A few days ago I had the chance to try the BMW i3 as a change from my usual LEAF. I needed an office pool car for an airport trip and the i3 happened to be available. I had it over the weekend as well as for the return trip to Heathrow – long enough to make some sensible comparisons.
As it turned out, most of my preconceptions – good and bad – were confirmed. The i3 certainly drives better than the LEAF; in addition to the obvious difference in power output, I was impressed by the BMW’s sharper steering and lower body roll – due, no doubt, to the lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced plastic body. I also liked the powerful regeneration, which allowed me to bring the car to a complete stop on occasions without touching the brakes.
Exterior styling is hardly a strength of the LEAF, but to my mind the i3 is just ‘plug’ ugly. By contrast the light and airy cabin made a refreshing change from the gloom of the Nissan’s all-black cabin, and the interior fit & finish were in a different league from the LEAF. The I-Drive rotary controller – now with touchpad – is easy to use with a bit of practice, though in most respects I’d still prefer a touch-screen interface; just not one as uniformly awful as that in the (2015) LEAF! The i3’s big central LCD panel makes navigating a breeze, though the spoken instructions left a lot to be desired. The small rectangular panel in front of the steering wheel, on the other hand, looks to me just gimmicky. To my surprise I found that some of the indications were less clear than in the LEAF – particularly the power/regen meter.
On the vital question of range the i3 gets a mixed report. This car had the optional range extender which can be a lifesaver – even if I do prefer the purity and simplicity of all-electric drive. So, while the battery range was notably poorer than the LEAF, I was able to aim for a charging station that lay just beyond it with equanimity. For as long as rapid chargers remain too far apart for comfort, I’d opt for the REx if I were buying an i3. I had expected the charge connectors to be easier to use than they are in the LEAF, but I was disappointed. The two plastic covers that lie behind the charge port door are fiddly to use and dangle untidily while the car is on charge. Never thought the LEAF would win that one!
Would I prefer an i3 to the LEAF? In some respects yes, but I’m afraid for me the day-to-day practicality of the BMW lets it down. The novel rear doors are awkward to use, and – crucially – require the front door to be opened first; this makes dropping off and picking up of rear passengers just as awkward as in a two-door vehicle. Four seats instead of five is a big restriction and the tiny boot space limits the use of the i3 even further. That said, if you don’t need a family car it would be fine most of the time.
You have to admire BMW for eschewing convention, but sometimes convention has evolved for good reason!
Here’s the 2015 summary report for notanICEcar.
Going to have to try harder in 2016!
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 450 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 8 trips to carry that many people.
Click here to see the complete report.
It was a little like losing my virginity. After several brief flirtations with the Tesla Model S over the past year, today I finally got behind the wheel of a P85D. And it felt great.
As part of its ‘green day’, my employer had arranged for a couple of Model S to be available for test drives and naturally I put my name down. When three o’clock came the rain had finally stopped, but the roads remained damp and greasy. Hardly ideal conditions for testing a car with nearly 700bhp on tap, but needs must!
The driving experience was all that I’d hoped – something like a LEAF on steroids! Take off from rest was rapid yet serene, and the car felt firmly planted despite the damp conditions. What impressed me most, though, was the way the electronic stability control stepped in to curb the wilder excesses of the over-enthusiastic driver. A car of such power and torque could easily become a handful on a wet road, but the P85D conducted itself with the utmost decorum despite my heavy-footed approach to test driving.
I never cease to be amazed at what Tesla has achieved in its short life. It’s remarkable that a vehicle of this sophistication is being built in volume after such a brief gestation, but what is frankly astonishing is just how good it is in build quality and performance. Not perfect, of course; there have been a few niggles and perhaps the engineers have tried to be a bit too clever in places, such as the retractable door handles, but in the main it’s really hard to fault. To my mind it even represents good value and, though it’s still too costly for the average buyer, it does a great job of establishing the brand. I’ll be at the front of the queue to reserve my Model III in March next year.
