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2014 BMW i3 First Impressions

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- This is one of the toughest places in the world to acquire a driver's license. Narrow, cobbled roads form concentric rings around the city's hub, which is teeming with trams, rickshaws, and literally thousands of cyclists. Yet the traffic accident rate is surprisingly low.

It's the perfect environment to launch a tiny city car nimble enough to co-exist emission-free amongst the cyclists, while offering its driver a connectivity to supporting infrastructure and alternative transportation choices that almost completely alleviate any range anxiety.

What is the 2014 BMW i3?
BMW’s i3 is an all-electric four-seater built on an aluminum platform with a carbon-fibre frame. Since its inception in 2007, the i3 project's emphasis was on sustainability from production in the entirely wind-powered Liepzig, Germany plant, through to its emission-free operation and its construction of recycled and recyclable materials. The BMW i3 is more than just a car, it's an amalgamation of alternatives. Via its onboard connectivity system, users can calculate range, find charging stations, determine arrival time, and (if need be) choose from available public transportation options depending on traffic conditions.

2014 BMW i3 Price and Specs
There are three trim levels, and in keeping with the BMW i3's futuristic image they're named: Mega World, Giga World, and Tera World.

Base model Mega World comes standard with 19" aluminum wheels, BMW's ConnectedDrive system, Navigation, LED headlights, 7.4 kWh charger and cloth upholstery.

The mid-range Giga World adds leather and wool upholstery, sunroof, Sirius XM satellite radio, and a garage-door opener.

Range-topping Tera World models have genuine leather upholstery and unique alloy wheels.

The fully electric i3 powered by a 170 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque electric motor and 22 kWh lithium-ion battery pack will arrive in Canadian showrooms during the second quarter of 2014 for $44,950. Also available is a $48,900 Range Extended version, which is virtually identical to the electric model but adds a backup energy source: a rear-mounted 2-cylinder, 647cc gasoline engine producing 34 hp.

Driving the 2014 BMW i3
Put the console-located shift lever into "Drive" and the BMW i3 glides forward soundlessly. There's little drama and it quickly becomes as natural as driving any conventional vehicle.

The only notable difference is the regenerative braking, which is so efficient that the driver need only lift off the gas and rarely finds it necessary to touch the brake pedal.
There are three driving modes "Comfort," "EcoPro" and "EcoPro Plus," depending on whether the driver prefers responsiveness or energy conservation.

Like many electric vehicles, the BMW's bottom-located battery-pack gives it a low centre of gravity that renders it extremely stable while cornering. While it's never going to be included with BMW's corner-carving sports cars, the i3 is quite nimble and has a turning radius of just 9.6 metres making it well-suited to narrow, congested streets.

Navigating the myriad network of laneways in Amsterdam is no small feat, but the i3's agility helped us get through without ending up in one of the many canals.

The 2014 BMW i3 feels solid on the highway, and with a top speed of 150km/hr, has no trouble keeping up to traffic. The immediately available torque thrust makes passing manoeuvres astonishingly easy.

Range anxiety is almost non-existent. An overnight charge using a 110-volt outlet can deliver up to 160 km in EcoPro+ mode.

Inside and Out of the 2014 BMW i3
The i3's odd and chunky design is a bit unsettling for our North American palates, but in a modern urban setting, its futuristic appearance fits right in. The "one-box" design maximizes interior space, and the tall roofline and dipping beltline provide plenty of light and space within.

While the boxy nose wears BMW's signature twin-kidney grill, it's merely decorative since no engine needs to breathe.

The oversized turbine wheels on the 2014 BMW i3 are only 6” wide and aerodynamically sculpted to reduce drag.

Inside, the cabin is open and airy thanks to the large greenhouse. Seats are thin, yet supportive. The space-age design is funky yet functional. On the dash is an enormous display that renders crisp, colourful navigation routes, charge-station locations, and points of interest. Another, smaller screen in the gauge pod shows all relevant vehicle information. There's a console-located iPhone docking station, and BMW's nifty app sends nav info, driving efficiency scores, range, and even alternative transportation choices such as train schedules and walking routes.

Comparing the 2014 BMW i3
The i3's closest competitor in terms of style and handling ability is probably the Fiat 500e, but unfortunately it's only available in California.

Nissan's LEAF is a well-established presence and is thousands of dollars cheaper -- yet with shorter range and a lot less power. The Chevrolet Spark EV is roughly $10,000 cheaper, but again has less range and nowhere near the power of the BMW i3. Ford's Focus Electric is almost as expensive as the BMW i3, but has a smaller range and less power.

Over all, the 2014 BMW i3 is well-suited to a modern, busy urban environment with a well-developed infrastructure.
 

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2014 BMW i3
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2014 BMW i3
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