Electric London & The BMW i3S

by mr London Aka Dave Burt

Back in the day, one of my first jobs as a teenager involved working in a local petrol station. I still remember the 4 Star unleaded petrol pumps and the day when the British government heralded new “green” diesel cars as the future for the nation. I realise this is a good indicator for my age, but I’m determined to both rant and honestly review BMW’s impressive i3S in this strange clash of late night ramblings and child-like auto excitement, so I’ll press on! Back then, diesel fuel quickly spread across our forecourts and the nation systematically swapped out their petrol cars in favour of newer, more “greener cars” with engines that used to sound like tractors. As a staunch petrol-head I never gave into this madness. No no. I would grow up ‘slightly’ and after landing a proper job I’d go on to buy a Ford Focus 1.8 16v Zetec Collection with tinted rear lights, 18” TSW alloys wrapped in Yokohama tires, Koni shock absorbers and roll bars, and a K&N induction kit which had me talking nonsense about serious BHP gains shortly before one of my best friends smashed it on a test drive. Muppet. 

 

Petrol aside and back in the 21stcentury, it has to be said I’m finding it quite hard to stomach the present assault on diesel cars and manufacturers of said vehicles given how diesel fuel was so heavily subsidised, and that the nation was actively encouraged to embrace this new wonder fuel that allowed us to go further than we could on an equivalent amount of petrol. It was sold to us. More miles per gallon. This time last year (end of 2017) there were 12.4 million diesel vehicles on our roads, and as you well know, diesel has been more expensive than petrol (unleaded) for some time. Why? It’s a dirtier fuel and it doesn’t burn as clean as petrol, so now they tax it more. Simples. But when did they realise diesel was so bad? When did our science suddenly grow up? After everyone went out and bought the new “green” cars? I’m very confused. Call me a cynic...

 

And so the narrative changes again in 2018 – not only are diesel cars evil, but also petrol cars… Amazing. In fact, the government now wants to ban the sale of all conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040 as part of their Road To Zero plan. You’d assume then that the Prime Minister has paired this vision of the future with a solid electric-car adoption plan to lead the nation down a greener-than-previously-(not quite so)-green-path then? And you’d be wrong. Truth is, they’re all a little preoccupied with Brexit in Westminster and meanwhile it’s estimated roughly 9,000 people die a premature death in London every year due to our current illegal air quality issues. And that number rises to 40,000 nationally. The Mayor Of London wanted to pedestrianise Oxford Street, one of London’s worst and most illegal pollution zones, and that was scuppered by Westminster council in lieu of a £150m super wide pavement scheme that keeps the 2-way road. Great work. Can we really afford to wait until 2040 to get on top of this issue? This is why I harbour deep-seated disappointment with our nation and the City of London – the city that I love - we are in a massive mess and no-one is coming up with a comprehensive joined up plan. 

 

Earlier this year the @LONDON team took delivery of the new BMW i3S for a road trip that would see us drive from London to Soho Farmhouse and back. Before that we also trialled an i3 range-extender which comes with a mini 2-cylinder petrol engine that kicks in if you get caught short when your battery is low, for 3 weeks, and to make a long story short - they’re both absolutely brilliant cars. I stand 6ft 3 inches tall, so I thought I would have some major challenges fitting inside one. Can you believe that this little compact gives me more leg room than almost any car I’ve ever driven?! I couldn’t believe it. Add to that oodles of carbon fibre, the batteries being slung low into the chassis which gives it a low centre of gravity, the absence of a gearbox giving you what feels like beautifully crafted open-plan living, all to the usual BMW standards we’ve all come to expect, and an Infotainment system that sounds bloody beautiful – this is a brilliant car. Hallelujah.

Generally the car gets 5-star rave reviews everywhere. I’ve heard a few people moan about the lack of leg room in the back but I’ve concluded they’re all talking bollocks. If you want to throw kids in the back, it’s no drama. Small boot, true. But you didn’t buy this to be an X5, so stop being an idiot. You can get 2 normal sized adults in the back, even with a lanky driver like me up front. Ok, we mostly used it as a 2-person car, with the back seats used for shopping bags, coats, and suitcases to be fair. But whether you’re carrying family, or friends, or lots of shopping, the rear suicide doors make it easy to get in and out. 

 

This car is RAPID. Sure you’ll find people online quoting relatively ordinary 0-62 times. Ignore them. 0-30mph it kills everything and in London 30mph is as fast you can go on the good days. You look for excuses to drive it somewhere. It genuinely leaves pretty much everything standing at the lights, and never ceases to put a smile on my face – people look dumb founded as it surges away - this is after all the new world of instant torque, instant power with zero emissions and zero lag, and no noise whatsoever. It’s a go-kart that can do 160 miles! 

