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Heavy Metal Affliction - 2014 BMW i3

John Schommer
Thursday, November 9, 2017

 

As someone who has always loved cars, especially noisy, emission-spewing older cars, I approach the inevitability of Electric Vehicles (EVs) with apprehension and a large dose of paranoia. Thoughts of a utopian wasteland of silent running appliances with no personality or performance fill my head. I just can’t imagine driving something that doesn’t delight me with exhaust sounds and may not even really need me to do all the driving.

 

After driving a BMW i3 owned by Chris Bishop – Gamertag Rumzzfeld – Global Marketing Manager for Forza, I have to admit, I am more than intrigued. In fact, I have actually shopped them and considered getting on board with the whole EV thing. This may sound like sacrilege from a lifelong gearhead who has relished every tank of gas I have burned through in my 75-plus cars, but it just happened. As John Malkovich said in Dangerous Liaisons, “It’s beyond my control.”

 

 

I intended to experience Bishop’s i3 as an exercise to broaden the Heavy Metal Affliction horizons. Plus, the i3 has the BMW badge, and I will admit to being enticed by features like the carbon-fiber reinforced plastic body, rear-wheel-drive, and suicide-doors (like my Toyota FJ Cruiser). However, what I found was one the most engaging cars I have had a chance to drive.

 

Another inspiration for this story was that Bishop is a car guy, his car list is almost entirely rear-wheel-drive coupes, and he sold his 2016 Mustang GT to buy the i3. How does a car guy make such a drastic change without being threatened with divorce or physical torture? The answer in part is practicality, which the i3 certainly has. No gas costs (Bishop’s home is entirely solar-powered too, so charging is totally free), adaptive cruise control that let’s him relax more on his crowded commute, and as he puts it, “It just feels different, it feels like the future.”

 

 

Now, Bishop claims he doesn’t buy cars to earn brownie points with the casual passerby, but we all know that we like people to see us as we want to be perceived. Truth be told though, in the Seattle area, known for its early adopting tech population, Bishop may get more thumbs up driving the i3 than the Mustang.

 

“Long before I bought the Mustang, I knew I was going to go electric,” Bishop said, “I wanted to enjoy a big V8 one last time.” He has a Tesla Model 3 on order, so the i3 is a transitional car. An additional spark for this change is that Bishop has his first child on the way too, and the necessities of car seats and just saving more money ($150 a month in gas alone) is an inevitable priority.

 

These digressions of perception, practicality and economy aside, perhaps driving enthusiasts should not fear the future. Step into the i3 and you are immediately immersed in technology. A large floating screen, textures that include hemp, real wood, and exposed carbon-fiber engage the eyes. The ears will be unexpectedly pleased by the very different, but nonetheless exciting sound, of the electric motor as you step into the throttle, or off of it.

 

 

Regenerative braking is something I have never experienced, and it is a game changer. Aside from emergency braking, an attentive driver need never even use the brake. This isn’t hyper-miling in your sister’s Prius; this is strategic application of charge and it is one more way the i3 engages the driver. Furthermore, the adaptive cruise-control can use this feature combined with a camera to let the driver disengage from driving somewhat. The i3 will slow down and accelerate with traffic without any throttle or braking inputs. It will also parallel park itself if you want it to.

 

With a roughly 80-mile range without the range-extender (REX) option, which Bishop’s Battery-Electric (BEV) model doesn’t have, the real value of the car is for the commuter. On a 220-volt charge station (which Chris has installed at his house and are available at Microsoft) a full charge can be restored in about 4-hours. Locations can be found, and even reserved, with one of the many apps the i3 uses. On standard home-charging with 110-volt systems, a full-charge takes an overnight.

 

 

Don’t like to get into a too cold, or too hot car? The i3 can be told to kick on its heat-pump driven climate control and have it just right for its owner when they are scheduled to depart. There are also battery-conditioning features to optimize range before a trip. Want more? Cool apps like Bimmercode enable hacks to the i3 computer enabling the user to change many parameters of how the car drives. For example, in the U.S. you can teach your car lane-assist features which are currently only available in Europe.

 

“Like any car, you could say it’s a transportation tool (aka an appliance) but I think my i3 has more personality than most of my other cars,” Bishop said. When he was searching for the right car it had to have exactly what he wanted, and he is a self-proclaimed penny-pincher. This meant buying an i3 locally wasn’t an option. EVs sell for a premium in the Seattle area so he hunted online for a deal.

 

His i3 needed to be the BEV model for the lower cost and maintenance plus the weight reduction benefit. It had to have the Tera package for the leather, the tech package, for the larger display and features, and it had to be white so he could call it his “mini-Panda.” He found the car in Texas, where apparently EV car values are low, and he bought it sight unseen. When the car was delivered, the driver showed up in a new Honda Accord and tried to hand the keys to Bishop. After an “Ahem” moment, Bishop directed the agent to the paperwork and he went back to his truck to get the right car.

 

 

Cool car or not, here is where I struggle. If Bishop – a car guy who shares Forza with the world and who, in his youth, spent his weekends on a racing team – can be converted, who’s next? If your car-loving Heavy Metal Affliction writer can be swayed to appreciate EVs with a single drive, does this confirm the coming of an end of more than a century of the glorious internal combustion engine?

 

Great Britain just banned non-EV cars by the year 2040, France followed soon after. Volvo proclaimed they are phasing out the internal combustion engine. Are these the first dominos to admit defeat or accept the future? More importantly, will it matter to you that your car will make different sounds and likely be capable of taking you where you need to go without your guidance?

 

You can’t stop progress, but if the i3 is an example of things to come, maybe the fact that it is beyond our control isn’t such a bad thing.