Driving a fully electric car for the first time felt like being in an ultra turbo charged golf buggy. Well, the acceleration and deceleration part of driving. Instead of going vroom vroom when you put your foot on the pedal the car shot off with a G-force lurch in almost silence. And when you take your foot off the pedal the opposite happens. In equal measures, the deceleration is quite dramatic. There is no need to use the brake as the stopping happens automatically.
The car in question was the new BMW i3. I had been offered the chance to give it a test drive while at a conference in Brisbane, Australia. At first blush, it looks like any other mid-range car – shiny and stylish on the outside, roomy and detailed on the inside. However, it begins to look different when you peer in. For a start there are no door handles on the back seat doors (I begun my trip as a passenger). The driver has to let you in by pushing out a swing-like saloon door. Then, when you take a closer look at the dashboard it seems not quite right. Things seem to be missing while others are in strange places. Switches and buttons have replaced mechanical parts. For example, to start, you press a button to switch the ‘engine’ on and flick another switch to turn the hand brake off. No force is required to yank the gear lever or make sure the hand brake is fully disengaged.
A light touch is only ever needed throughout the experience. There is never any sense of ‘giving it a bit of welly’. The only welly seems to be hidden in the car when it seemingly takes a lot of the control out of the driving.
So how best to describe the all-electric car? Coffee comes to mind. The drive starts off like an espresso and then switches into a latte. You get a jolt, reaching 100 km from standing in only 7.2 seconds. After that, it feels very smooth and quiet as the outdoors passes you by. There is no smell of petrol, oil or diesel or in the marketing blurb “no odours at the point of use”. And of course, there is no purring or idling of the engine. Just new car smell silence.
The blurb on the website goes onto claim, “first and foremost it delivers exceptional driving pleasure. To move off from a standstill, just dip the accelerator gently and the BMW i3 will accelerate powerfully and almost silently.”
Somehow dipping and driving don’t mix just like oil and water.
“How did you like the dip?”
“Quite a big one, eh!”
“Wasn’t that quiet acceleration out of this world?”
“Zero Co2 emissions, zero noise, zero coke.” It seems, we are increasingly living in a world of denial.
You can’t imagine a boy racer talking like that. The language of driving is going to have change to match the new slipper-soled, all-electric experience.
When I parked the car, I eyed a gleaming orange BMW i8 parked nearby. I could not take my eyes off it – nor could many other passers-by. Now, that is the super duper souped up top of the range going for a song, to the order of £250K. Obviously, targeted at the wealthy to swan about in. The doors open outwards, again, but this time more majestically like insect wings. It flies like an angel, just maybe.