 

It also has a brilliant method of recharging itself on the move - when you lift off the throttle it uses an engine breaking recharge method similar to what you see in hybrid recovery systems. The engine breaking is actually so strong that once you get used to it, it changes the entire way you drive because you don’t really need to break much at all – if the lights turn red or traffic ahead of you slows, just ease off the accelerator and let the car come to a standstill by itself. It’s genius. 

So cool in fact, team @LONDON will probably get one permanently in 2019 – and when we do we’ll opt for the i3S over the normal i3 because we prefer the more aggressive looks, 10mm lower ride height and wider 40mm track that comes with the larger 20” wheels that combine with the DCT system to enhance stability – importantas we noticed on a few runs down back streets and B-roads that the entry level i3 can crash a little on its thinner wheels as it deals with classic British road surfaces. OK – the slightly more premium i3S is on the road from circa £37k. But it turns out we can get a free parking bay because it’s an EV – electric vehicle – and there’s no congestion charge, or road tax?! Err hello! Plus you can charge the car for £3-4 and give yourself over 100 miles of range. That means in real terms, if you did 10,000 miles in a year it would cost you something like £250-300 in energy. So you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m wondering why everyone in London isn’t getting one of these?!

 

Well that brings me swiftly back to the original crisis I was describing in the UK, and London, and this is where I start to get very grumpy again. Fact is, the BMW i3S is awesome. And no we’re not being paid to tell you that. It just is. So given the nations challenges on emissions, the UK government should be doing everything it can to get these cars onto our streets as fast as possible. About a year ago the government introduced subsidies for hybrids and electric vehicles – the i3 models were made eligible for a plug-in-grant of £4,500 off the list price which makes a massive difference on the list price, whilst hybrids were made eligible for grants of up to £2,500. For me, this was money-where-your-mouth-is stuff, as ambitious as cities like Dubai. I loved it. I was proud to be a Londoner. Proud our nation was doing something so tangibly wonderful about it. But then a few weeks back Chancellor Phillip Hammond outlined his new UK budget, and suddenly out of nowhere their ‘Road To Zero” 2040 plan changed quietly behind the curtains, with not a single public discussion or mention about it to the press, and BOOM. The hybrid subsidies were scrapped, and the electric car subsidy cut to £3,500. What on earth are they doing? 

Furthermore consumers ability to connect their EV’s to a charging point is, well, bloody difficult in my experience and I like to think I’m a pretty smart lad. If you have a driveway, brilliant. Get the governments plug-in grant and charge it at home darling. You get cheap electric overnight. You’re sorted. But if like me, you live in an apartment, we can hardly throw cables out the window can we now? Instead we have to look to join one of 20 electric networks in the UK. This will of course vary by borough and area. And the charger closest to my house isn’t actually outside, it’s several streets away. So we had to park the car out of sight. And once the car was charged and we decide to move the car back outside my house, of course – all the bloody bays are full. On another day we decide to head across town and we need to charge the car during the day as it’s getting low, and we hadn’t found a free bay the night before. It’s then we discover the network we’re subscribed to isn’t in the part of London we’re going to. Some car parks have charging, lots don’t. It’s so boring. Honestly. You can forgive me for thinking that no-one in or close to Number 10 has thought this through properly. 

 

Let’s talk home infrastructure. Your phone line, your gas, your electric, your water. The infrastructure is in place. You simply choose between service providers and take the best deal. If after a while you want to switch, you can. This is good. Consumers benefit from a competitive market place and a whole range of providers and offers. Why didn’t some bright spark set things up exactly the same way by installing EV charge points all over London, government funded, and then allow different service providers to leverage a common infrastructure? The EV points could be standardised fast chargers. Same plugs for everyone. Same adaptors. Easy come, easy go. I mean, if they found £15Bn for Crossrail and £35Bn for Network Rail’s next 5 years, which by the way, still won’t help me get trains on time, then why the hell can’t they be more ambitious? For god’s sake. We could literally create the best example of an EV city in the world, save countless lives, fix our illegal air space, and make EV charging as easy as renting a Boris Bike – bloody easy. 

 

So be prepared if you’re about to start your EV journey. You need to do some research and be prepared to plan when you use the car, how you use it, where you take it to, and factor in the charging which will be specific to you and your living situation. I’m not trying to scare you off getting the car – we’re genuinely going to get one, because we love it that much, and because we’re that committed to doing our bit for London. But I wish it was simpler and that this nation showed some ground-breaking thought leadership at a time as important as this. We are after all supposed to be the best city in the world. Sadly not where EV strategy is concerned.