Updated: Feb 14, 2020
[Update Feb 2020 - electric charging points across the country. See the end.]
I am not a petrolhead. But I am fascinated by the electric car. My first foray into the world of electrical vehicles was a Honda Insight a few years back, hybrid 2-seater, fantastically well-built, very clever car, used to do 119miles to the gallon! It looked like a car Lady Penelope would drive. Alas, being a 2-seater, when I had twins, I needed a car I could strap both them and me into, so the Insight sadly had to go.
Now I have a BMW i3. Do excuse my terrible dummy's appraisal of this vehicle, but I'll tell it from a 'I don't know anything about cars' point of view. I think at the last count (which was 2 weeks ago from the time of writing) there were something like 97 of these in the country. Hopefully that number will rise as people drift away from the mainly fuel-driven cars.
Apparently, the body is very aerodynamic, although at first view it doesn't appear to be. Well, compared to the very sleek Honda Insight, the i3 looks bulbous but somehow, its body is smooth and very very slippery. As it's made of carbon fibre, it doesn't need the central pillar in between the front and back seats. Instead we have a safety mechanism: the suicide doors. I did wonder why they're called suicide doors when the back can't open until the front seat belt has been disengaged and the front door opened. If anyone in the back wanted to throw themselves out of the car, they'd had to liaise with the person in front first.
Here are some photos of the inside before it got dirty.
BMW have to store the battery somewhere so something had to go. You'll notice there are only 2 seats in the back. For me that's good because I can take me, husband and 2 kids and leave monster-in-law at home. For the kids it's good because they have no man's land in between them and a cup holder each.
Moving onto the electric bit. According to the manual, the range on the car is between 80 to 100 miles on a full battery. Normally, I think these manual authors have a laugh when they're writing them, but actually it's pretty accurate!! We did opt for a range extender and I fully recommend that. Unless you are undertaking a long journey and plan ahead to stop off at a charging point, you don't want to get caught short with no more battery life. The range extender you fill with petrol and it gives you 80 miles more. So whenever you see that you've used up say, 80% of your battery and you want to conserve the rest, you press a button to hold the current state of charge and switch to your twin cylinder motorcyle engine. If you don't do this, the onboard computer decides for you that it will reserve 7% of battery energy and switch automatically to range extender. In USA, it reserves 4% of battery before making the switch, down to California compliant laws.
Charging the car is easy.
Type 1 charge - this is your standard charge. Just plug into your standard electric socket and go away for 8 hours. If you don't have a garage, you have to plug in an extension lead through into your house or have an external socket installed.
Type II charge - this is your fast charge. You get an electrician to install it for you and a full charge takes 3-4 hours.
Super-fast - this is a factory fitted optional extra from BMW. It super-charges your battery up to 80% full for the first 30 minutes, then spends a bit longer trickle charging to top up to full. However, you wouldn't use this all the time as long-term, it's not good for the battery life.
Photos below show charging to a standard electric socket. Then our Type II charge socket which we had fitted in our garage. You could have this fitted inside or outside.
Pre-conditioning. As long as you allow 4 hours minimum, you can schedule when you want the car to be ready. A bit like timing your slow cooker. Then the battery will charge and heat itself to your stated departure time. In cold climates, the pre-conditioning will help extend the life of your battery because it doesn't like having to work when it's cold.
Insurance-wise it's group 21, we paid £260. I guess insurers assume you're not going to speed madly in this type of car. Either that, or they think I'm old and weak.
I have to keep remembering there's no engine and there's no ignition. Your left foot does nothing. Your right foot does all the driving and if it gets tired, there's cruise control. You have a brake which you seldom use. In fact, apart from when it's necessary, it's best to stay off the brake because the accelerator pedal will do the regenerative charging every time you step off it. We even went up one of those 30% gradient hills in Guildford and the car came to a stop without having to use the brake pedal. We did use the electronic handbrake to do a hill start though.
I find the accelerator pedal (have to stop myself calling it gas) quite sensitive but you get used to it. The first time I stepped on it, I left my stomach on the back seat. Because this car has no gears, it goes faster than any fuel vehicle from 0-40. After 40mph, everything else catches up with you. Because there are no gears, there is no changing up or changing down, it's a smooth drive all the way, and if you have to overtake, it's powerful.
However, if you want to be a battery friendly driver, you choose Eco or Eco Plus mode. These just keep in check how fast you can go, e.g. the Eco Plus optimum speed is no more than 54mph and you can't heat your seats as that option automatically turns off. Unfortunately, you can't choose this as your default. In fact, on cold days, you might want to keep a couple of blankets in the car as interior heating will use up battery (6kw).
The voice recognition SatNav comes as standard with the car, although I've yet to get it to understand what 'home' means. You can also play tunes from your mobile as well as other devices. There is a hard disk which holds a zillion tunes so plenty for you to play around with.
We come to the best bit for me because I'm a skin therapist. All the glass and windscreen is covered in a tinted film, although you can't tell when you're inside. It reflects infra-red light so on a sunny day, this can keep the interior temperature cooler by up to 10 degrees. The tint also, to some extent blocks some of the UV light, yay! Although you get very little UVB light passing through standard untinted glass, it doesn't stop UVA rays from getting in. UVA is what causes skin ageing and also causes fading of your car interior.
I took a photo of the view from the front only because you do get a really good open windscreen, better than any car I've been in. We accidentally discovered recently that when you press the fob key to open the car, keep it pressed and the car front windows come down. I don't think you get this option on the US car.
After a while you forget you're in an electric car and, apart from the road noise, it is pretty silent. So when you're approaching pedestrians, they probably won't hear you coming. But if you need to manoeuvre to avoid anyone, this car has a excellent turning circle. Now I have no excuse for doing crappy 3-point turns.
The best bit of all about owning an electric car is you stop taking notice of the fuel prices. If you use just electric, each journey costs you only the electricity to charge it. We reckon a full charge for us is about £2 to £2.50.
UPDATE 22 May 2015
In the UK you are exempt from paying road tax BUT you still have to register and pay the registration fee (£10). Failure to register means you could face a fine (£80) and even have your car towed away. Life was so much simpler when we had the paper tax discs!
Electrical charging points.
UPDATE JUNE 2015
We managed to do the maximum 100 miles on battery alone before the range extender kicked in! Warm weather (23 degrees), English country lanes, fast roads, hills and Eco Pro+ travelling at mainly 45mph. A result!
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2020
To promote electric car adoption globally, CarWow have developed an interactive Electric Car charging point finder tool to help EV and hybrid car owners find the nearest electric vehicle charging stations. You can view the live interactive tool here: https://www.carwow.co.uk/electric-cars/charging-points