2015 BMW i3 REX review: the perfect city car, but for a price

THE future of cars, whether it be with supercars or little runabouts is electricity. But with electrically powered cars comes one glaring problem — what happens when you run out of power?

For your day to day driving, most electric cars have enough range for you to get to work, drop the kids off to soccer practice and get back home in the garage to charge overnight without worrying.

But what happens when you forgot to plug the charger in? Or if you need to drive a couple of hours up the coast? Tesla thinks the solution is to build a network of Superchargers across the world where its vehicles can pull in and charge up to 80 per cent of their charge in around half an hour.

But what if all your closest Superchargers are out of range? BMW thinks it has the answer with the i3 Range Extender.

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The i3 is the German company’s first car designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle. It’s funky, it’s quick and has one of the best interiors I’ve ever seen in a car.

On an engineering level, the fact that the i3 was completely designed to be an electric car sets it apart massively from the likes of the Nissan Leaf and Audi A3 3-tron which both had their foundations based on existing petrol cars.

Because of this, the car is designed with a lightweight aluminium chassis and a body made from a mixture of carbon-fibre and recycled thermal plastics. It’s really needs it too, because the 120kg battery pack that lines the floor, plus the 230kg electric motor and the 100kg+ range extending two-cylinder 660cc engine adds a lot of weight. So thanks to those lightweight materials, the final weight for the i3 REX model is still just 1320kgs, roughly the weight of a Toyota Corolla.

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The i3 is a tiny car. Its footprint is less than a Mazda 2, yet has loads more interior room. Combine that with the smallest turning circle I’ve ever driven and you have yourself probably the best example of a city car there is.

The interior of the i3 is genuinely how I feel the future of cars will be. In front of the driver’s wheel there’s nothing but a screen that gives you your speed and range. In the console there’s another screen for navigation and media with a few buttons below, but besides that the interior is bare.

The two rear seats in the back have a surprising amount of headroom, however leg room is pretty standard for a small car.

The use of real wood and natural materials in the cabin also help make it feel airy and more spacious than it really is. Every passenger I had in the car commented on how futuristic it felt inside, even more so than the exterior design.

The two rear seats in the back have a surprising amount of headroom, however leg room is pretty standard for a small car.

And that exterior is something else. I think I had more people stare at the BMW i3 than I did in the Nissan GT-R supercar. The front looks squashed, the back looks like a mini-SUV and the side of the car with its suicide doors look a two-door hatch that’s been stretched out. It’s certainly a funky design, which I still can’t work out whether I either am in love with it or completely loathe it.

Driving the car brings back that joy of instant power that electric cars bring. You get the full 250Nm the car has from the second you put your foot down, so acceleration is genuinely exciting. With the instant power and extremely nimble handling, there’s never been a better car for scooting through traffic.

The regenerative braking draws power and slows the car down when you take your foot off the throttle and is even more intense than on the Tesla Model S. BMW claims this reduces the need for actual braking by 80 per cent.

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Once your power is nearly depleted, that’s when the scooter engine generator kicks in to keep the electric motor going. It can be annoyingly loud, especially after driving the car in almost complete silence without it. The generator itself never powers the car, it simply keeps the electric motor going.

BMW doesn’t want people to be just driving on the generator the entire time, that would defeat the purpose of the car and the tiny 9-litre petrol tank couldn’t make this more obvious.

To charge the car, you can either plug it into a standard power point and have it fully charged in around 11 hours or get a BMW Wallbox installed which can charge it up in 3-6 hours depending on what Wallbox you get. BMW is also giving owners ChargePoint cards to access the 80 or so public charging stations across Australia. These all charge at various different speeds.

For me, the BMW is the perfect small car. It’s spacious, fun, full of technology and electric. It’s just a shame that it starts at $63,990 plus on road costs.