What’s silent and green and emits a warm, fuzzy glow?
It’s the electric car, the vehicle of the future we are told, and BMW now offers one that I might even consider owning.
There are other options for those who want to save both fuel and the planet, but first the BMW.
It comes in two models, the i3 and the i3REX, the former running purely on battery power, the latter with a small petrol engine as back-up for those who don’t fancy the ignominy of rolling to a halt halfway between destinations with a flat battery.
Why wouldn’t I own one? Because it’s expensive at $63,900 and $69,900 respectively and remember, it’s strictly a four seater.
Why would I own one? Because it’s remarkably fast off the mark, stylish in a nerdy sort of way, fun to drive and in terms of what is available at the moment, the ultimate city car.
How far can you drive? I drove the i3REX with a 650cc engine borrowed from a motor scooter as battery power back-up.
When the battery power falls to a certain level, the petrol engine automatically kicks in with the combined energy sources giving a range of about 300km.
The pure battery i3 is good for around 150km and will recharge over about 11 hours from the socket in your garage.
Pop the bonnet, take out the power lead, plug one end in the wall socket and the other end in a socket where the fuel filler cap would normally be, flick the switch to On and walk away.
There are plenty of quirks such as the rear doors which are of the “suicide” type, meaning they are hinged from the rear and require you to open the front doors to gain entry to the rear seat.
(These doors were popular in pre-war vehicles and earned the “suicide” tag due to their tendency to fly open in a collision with unfortunate consequences for unrestrained rear seat passengers. Please be assured this cannot happen now).
The i3 cabin is a big, airy glasshouse with good all around visibility and contains plenty of pointers to the car’s green pretensions with a raw wood dashboard and door trims made from recycled plastic.
Press the accelerator and you move swiftly and all but silently away with only a slight hum audible from the electric motor. Press harder in moving traffic and you will accelerate strongly, so have no fears about being left behind in any traffic light grand prix.
It takes a while to become accustomed to the eerie quietness but within a few kilometres you find yourself enjoying the sensation of gliding silently through the traffic.
You also become accustomed to attracting plenty of attention as other drivers see the BMW badges and try and work out just what it is you’re driving.
On the highway it rolls along at 100km with some road noise from the tyres evident but its preferred environment is the city and suburbs.
In reality there’s no chance of ending up with a flat battery as there are plenty of displays and warnings of the level of battery charge.
The i3 makes perfect sense as a commuter vehicle if cost is not a deal breaker.
There are plenty of cheaper hybrid options such as those from Toyota and Honda but no pure electric vehicles.
The entry level Toyota Camry in Altise trim costs $26,490 but if you want the hybrid battery-petrol model, you pay an extra $4000.
You don’t plug these in, the battery being charged by the petrol engine. The electric motor cuts in when you move away and then the petrol engine quickly takes over.
Fuel consumption should be around 6 lires per 100km but here’s the point – you can achieve that figure from any number of the efficient turbo diesel vehicles on sale now.
How long will it take you to get back that extra $4000 in saved fuel costs? Quite a while.
Battery technology is moving forward rapidly and electric cars may well hold the key to our motoring future but for the moment the only case you can make for them is with the heart, not the head.
The BMW i3 is fun, frugal and green and a significant step forward in automotive technology.
Remember, however, that when you plug in at night to recharge, you are drawing down power generated by a fossil fuel-burning power station.
Saving the planet was never going to be easy.
Would you drive an electric car?