2014 BMW i3 Driving Impressions

Driving a BMW i3 is not like driving a regular gasoline-powered car, or even a hybrid. Because of its aggressive regenerative braking, it's possible to drive the car almost completely with one pedal. To slow down, one only needs to lift off the accelerator, no need to apply the brake. Though this is great for efficiency, we found the car jerky, either on or off, with not much in between. When we mentioned this to BMW drivetrain engineers upon our return, they chided us for not knowing how to drive the car. You must modulate the throttle, one advised. Not an easy task on a one-hour test drive. But perhaps with ownership, drivers could learn to gently finesse the pedal to coax out a smoother ride. On the other hand, we are reminded of a time when complaining about the performance of a car's heater invited automotive engineers to suggest the driver put on a coat.

Like all cars powered by an electric motor, the i3 has instant torque, which means great pickup off the line. The chassis is stiff and suspension is firm, yet compliant. Electrically assisted steering is responsive but comfortable, like a less twitchy version of a Mini Cooper. A tight turning radius makes it great for maneuvering through parking lots and for flipping U-turns.

Yes, the i3 is a city car, but it's also a BMW, a brand that prides itself on performance. So we threw the little electric car around some twisty corners through the Hollywood hills. Sadly, we found it lacks the chops of its other BMW siblings and got squirrely when pushed hard through the corners, even on its wider sport tires (which are still narrow compared to those found on other BMWs). Lack of side bolstering on the front seats also means we sloshed around from turn to turn. No track days for the BMW i3; it's best left to the daily commute.

The BMW i3 is mostly quiet in the cabin. We did get some slight wind noise at higher speeds, and there was some road noise from our optional 20-inch wheels and tires. Also, you can hear the electric motor working when accelerating. But most drivers won't notice much when driving around town.

According to BMW, the standard BMW i3 can go 80-100 miles on a single charge. We drove 40-mile route on a combination of flat and mountainous terrain, and returned the car with 26 miles of estimated charge left. That adds up to only 66 miles of range, had we continued at our current pace. Because we were pushing the car hard in certain areas and driving through various elevations, the reduced mileage is somewhat expected. Still, we would have liked to keep the car through its entire charge cycle to get a final reading.

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