Green and Bear it : Living with the 60Ah BMW i3

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As Preeti discovers, an EV city runabout like the BMW i3 isn’t hard to live with at all... even if it's a first-gen 60Ah model

D38V6546Folks who don’t know better tend to repeat the guff about an electric vehicle (or EV for short) being hard to live with in Singapore, largely due to the concerns that if you don’t live on landed property, you can’t install the wallbox to charge it. After all, with majority of the population living in private and government apartments, and landed homes a luxury afforded to the few, the perceived hurdle is, “Where can I charge my i3?”

D38V6590Now, if you think about it, a city-state like Singapore (or even a smaller enclave like Sentosa) is the perfect playground for a compact 2+2 runabout like the i3, so lack of government subsidies aside, there shouldn’t be a reason why it can’t segue nicely into one’s lifestyle. The longer range 94Ah i3 should arrive in 2017 (we drove it in issue 54), but we thought it would be cool to demonstrate how even the current (geddit?) 60Ah model works well as a single car for the single, upwardly-mobile professional who lives and works around the city.

A niche segment you say? Of course. To begin with, the i3 isn’t intended to be a mass market basic form of transport by any stretch of the imagination, it’s still a BMW at heart, so it’s properly posh in its own right. However, you do need to work your imagination a little when it comes to reversing your charging habits and that’s exactly what Preeti had to do during her time with the car, since it was more convenient for her to charge it at work than at home and it worked out pretty well for her.

DSC02275We’ll make no bones about it: the vivacious 30-something Ms. Preeti Gupta works for BMW Asia, but that’s not the point of the feature – neither is the i3 her company car; she zips around in a MINI – because we’re highlighting the relevance of the BMW i3 for someone in her demographic. She’s single, daily-drives the 10km round trip to and from work, enjoys an active social lifestyle on the weekends and travels frequently for work, so there are days at a stretch that the car sits pretty at home, especially since she lives in close proximity to most F&B amenities and watering holes.

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On the rare months she isn’t travelling for either work or leisure, she averages about 150km a month for just the office commute, with short weekend brunch hops with three pals in tow to Dempsey and the occasional blast to the outer reaches of Singapore for recreation. In Singapore, the i3 is sold with the REx (or Range Extender) option, which boosts combined driving range from 250km to up to 300km on a full charge (on electric power alone, it’s good for 170km), so in light of Preeti’s actual usage, what were you saying about range anxiety again?

She tells us, “Based on my workday commutes, there’s no real need for me to charge the i3 daily, especially since my office at Harbourfront Centre has a charging lot. Realistically, I would only see the need to keep the car close to full-charge as we approach the weekend. Just in case.” Instead of home-charging, EV owners are slowly becoming accustomed to charging during office hours, largely because more commercial buildings in the city, such as The Atrium at Orchard Road and Capital Tower in Shenton Way, are incorporating Greenlots charging spaces, which is BMW’s charging infrastructure partner in Singapore.

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For Preeti, a perfect match between woman and machine hinges a lot on the ‘convenience’ factor. “It’s nice to drive around in a small car that drives so easy. It is responsive and the performance is effortless, and it is compact enough to be agile and manoeuvrable in tight city confines,” she shares.

Like the iconic city-cars of yesteryear, the i3 is a true homage to practicality and packaging with its square silhouette and wheel-at-all-corners stance. It certainly looks like nothing else on the road, which suits Preeti to a tee, since she’s not the sort to be a wallflower.

D38V6555Despite the i3’s compact proportions, it’s surprisingly spacious for the three passengers it can accommodate in a pinch, especially if there’s a last minute client meeting or internal lunch that requires her to pack her team into the car. She tells us, “It’s great for when a bunch of us jump into the car and it doesn’t ever feel packed, and it’s nice to be cruising around in such a spacious and airy cabin.

Head and legroom are plentiful, and visual spaces and elements that are made from fully-sustainable and renewable sources are gorgeous and exude a degree of Nordic chic, something her two friends pointed out over lunch. Unlike many small cars that are small in both size and ability, the i3 boasts plenty of useful stowage room, with a spacious arm console and assorted cubby-holes. The door pockets are massive and the wooden ‘shelves’ under the iDrive screen can hold trinkets as well.

Another favourite of the i3 that Preeti really warmed to is its regenerative braking system, which sees a strong braking effect when you take your foot off the accelerator pedal – we would say engine-brake but this car doesn’t have an engine! It only take a few trips to get used to, and it quickly becomes second nature to the driver as you weave seamless through the city traffic by getting on (and off) the ‘Go’ pedal – only in an emergency or when hard braking is required does one actually need to depress the brake pedal.

“I just love the regenerative braking system; it makes driving in the city all the easier because I don’t have to keep playing tap-dance with the Stop and Go pedals in peak hour traffic and endless red lights – I’ve gotten the timing down pat!” Preeti proudly tells us. “Moreover, the Go pedal is like an ‘on’ switch, because you can tap on the i3’s full torque from the get-go – it’s like flicking a light switch – which is perfect for overtaking manoeuvres! Driving it around gives me the sort of zippy euphoria I would only normally get from say, riding a motorcycle!”

D38V6621Ultimately, for somebody like Preeti for whom driving daily is inevitable, it’s a revelation of sorts to be able to do your bit for Mother Earth as well, especially since it upturns the conventional view that EVs need to be terminally unhip and boring to drive. “I didn’t expect to love the i3 this much!” she beams. ­- PHOTOS: PENORAMIC PUBLISHING / LOCATION: ROADHOUSE @ DEMPSEY

(This story was first published in TGS#57)

BMW i3 (60Ah)
Battery: 360v, 22kWh Li-Ion
(Total) Motor: 170bhp, 250Nm
(REx) Engine: 647cc, 2cyl
(REx) Power/rpm: 38bhp/5000rpm
(REx) Torque/rpm: 56Nm/4500rpm
0-100km/h: 7.9secs
Top speed: 150km/h
Efficiency: 13.5kWh/100km
Agent: Performance Motors Limited

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.

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