Motoring Review: BMW i3 - Range extender

BMW plays the generator game with this smart electric car

Price: £28,830 (after £5,000 government grant)
Battery: 18.8kWh lithium-ion
650cc petrol engine with generator
Power: 167bhp electric + 34bbhp
Top speed (mph): 93
0-62 mph (seconds): 7.9
Fuel economy (mpg): 470.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 13

Crawling along the gridlocked approach to the Blackwall Tunnel in south-east London is no fun – even when you are at the wheel of a new BMW. But in selecting it as the test route for the BMW i3 launch, the German firm was highlighting just how radical its electric city car really is.

Instead of a traditional engine, it has an 18.8kWh battery that gives a range of 60 to 100 miles. BMW also hopes to sign drivers up for its renewable energy tariff so that those miles will truly be emission-free. If the battery does run out, it can be recharged using a tiny two-cylinder petrol engine in the back that works as a generator, thus enabling the journey to be completed.

However, what really makes the i3 stand out is that it's packed with technological advances. These include a high-strength carbon-fibre body, a lightweight chassis and a Formula One-style regenerative braking system.

It's not dull to drive, either, because it's managed to retain the driving characteristics of a BMW. But there are niggles. The battery regenerative system is perhaps too aggressive in slowing the car when you lift off the throttle and the ride is too firm. I'm not going to condemn the space-age interior, but it's perhaps a little too funky for some.

Similarly, the wacky, two-colour exterior won't be for everybody. And then there's the price; at close to £30k for a city car, the i3 is still something of an indulgence and I suspect it will be bought as a second car for "wealthy greens" in the suburbs rather than as a true emission-free solution for an urban population.

However, there's a lot to celebrate in this little car and BMW offers a five-year battery guarantee, promises to keep up second-hand values and offers buyers the chance to sign up to a renewable source of energy. Now all it has to do is get me out of this traffic jam.

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