It’s time I took a few moments from studying the details of the VW engine management debacle to tell the world about my new LEAF. The lease had expired on the old one and thanks to the quirks of residual value calculations it proved better value to swap it for a new car than to buy it. Sounds easy, until you realise that six companies are involved: Nissan, Fleetdrive Electric, Benfield (the dealer), RCI Finance, Manheim (the collection company) and a delivery firm.
I’d heard some horror stories about additional charges for minor damage on return, so it was with some trepidation that I met Manheim’s inspector in the office car park. I needn’t have worried; he was delighted with the condition of the car and gave it a clean bill of health. I felt like a proud father! That result meant I would only have to pay for the excess mileage – in 18 months we had covered 24,500 miles rather than 15,000 so I knew I was in for a bill of £950. To be honest I didn’t begrudge it; even at 10p per mile it was cheaper to drive the LEAF than to put petrol in our other car.
Chris Brown at Benfield’s worked his magic to co-ordinate delivery and collection on the same day, so on 11 September I drove to work in a blue car and went home in a red one. I felt slightly peeved that the previous day had seen the long-awaited announcement of the 30KWh LEAF with 25% extra range, but in reality the 80-90 mile range of the current model works fine for our daily usage.
It’s something of a tribute to the LEAF that the new car drives exactly like the old one – you won’t usually find two petrol cars of the same model that are indistinguishable behind the wheel. Of the extra toys on the Tekna I could do without most, but the leather upholstery is a substantial improvement over the ‘brushed nylon’ effect of the standard seats and is probably worth the difference in price. Add to that the pimped wheels, marginally better sound and the four outside cameras and you have yourself a decent deal. Maybe the heated seats and wheel will come in handy in the winter. The headlights are a mixed bag: the LED dipped beam is great but the main beam adds just a faint halogen glow in the distance and really isn’t good enough. See, I’m never satisfied!
A few months ago I put together a proposition for a navigation app for drivers of electric vehicles. I submitted it for a competition that my employer ran. It didn’t win, but I’m clearly not the only individual thinking along these lines. Robert Sharpe of Evergreen Consulting is working on just such an application, and is surveying EV drivers to try to establish the potential. More information and a link to the survey here.
My own proposal is summarised below. Feel free to comment!
The Charge! application aims to get drivers of electric cars to their destination using the least energy, or in the shortest time. There are already apps in existence that show the location and availability of charging points, and a few that offer routing, but none is able to calculate the best route by optimising driving speed and charging times.
How will your idea work?
This app will use an algorithm similar to those that F1 teams use to work out their race strategy: the optimum speed and the number and timing of pit stops. It can use a generic vehicle profile, or provide a tailored route for a particular model by using data on the vehicle’s power consumption at different speeds and the rate of charging at different states of charge. By knowing the vehicle model, the app can select only charging stations that have the appropriate connector. As well as offering the fastest route, the app will also allow the user to select the route with the lowest overall energy consumption. For this to work really well, it needs to supplement the usual road network data with information on gradients. Weather is also a factor that optionally could be taken into account.
Circumstances change en route, of course, and the app will recalculate the best strategy on the fly using the latest data. For example, it might advise the driver to slow down in order to avoid having to make an extra charging stop or, worse still, running out of power. (Yes, this has happened to me!)
What problem does the app address?
Electric vehicles (EVs) are quick, quiet, relaxing to drive, and cause no local pollution in use. Studies show that electric vehicles have significantly lower ‘well-to-wheel’ carbon emissions than internal combustion engine cars, even after the effects of building and recycling batteries are taken into account. As the energy generation mix becomes greener, so will EVs.
