BMW have taken a clever approach to their electric car range, and the i3 with range extender technology is among the best on offer, says Declan Colley

THE English electro-rocker Gary Numan once asked: “Are friends electric?” He also had a massive hit with a song called ‘Cars’. Combine the two and you’ve got the query ‘Are Cars Electric?’

Well yes, cars are electric and most of them are terrible and plagued with demons which give us humans bad stuff like “range anxiety” and introduce us to new games such as “find the charge point” or “find a working charge point”.

These are very modern problems for a humanity which blithely ignores the central problem of all electric cars — ie, they do nothing to help clean the planet because they draw their power from burning carbon elements somewhere along the line.

You may detect a hint of scepticism here as I refuse to accept the industry shtick that electric cars are clean. They may be clean in and of themselves, but the power source is not and therefore the technology we’ve got to deal with right now is inherently non-environmentally friendly.

On top of that most of these things are awful to drive and while the hybrids will provide mild enjoyment, in my opinion, the public is still being sold a pup.

Nevertheless, with the backing of governments worldwide and various industry-led self interest groups, the whole electric/hybrid thing appears to have gained broad credence as a viable alternative to traditional power sources.

As I said, most of the breed are terrible — anodyne to drive and without a scintilla of enjoyment to be had.

BMW, more than most manufacturers, has tried to bring to the hybrid genre a myriad of solutions which actually endow their cars with character and a sense of something special which few others can match.

With the smashing i8 and its supercar performance and the i3 town car with its REX (that’s short for range extender) technology, the German company has shown a pleasing willingness to think outside the box.

BMW’s i3 provides the lead to range extension

In the case of the i3, with its cutesy IKEA-esque design and implementation, the range extender comes in the shape of what some have unkindly described as a lawn-mower engine.

In reality, this is a 647cc petrol engine with an output of 28 bhp, but in actual fact the engine doesn’t propel anything, acting instead as a generator to power the batteries when they would otherwise have drained.

Doesn’t sound like much, but in actual fact it transforms this thing from being a humdrum town-only vehicle, into something which can be brought out into the countryside to stretch its legs.

In normal running the i3 is surprisingly sprightly (as evidenced by the 0-100 kph time of just 8.1 seconds, which is not too far from GTi territory), but you do have to get used to the unusual driving characteristics.

As with most electrics, the second you press the accelerator, you get full access to all the power and torque available. The corollary is that when you take your foot off the loud pedal, there’s nothing there and you stop.

This effectively means you don’t have to use the brakes that often, but that being so, it is best to keep your eye on the rear view mirror for dozy tailgaters who might not appreciate the technology.

A surprisingly engaging car to drive, the i3 is very tall and spindly and you might expect it to roll about the place but it is surprisingly stable and handles with unexpected aplomb.

All this cutesy niceness, however, comes at a price and while it might be nice to be different to all the rest of the golf/tennis/rugby/hockey/cribbage club set, a price tag of above €50,000 is certainly going to cause most normal people to blanche. And especially so when that money is being asked for what is essentially a fancy-dan micro-mini.

As it is though, the i3 is among the best of the genre on offer and I really liked a lot about it.

It is not the answer to global warming, but it is a far better option than most of the stuff that is being touted as planet saving.

THE VERDICT

The cost: From €49,980 — €51,710 as tested including €7,500 of grant and VRT reductions

The engine: 647cc delivering 28bhp — a lawn mower

The specification: Good, but as with all things German, the options list will bring a tear to your eye

The overall verdict: Best of the bunch


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