuit.

Ooops, the gate fell open…….
A clever bit of Photoshop
Wippermann was too much for Neilo

Walking along an impressive trail (loads of great Mountain Bike options) we eventually arrived at our destination.

Marshal post #143 - The Karousel
Marshal post #143 – The Karussell

At this point Neil decided the best thing to do was to run the Karussell, as if he were his Dad

Run Forest, RUN!

And then it was time to return to Gastehaus Fuchsrohre for a beer, some GT5 and an early night before the main event. Excitement and apprehension were well and truly brewing!

Part 1: Nurburgring June 2013: Neil’s first Trip and Trackday

Part 3: Nurburgring June 2013: Destination Nurburgring 8 #DN8

The Karousel
The Karussell

Nurburgring June 2013: Neil’s first Trip and Trackday

Snaking through the cones and barriers to join the legendary Nordschleife (Northloop) is a truly great feeling. A perfect blend of: WTF am I doing here, this is too much fun to be legal and an adrenalin hit that makes the next 13 miles something all motor sport fans need to experience. As cliche as it reads back, it really is a must!

Joining the Northloop at the Nurburgring
Too addictive…………

This was my 4th trip to the ‘Ring, and the Eifel Region of Germany. For any car / motor sport fan this place is the equivalent of Mecca. With a further million cliches and articles written about why all automotive fans should make the pilgrimage. For my friend Neil this was his first trip (and first ever time on a track). Also the first trip for my company car. Over 600 miles to a tank, it was a good companion for the trip. Even in crazy Belgium / e40 traffic. I couldn’t resist……….. Ocean BMW summed it up by tweeting “BMWs look great at the ‘Ring” and I agree….

BMW One Series Dynamic Efficiency 116de at the Nurburgring
Obligatory!

With a 5 day pass we were excited and all set for a two day trackday run by Destination Nurburgring (DN). In my humble opinion there is no better way to experience the Nurburgring*

* That I can afford. I’m sure there are more exclusive days, quiet industry days and Porsche experience days that are far beyond my means.

DN Events offer great marshalling, no bikes, limited cars and lots of time and space on track. Combine this with a Suzuki Swift Stage 2+ from Rent4Ring and you’re in for a treat!

Rent4Ring Head Quarters at the Nurburgring
Rent4Ring HQ

Under normal circumstances a Swift isn’t something to get excited about. However, R4R’s Swifts are anything but normal circumstances.

Suzuki Swift Stage 2 Rent4Ring at the Nurburging
Stage2+ Rent4Ring Suzuki Swift, affectionally know as ‘See You’ (CU)

There is no safer or more enjoyable way for an inexperienced ‘Ring newbie to drive the track. In the right hands the Swifts have enormous potential. The likes of Dale Lomas, Mr. BridgetoGantry, can lap them in under nine minutes! Modified to a very high standard with semi slicks, roll cages, bucket seats, harnesses, endless brake pads and suspension/geometry designed for the ‘Ring. All cars are thoroughly checked before each rental and during the day(s) R4R keep an eye on all of their customers. Combine this with R4R’s excellent customer service and the reassurance that if something does go wrong you have the R4R team behind you and it’s easy to see why most customers become regulars.

The Swifts feel agile, incredibly dialled in and a joy to cover 13 miles of green hell in. From the first couple of corners you’re aware they’re something special and that R4R have taken a lot of time and effort to develop their cars.

My Fav picture of the Swift
My favourite pic of the trip – Picture credits to Frozenspeed.com – Provided as part of the Destination Nurburgring Trackday #DN8

Our Mission:

  • Learn the corner names
  • Guide Neil safely through his first laps
  • Improve our knowledge of the track
  • Walk the track
  • Tick off some touristy things
  • Soak up being at the Nurburgring.

Our Concerns: Anyone who goes to the Nurburgring and says they don’t fear crashing is either delusional or missing common sense. All Motorsport comes with a certain amount of risk and demands respect. None more so than the Nurburgring. Neil had the additional worry of no prior experience and the fear of being too slow, not enjoying it and getting in everyone’s way.

After a painful trip through Belgium, with a foolish stop in Brussels, we arrived at the excellent Gastehaus Fuchsrohre to be greeted by our host Michaela. Michaela was part impressed by our commitment and efficiency in turning up two days before the main event and part upset by the aftermath of the previous weekend at the Nurburgring. Rock am Ring left scenes of devastation, abandoned tents, rubbish pyramids and litter everywhere.  Michaela estimated she’d had about 6 hours sleep in three days… Ouch……

After a pizza each we called it a day ready for Tourist Experience Tuesday….

