When I say day, I’m exaggerating slightly. The day in question happened to be a Sunday; it began in style around 1pm following a brunch of the same dimensions as the trip that was to follow. My journey was to begin at Place Maurice Van Meenen, in Brussels. The sun was shining, you could even say it was hot but we decided not to turn on the air conditioning as we didn’t really fancy breaking down before we’d even left the city. Just like the radio, headlights and windscreen wipers, the air conditioning will reduce your vehicle’s autonomy, be it a BMW or a Mitsubishi. All cars are equal when comes to battery longevity.
Unlike its little sisters in the Zen Car fleet the BMWi3 doesn’t have a key to turn in the contact. All you need to do is place it somewhere in your pocket, your handbag or the glove compartment, you start the car by pressing your finger on the small “start” button to the right of the driving wheel, just next to a funny lever, that we’ll talk about in more detail later on. Note to self which deserves to be shared with the whole world: the BMWi3 is about as spacious as an A380. So make sure you don’t lose the key in the car because it might take you all afternoon to find it again.
STARTING THE I3 IS TO THE CAR WHAT THE COCKPIT IS TO THE AEROPLANE: A MATTER OF BUTTONS.
I press the start button and the two screens inside this small technological gem light up. Subconsciously, my right arm leaves the driving wheel (which I am still holding onto with my left hand – I can see you coming with your “no, but she’s completely oblivious, female driver, etc. etc.”) and moves downwards in the direction of the handbrake… which, as it turns out, doesn’t even exist in this car. But my reflex is not wasted, given that a button is located there where the handbrake would have been. I press to release the brake.
Still subconsciously, I feel around for the gear stick. This too has disappeared. But once again, this reflex has not been wasted because now it’s time for a crucial step before heading for the hills: the eco pro + mode. Indeed, if you want to drive for more than 30 minutes, go on the motorway, in short, do something other than the “electric-car-in-town”, I really recommend that you always (always!) check that you have selected the correct mode before setting off. If you don’t you might find yourself parked on the hard shoulder, only able to charge your battery with the heat of your tears once you have completed the first 30 kilometres of your journey.
You have released the handbrake, which has nothing more manual about it than its name. You’ve selected the éco pro + mode. Now you can play with the little lever to the right of the driving wheel which we’ll talk about in more detail in just a minute and opt, according to your needs, for “R” for reverse or “D” for forward gear, all the while holding the brake pedal down.
SETTING OFF, I FORGET EVERYTHING.
I look in the rear-view mirror, here I am reversing on the main square in Saint-Gilles. I execute it like a pro under the astonished gaze of my co-pilot and set about leaving the car park. I am delighted to note that when accelerating in reverse the rear-view mirrors automatically lower to provide better visibility at the back. We’re off, direction Walloon Brabant, in search of the narrow country lanes of our charming Belgian countryside.on la Belgique.
In town, the car behaves like any other car, electric or otherwise. It brakes, it turns, it accelerates. Even if, like all electric cars, you can’t hear it, rest assured it doesn’t pass by unnoticed. Children stare, their parents approach the traffic lights, ask what it is, how it works, what it feels like to drive, how much it costs to rent. As for me, I hand out the Zen Car details on every street corner!
Once we’re on the motorway, the rules change. It’s not long before I accelerate a bit. I, who usually potter along the motorway at 80km/h when I’m driving an electric car am now in the left-hand lane, easily overtaking the large saloon cars which usually gratify me with a flash of the headlights before abruptly overtaking. Acceleration is silent and constant. No fits and starts or plateau like in a petrol car. Here, we accelerate as though we were going to take off: with power and grace.
THE AUTONOMY OF THE BMWI3, A DETAIL WHICH CHANGES PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING
The advantage of the BMW i3, by which we mean, the advantage which is riding high at the top of the huge list of all the others – that I will summarise for you at the end of this article, concerns its Range Extender. The better informed amongst you probably already know what we’re talking about, but for the others, here’s a quick recap. The well-named Range Extender is a small petrol motor for recharging the battery of the i3. In concrete terms, your BMWi3 has around one hundred kilometres of autonomy thanks to its battery. By opting for the eco pro + mode which I mentioned earlier, you can leave technology to deal with your vehicle’s energy expenditure and the small petrol motor recharges your battery when it starts to go flat. At speeds of up to 150 km/hour; giving you the freedom to spend a few hours surveying all the roads of Walloon Brabant in search of the most idyllic path of this countryside we are so unfamiliar with, before moving on to a weekend at the North Sea or a day in the Fenns. In short, from now on you’re going to have trouble limiting your excursions to weekends!
In short, the main points in favour of this grown-up plaything are as follows:
- From the outside, get ready to attract a lot of admiring gazes as you drive by
- From the inside? Space, space and yet more space.
- Buttons everywhere, which makes driving more fun than technical, very fun in fact. You feel like a child in a cockpit, you have to resist touching everything.
- At times an accelerating rocket, at times a cruise ship. You could be forgiven for forgetting you’re in a car!
- The details are the real icing on the cake: the rear-view mirrors which lower when you’re in reverse, reason enough to enthusiastically applaud after each and every manoeuvre!
- The butterfly doors. I’ll leave you to discover them, but if you want my opinion we aren’t a million miles from the Lamborghini.
- The Range Extender sends electric cars from the urban confines to the national playground!
- The extraordinary silence of this little marvel of comfort and technology. You can hear yourself speak, you can hear the birds singing as you leave the city, in short: the holidays begin when you shut the door.
I took the car back last Monday. And you, when’s your next trip?