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

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#MyEvoYear 2014

2014 built on 2013’s resurgence in trackdays. Thanks to all friends and family that shared in car adventures this year.

March: Rockingham with Northloop and Circuitdays

Rockingham Raceway Mazda MX5 RS LTD

The MX5 was easily the slowest car in attendance but it didn’t stop Dad and I enjoying ourselves. Should have kept the roof on for the faster banked sections but it was too nice, and un-seasonally warm weather. Thankfully a lot nicer weather than my last visit in 2012. Ice rinks offered more grip than the circuit on that occasion. Then my e36’s clutch met its untimely end. Leaving me 300 miles to drive home with no clutch. 2014’s visit went a lot smoother (trailers are great) with the afternoon spent chasing Matt and his 924.

April: Thruxton, and the Transit

Tyronesnell Transit and MX5

Project tow SAAB turned out to be a disaster, and far from the cost saving Caravelle replacement we hoped it would be. Struggling to find a tow car Tyronesnell trailers came to the rescue with their Transit. For a die hard VW fan it put me in a tricky situation as it’s a surprisingly good van!

Matt also booked Thruxton and we had some more close lapping. Seen at the start of his video above. The day began wet and slippery, particularly on the exit to the chicane with lots of incidents and red flags. Slowly started to establish a rhythm and enjoy the circuit. It’s bumpy and fast, with lots of potential to have a high speed off that keeps you sharp. To further keep the pressure on you could overtake on both sides. Sadly not a lot of people wanted to let an MX5 through so I had to resort to borrowing a friend’s VLN tactic: hopping through when faster cars went for an overtake: Long session.

May: BCA BMW car auction + Tow barge purchase

BCA Car Auction

In a bid to buy a tow car (pun intended), after way too much time spent browsing car classifieds, Dad and I attended our first car auction. We both enjoyed the day and learnt a lot but the prices, including buyer’s fee, were higher than cars on our local BMW dealer’s forecourt. An eye opening experience. Car after car went for thousand more than anticipated. Dejected, we went home with our tail between our legs. Any thoughts of getting a bargain BMW died this day. The budget was upped, and with the help of a good friend, the below 530d tow barge was collected from Poole, Dorset. The budget… lets not talk about the budget…

e61 BMW 530d Touring in spaced grey

June: Bedford with Circuit Days

The 530d’s maiden tow was effortless. Comfy seats, an auto combined with a good stereo and plenty of torque makes for a pleasant place to spend time and munch miles. Even with the surprise that the 5 series’ boot is smaller than the SAAB’s. First time at Bedford with a trailer and it’s a proper faff. Trailers are not allowed in the infield paddock. The MX5 rewarded the separation of tools, trailer and tow vehicle by jamming a front caliper on.

MX5s at Bedford

Thanks for the roadside repairs goes to friends Iain and Jon, and other tips from ‘Loopers. I learnt a lot about calipers and Iain managed to free it up allowing for an afternoon’s lapping. First glimpses of the Plus Four Engineering Lexus powered v8 MX5 were the highlight! Even if it did get beached on a sleeping policeman attempting to get noise tested. Once home I did a full service, fitted two new front calipers and changed the brake fluid.

July: Destination Nurburgring 10

Team Bridge To Gantry

Two glorious days at the ‘Ring. Taking my total to 41 driven laps and, not that we were timing, driving my fastest lap to date (9:23). Massive thanks to Ray (driving in this year’s VLN, hoping to get out and watch at least one) for all the coaching. What’s better than two days at the ‘Ring? Colour coordinating team t-shirts and the hire car!

August: Glorious Goodwood and Evo Track Evening at Bedford

Glorious Goodwood Mazda MX5

First trip to Goodwood, and great weather despite the impending tail end of a hurricane. Sessions based, interesting and very well organised. What a wedding venue! Congratulations to Steve and Helen. Brave move having a Northloop Trackday the day before. I wouldn’t hurry back in the MX5 (the circuit deserves a faster car), or choose to do a session based trackday. But it’s a great circuit and feels very special to lap. There aren’t many trackdays with Spitfires taking off and landing while you’re lapping. A lot of fun was had closely lapping with friends in similarly powered MX5s (thanks Simon and Hannah).

