Long-term report: Learning to live with an electric BMW
James Baggott gets behind the wheel of the space-age-looking BMW i3 for a long-term test, but can he learn to live with an EV?
Making the decision to buy and run an electric car is currently one of the trickiest for those in the market for a new motor.
Everywhere you turn, headlines are demonising diesel and calling the end of combustion engines as we know them. So, while more buyers are working out whether they could live with an EV, I decided it was about time I took the plunge and tried one for myself.
Now, let’s get this straight: I’m a big fan of electric cars. I love the way they drive, the silent motoring and the lack of emissions.
However, I’ve had more than my fair share of problems with public charging points over the years, even being left stranded for hours waiting for electric test cars to charge at service stations while I angrily drank yet more coffee.
So, when our BMW i3 arrived, I decided the only real way to test the system would be to throw myself headlong into electric car ownership and use it as my only car.
The first problem with that, though, is the fact I do not have a charging point at home, while the office charging solution is a three-pin plug.
As I’ve rapidly learnt, the latter is not really a solution. Dripping charge into the car, it fully replenishes the battery in the i3 in a positively pedestrian 15 hours. I’ve found it’s OK for keeping the BMW topped up after my daily runs around town, but anything longer needs a beefier solution.
That has come in the shape of a public charging point at the local supermarket. Recently, a Genie fast charger appeared at the local Morrisons, which is handy as I frequent its aisles probably a little too often. I’m sure some days I spend more time at the check-outs than do their staff…
The Morrisons Genie Point is very easy to use. There’s no app to download (which is unusual), just a mobile web page that lets you sign up for an account in a few simple steps and then every time you use a charger it simply bills your bank card.
There’s a £1 connection fee and then you pay per kW used. But the important thing is it pumps it into the battery in super-quick time. A few days ago, I needed a big top-up and managed to add 100 miles of range in just 20 minutes for about £7, all while I had a particularly slow browse of the courgettes. For comparison, adding that amount of range with a three-pin plug would take more than eight hours. It’s not cheap, but it’s certainly quick and convenient.
I’ve been very impressed with the range of the i3. When it arrived, a full charge would offer me 148 miles. Not bad, not amazing, but usable. A few weeks in and the car ‘learnt’ my driving style, and the range slowly crept up after every charge. Then I went on holiday and lent the car to a particularly frugal colleague, and when I returned the fully charged i3 had increased its range to 210 miles. I didn’t believe it, but it turned out to be accurate.
And that’s another thing I love about the i3: the range it says on the dash is spot on. When it says you have 50 miles left, you have exactly that – and when you’re trying to ease your concerns about ‘range anxiety’, accurate information like that is very important. Since the 210-mile-range day, the i3 has settled into around 190 miles of range after a full charge, but I’ve never got close to the promised 223 miles from BMW.
Overall, I’m beginning to really get the BMW. It’s great to drive, seriously quick off the mark and surprisingly easy to live with. There are a few little things that bug me – the rear suicide doors that open the wrong way and only when the front doors are open are a particular annoyance, but I find the good bits are outweighing the bad.
So much so that I’ve asked BMW to extend our short-ish three-month loan to a slightly longer six-month one. Partly because I love it so much and partly because I really want to see if I can live with an electric car for longer. Fingers crossed they say yes.
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