Part 2: Nurburgring June 2013: Tourist Experience Tuesday

Part 3: Nurburgring June 2013: Destination Nurburgring 8 #DN8

Excited by the BMW i3

Caveats: Not driven an i3 and no idea of costings.

BMW have been testing their electric 1 series in the UK with reasonable success (batteries in the cold aside) and the i3 is an exciting prospect. Ok, it’s not going to set the world on fire with its looks, performance and range but……. Consider a World where the i3 (and its rivals) is/are common place.

Clever electric vehicles with smaller foot prints and charge points in parking will change the way we shop, commute and think about cars. This has to be part of the future and it’s exciting to think the i3 will be released this year! Price and range will determine if it’s a viable option to replace our One series. Hoping Ocean BMW Falmouth will get one in for test driving. I thought the One series twin turbo diesel lump was futuristic but that’s now looking a bit long in the tooth.

As a devoted petrol-head my dream garage has plenty of room for the i3 and its successors. Hopefully freeing up precious petrol/resources for weekend toys and dream machines. Now come on BMW, announce that new 1m coupe and please let it hammer the price of the existing one. The current 1m residuals are no good to me.

BMW i3
The Future?
BMW 116de
On the way out?

GoPro Issues: Not such a hero

GoPro, Crash, Issues, Tech, Filming
My GoNotSoPro

Last September a GoPro finally became mine. Since the first one launched I’ve coveted and dreamed of owning one. For surfing, trackdays and karting they’re a lot of fun, creating great memories. Replaying footage extends enjoyment of events and presents a great opportunity for analysis, to learn and progress.  Sometimes painful lessons, like a horrible stance after a fluffed (checkout the stall / near pearling) take off are very evident.

My GoPro is a Hero2 Motorsport Kit with Wifi Backpack. I’d held off getting one until you could get a wifi backpack and connect it to an iPhone. The LCD screen is ideal for setting up but not so handy when the GoPro is attached to a rollcage and you’re harnessed into a bucket seat with no way to reach/see it. The remote is essential for knowing what the camera is doing and preserving battery life.

The advertised concept is genius and just what I need. The reality significantly falls short:

  1. You can’t stream to the iPhone and use the remote simultaneously. You have to switch between them before setting the camera up. Fine…. Unless you’re in a kart about to race and it’s on your head ignoring the remote refusing to record.
  2. The battery life is rubbish. Even with a fully charged wifi backpack and camera my Go Pro regularly crashed and went to no bars in around 30-45 minutes of filming with an hours standby.  Solved by getting spare batteries but I’ve yet to use these as I’ve lost faith in the camera.
  3. My Helment Mount requires a small piece of paper otherwise it vibrates / doesn’t clamp fully. Really disappointed by this. Noticed excess vibration on one of my first films and it appears it comes from the clamp not fully fitting with the GoPro mount (all came with the Motorsport kit / 100% genuine accessories).

These issues aside there is a bigger issue waiting in the wings. It simply doesn’t work. My camera has crashed in over 50% of the times it’s been used. I’ve had to re-flash previous of versions of firmware (missing the ability to connect the camera to an iPhone / any smart phone) and even then it’s not reliable. Zack from GoPro support has sent his apologies and said they are aware of issues with the wifi backpack and Hero2. It’s going to be fixed ‘one day’ by a firmware update. Still waiting on that firmware update since October of last year :(. The last update, released on the 10th of January, still doesn’t stream to my iPhone. The update lets the iPhone connect & control the camera but changes in settings never get applied and it won’t stream. To make matters worse the Hero3 Black and Silver editions have been released with built in wifi. Not only does my Hero2 not work but it’s now out of date.

Frustratingly it leaves me stuck as I can’t eBay the GoPro or depend on it, it doesn’t work! GoPro have no solution at the time of this being published and just expect me to wait it out….. I do feel for them, it must be a struggle…..

It’s good to see the company is doing well but it rubs further salt into the wound that my camera isn’t what it was advertised as and nor is it likely to ever be.

Any recommendations for a better experience? Sadly, GoPro fails to live up to the dream.