Sales are growing rapidly, but are inhibited by potential customers’ concerns about running out of power unexpectedly – a phenomenon known as ‘range anxiety’. This is a real deterrent, even though the typical range of 80-100 miles comfortably accommodates the vast majority of daily use for most people. For the foreseeable future it will not make economic sense to build batteries to give a range of 300-400 miles, because most of that capacity would be unused for much of the time and the additional weight would itself increase power consumption. Consequently there remains a need for EV drivers to charge en route during longer journeys. Working out how to do this most efficiently is a major headache, for which the Charge! app is the analgesic.
What help do you need?
The success of this project depends on a combination of quality road network data, superior coding skills and partnerships with operators of charging networks and vehicle manufacturers.
I am sorry, dear reader, that this blog has been quiet of late. It just goes to show that electric motoring has become so much the norm in our household as not to invite comment.
I’m having to think about the whole matter again, now that my LEAF is nearing the end of its 18-month lease which finishes in early September. My first thought had been to buy the car outright, but a quick look at used prices soon put paid to that idea. The final payment would be £13,250, which is some way above the retail value. Actually that’s not quite fair because, having put 23,000 miles on the car, I shall have to pay £800 in excess mileage when I hand it back. I wouldn’t have to pay that if I kept it, so the realistic value for comparison is £12,450. Even then it looks a bit steep.
I checked with a local dealership what they would offer at trade-in, and the answer was around £9,300. So the car will go back, and I shall be starting a new lease – this time on the basis of a more realistic annual mileage of 15,000. I’ll also be trading up to the Tekna. There’s not much in the extra equipment that I really need, but I’ll be glad of the better sound system and the leather seats. They’ll help to improve the cabin environment a little, though it feels a little like ‘putting lipstick on a pig’! I do miss the interior fit and finish of my old BMW 520.
Anyway, just for fun I thought I’d see what webuyanycar.com would offer for the LEAF. I knew it would be low – after all this is the buyer of last resort – but even I was astonished when the figure came back: £3,435! I think what that tells me is that the motor trade at large has yet to be persuaded that there’s a viable used market for electric vehicles.
Perhaps I should buy back my current car when it goes to auction? Now there’s a thought …
On 26 September the Leaf failed to start – the first time we have had a problem with it in over 10,000 miles. Never mind, thought I, I have a leaflet here which promises ‘A-lister treatment’ if I phone the roadside assistance number.
The operator asked me for the Leaf’s engine size and whether or not it was a 4×4.
This did not bode well.
A breakdown vehicle duly arrived but the driver knew nothing about the Leaf – not even how to operate it, let alone repair it. I explained what he needed to do and the Leaf was duly removed to Westover Nissan in Salisbury.
The following day, having heard nothing further, I rang the assistance number again. The operator simply put me through to Westover. Westover told me the car’s 12V battery had been flat (that much I had guessed) so they had removed, charged and replaced it. They would now investigate the cause. I asked about a courtesy car – the leaflet promises one – but was told they were all booked.
I had to travel overseas on the 28th, leaving my wife waiting for the return of the car. By 1st October we had heard nothing, so I called Westover from Moldova – only to be told that they had no telephone number for me so were waiting for me to call them – this despite the fact that I had provided the Roadside Assistance service with my contact details. They had not been able to identify the cause of the battery problem so I could collect the car at my leisure. There was no offer to deliver the car or arrange for the driver to be collected from home, so the car remained at Westover until I returned to collect it on Friday 4th October – over a week from the date of the breakdown.
The car has been fine since its return, but a search on Speak EV (search for ‘totally dead’!)) has revealed that a number of other cars have suffered the same failure. Nissan doesn’t seem to recognise yet that there may be a pattern emerging, so we’re left to speculate: a batch of bad 12V batteries, perhaps, but more probably a software fault that causes a heavy drain in very particular circumstances. Watch this space!
Update August 2015: The problem has not recurred, so it does seem that a very particular set of circumstances is required for it to happen. There have been a number of other isolated instances, but it’s not clear whether a software update has been implemented to effect a permanent solution.