Bedford in a BMW 116d Evo Track Evening

Returning to Bedford without a trailer was a lot more enjoyable. Accidentally passing Bedford (thanks to taking a 200 mile detour) in my company car I definitely wasn’t tempted, in the slightest, to turn a few laps… Bedford Evo Compilation

October: Donington with Northloop and Circuit Days

MX5 at Donington Park

After buying the MX5 at my first time to Donington this was my first solo visit / revisit. It’s becoming my favourite UK track. Certainly my favourite trackday of the year (in this country)! It also presented an opportunity to help Mission Motorsport and offer pax laps to ex-service men. The reward for which was further firming up my 2015 plans with pax laps in their Caterham Academy car.

Mission Motor Sport Caterham Academy Car

December: Brand at Brands with Mazda On Track (MOT)

Brand for a surname and not having been to Brands seems even more silly having finally been. In the wet and cold lack of December daylight I learnt two key lessons:

1. My Federal 595s don’t work in the wet and cold

2. Paddock hill bend is scary. In fact: all of the circuit is scary with the 595s.

Fiddling with tyre pressures proved futile. A dry line finally started to form and confidence grew when an RX8 stopped play by dumping its oil over the entire circuit. After a shakey start it was still a lot of fun. I’ll be back.

Brands Hatch Indy Circuit Mazda MX5

Thanks for reading. Here’s to a good 2015, and another year as an Evo subscriber!

#MyEvoYear 2013

As a recent Evo subscriber, thanks Peach, I’m addicted. Their #MYEVOYEAR twitter tagging got me thinking. 2013 really was a great year as a petrol head….

May: Phil Price Rally School

Phil Price Rally School RWD Impreza, skids
Neilo nailing a slide. I’d post a pic of me but all the pics he took are a tiny bit blurred 😦

A great start. More fun that you can shake a stick at. Phil, the Welsh mud and his instructors made for a great day out. The pax lap with Phil in an ex WRC car was worth the money alone.

June: DN8

Rent4Ring Suzuki Swift
CU – DN8 Day 1 😀

2 day trackday at the Nurburgring… First ever lap under instruction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M_nYOm2Q9Y

July: Stelvio Pass

Stelvio Pass
Stelvio, every bit as good as it looks.

SC wants to go to Italy but doesn’t want to fly……….. Driving in the 1 series it is then :D. Muchos need to go back.

August: Donington + MX5 Purchase

Mk1 Mazda MX5
Track focused RS-LTD – My Fourth MX5 😀

1st time at Donington and after an utterly shit 2012 for cars this marks a great turning point, and a return to the MX5 fold.

September: VLN7 2013 + Sunday TF laps at the ‘Ring

VLN 7 Start
VLN7 – First live racing I’ve seen at the ‘Ring

Cheeky second trip to the ‘Ring. My favourite lap to date in CU: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCOoQupZZE4  (damp / drying out)

October: Spa with Circuitdays

VW T4 Caravelle and MX5 Tracktoy
2nd to last journey in the T4 Caravelle.

1200 miles of towing in the Caravelle and a great meet up with the ‘Bores.

Bus stop skids: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgtwGJ7Qiks

Favourite lap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbvAZGJakEI

First time I’ve preferred a wet track over dry conditions.

November: Silverstone with Circuit Days

MX5 at Silverstone
Dad’s pic of the 5

Final trackday of the year, first trackday in the new 5 with my Dad and final journey in the Caravelle. Sadly sold the Caravelle a few days later. Great to catch up with friends again.

Laps with Peach: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-IUPVNjpPY

Laps on my own: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmcnO0NxbG8 

Already trying to keep the momentum with a set of plans for 2014…..