A Tale of Two Ultimate Driving Machines
While they both may have the BMW Roundel on the hood (a stylized image representing a spinning airplane propeller, a nod to the company’s early days building World War One fighter planes), the X4 M40i “Sport Activity Coupe” and the All-electric i3 Plug-in EV seem to have little in common, operating as they do at distant ends of the automotive spectrum.
The X4 M40i boasts a 3-liter TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder gasoline powered engine putting out 355 HP, with a top speed of 150 MPH and a zero to sixty time of 4.7 seconds. The performance tuned 8-speed auto-manual transmission driving all four wheels achieves 21 MPG combined rating, resulting in a cruising range of almost 400 miles on premium fuel.
Compare that to the 170 HP AC Synchronous electric motor in the i3, reaching sixty in a leisurely 8 seconds. The single speed automatic transmission pushes the little car to a 93 MPH top speed, and can attain a 200-mile range in ideal conditions. The EPA-calculated “equivalent” mileage rating is an impressive 111 MPGe. Charging time, with a Level Two charging unit, is 4.5 hours.
Two vehicles that are worlds apart, right? That’s what we thought, until spending a week in each, enjoying them in a wide range of everyday driving conditions.
Since its introduction, the X4 has seemed pretty darn close to the perfect car. It is sporty, sexy looking, just the right size, packed with high-performance AWD handling and performance, and replete with plenty of BMW driver-oriented technology and luxury. Although not inexpensive at an MSRP of $67,500, the X4 M40i delivered all those attributes in spades! Fast off the line, quick shifts from the responsive paddle-shifters, aggressive exhaust note, adjustable settings for suspension, steering, and engine mapping, and that unmistakable BMW taut yet comfortable ride, makes the X4 a totally satisfying driving experience. One particularly cool feature is the Sports Display, which gives you real-time read out of both horsepower output and available pound-feet of torque. Add navigation, Heads-Up Display, satellite radio, panoramic sun roof, supple leather everywhere, and a bevy of highly sophisticated driver aids and the X4 truly becomes a strong contender for perfect all- around vehicle.
When the svelte and stylish X4 M40i left the driveway, and the perky little i3 Electric urban warrior arrived, we expected a stark – and disappointing – contrast. True, the i3 represents more of a vehicle designed to meet the changing driving realities of today, and of the near future. Clean electric power, extensive use of recycled and sustainable materials, carbon fiber used throughout to reduce weight while increasing strength, and user friendly connectivity that allows smartphones and smart watches to access many of the vehicles features, makes the i3 a very “green” machine indeed. BMW brags that even at the manufacturing level, the i3 is innovative and eco-friendly, using 50% less energy and 70% less water in the production process. All this leading edge technology does come at a price: Expect to pay north of $50,000 for your well customized i3.
That’s all very nice, but the really amazing thing about the i3 is that it drives like a BMW! Instant torque from the electric motor is surprising – and impressive. Steering is quick and precise, there are adjustable sport settings, just like in the X4. The darn thing handles really well, very similar to its 3-series brethren. The energy capturing regenerative braking system does its job without compromising the excellent BMW braking feel, and the electric steering has good feel and road condition feedback. The highly sustainable olive leaf tanned leather is quite comfortable and feels luxurious, and the open-pore eucalyptus wood dash will evolve and change color over time. The cockpit is cozy, complete with heated seats, pop-up video display, navigation, and many of the same high-tech drivers’ aids also present on the X4. Bottom line, the i3 was a hoot to drive, peppy and agile, with the added benefit of no stops at the gas station. The good news is that BMW will clearly continue to offer fun-to-drive performance-oriented vehicles, while superbly embracing eco-friendly technology.