Here, in this day and age, there are an increasing number of electric vehicles to choose from. I recently tested both the BMW i3 and Renault ZOE…
The Renault ZOE, takes the underpinnings of the new Clio and fills the engine bay with the electric motor. The BMW however, was designed from the ground up to be an electric car with the lithium-ion battery integrated into the floorpan, or ‘drive-module’, creating a lower centre of gravity. This, as we know, makes driving dynamics more mature and the whole car feeling less ‘on it’s toes’.
Staying true to BMW’s ethos; “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, the i3 is a pleasant surprise. It is a powerful car with its motor churning out 170 bhp, reaching 0-62 mph in 7.2 seconds, without the Range Extender – as this adds weight (we’ll get back to that later). Twist the jet-fighter-style lever away from you to engage Drive and throttle response is instant, with 184 lbs ft of torque packing a decent punch when it is required. Nipping away from roundabouts is dealt with suitably smugly, whilst the guy driving the ZOE in the other lane is still on the roundabout, catching up. That’s not to say however Renault’s car is a slug. This impressed me too, on the media day I attended at the back end of February. The first thing I noticed with the ZOE was the instant in which the motor wound up, and how keen it was to get the wheels turning. The i3 is on another level with regards to power delivery, though. The ZOE has an output of 88 bhp from its motor but a torque figure of 162 lbs ft delivers an impressive power surge from just 250 rpm.
Something which felt a little unnatural to me was the ‘engine’ (or motor, in this case) braking, in both cars. Lift your foot from the go pedal and the momentum of the car is shifted forward. Odd at first, but the more miles clocked, the more able I was to judge how the weight transfer would affect covering ground. This sensation does more than just stop winding the motor – battery regeneration takes place. Braking inputs also contribute to the longevity of the car’s battery. In fact, this is the most effective way of regaining lost ‘juice’. So move to the top of a hill somewhere remote, and stick the cars in drive, coasting your way to the shops – the steepest gradient of the hill will maximise battery charge as you apply the brakes.
Renault say the ZOE will cover 130 miles from a charge which isn’t bad when you consider the i3 as an electric-only proposition will return just 80-100 miles. The Range Extender (REX), mentioned above, is a £3,150 option. Essentially, what this means is the i3 is given a two-cylinder, 647 cc petrol engine which allows drivers to travel nearly double the distance. To drive back up the hill from the shops, the REX i3 is the model to go for. The in-line twin, taken from BMW’s Motorrad scooter never drives the rear wheels, only serves to keep the battery topped up once charge dips below 75%.
The controls are fluid, steering is direct and incorporates weighty feel compared with the Renault’s vacant response. You did indeed read above, that the i3 is rear wheel drive. This is what makes the car more pleasing to drive over the ZOE, combined with the low centre of gravity thanks to the location of the battery. There is rarely the need to touch the brake pedal in the BMW as motor deceleration is rapid – more so than that in the Renault. On the rare occasion that extra stop is required, it is just as well the battery regeneration does not interfere with pedal feedback. The Renault’s deceleration is better judged, I would say. However, as a dynamic package, I prefer the BMW. As fierce as the motor unwinding feels, it is more focused with the driver in mind. Steering response and weight distribution through bends feels more natural.
It is fairly easy to tell apart an electric vehicle (EV) from your regular Fiestas and Corsas isn’t it? They all seem to feature blue somewhere – the ZOE’s headlights and tail lights are tinted blue and the i3 has blue trim on the door sills and surrounding the front grille. The ZOE, in profile resembles the Clio on which it based. Not a bad looking car, especially for the driver that doesn’t necessarily want to stand out, as they would in the BMW. EVs have always looked too futuristic for my liking, and I’ve never really warmed to them. The i3 is one of those space-age designs. It is around 1 series length, but jacked up. Renault’s car is a lot more pedestrian in the looks department, with just the blue tinted lenses and badging distinguishing it as an electric car – oh, and the silence, too.
I was a little disappointed by the interior of the BMW – all ruined by one thing. There is the usual plethora of soft-touch plastics and even some optional leather trim. The steering wheel is leather clad and a nice thing to hold – not too thick like BMW’s M-Sport wheel. Visibility is excellent, the i3 resembles a greenhouse (no Eco-pun intended) with the amount of glass, minimising blind spots. Parking in tight town bays is made easy thanks to an elevated driving position. My disappointment lies with the material joining the dashboard to the windscreen and on a section of the front doors. It is a desperately dull looking piece of recycled plastic, in which you can see the grain from various mashed up pop bottles and cardboard. Otherwise, a very aesthetically pleasing and functional place to be besides this (I feel) major let down.
Interior quality in the ZOE, is in keeping with Clio standard. This means there are some cheap, scratchy plastics on the doors. Otherwise, a relatively decent place to spend time. The colour of the dashboard cannot be changed in the ZOE which is a shame as the beige tone highlights the cheaper materials. That said though, there is no dramatic contrast in materials like in the BMW. The interior in the Renault seems less crude as a result of consistency. The seats are not very supportive or comfortable, but this is not so much of an issue when you consider the purpose of the car. As a method of getting from A to B through a city, seat support is not so much of an issue and there are no winding country lanes with random lumps, bumps and cambers. As with the Renault Clio, visibility is good, though not to the extent of the i3 – but that is indeed excellent.
Now on to the subject of cost. The On The Road price for the BMW i3 as an electric-only is £30,680 and if you specify the REX motor, you can add that up to £33,830. This includes a £5,000 Plug-In Car Grant from the Government. That’s still a hefty £28,380. However, this includes the price of the battery – as you would bloody hope! The ZOE is nearly half the price of the i3 OTR at £15,195, (including the Government Plug-In Car Grant) but you have to rent the battery from Renault. A 36 month annual mileage contract, with up to 12,000 miles a year costs £93 per month.
The BMW is a perfect town/city car thanks to its instant power delivery and vast visibility. Although electrically powered, it is true to its heritage (despite an interior quality issue) with a rear-wheel driven powertrain and low centre of gravity, delivering a planted and reassuring experience behind the wheel (once you have gotten used to the lift-off battery regeneration). Renault have also done a good job too. The ZOE, although lacking the feel of a normal car, provides competitive battery life and does not draw attention to it being electric. All I can say is we’re going to have to start teaching our children a different version of ‘Stop, Look, and Listen…’ to be titled; ‘Stop, Look, and Look Harder…’
Power: 170 bhp
Torque: 184 lbs ft
Transmission: Single speed, automatic
Driven Wheels: Rear
0-62: 7.2 seconds (without Range Extender)
Range: 80-100 miles (electric-only)
Length: 3,999 mm
Width: 1,775 mm
Height: 1,597 mm
Kerb Weight: 1,195 kg (electric-only) 1,315 kg (REX)
OTR Price: £30, 680 (electric-only) £33,830 (REX)
Power: 88 bhp @ 3,000 – 11,300 rpm
Torque: 162 lbs ft @ 250 – 2,100 rpm
Transmission: Single speed, automatic
Driven Wheels: Front
0-62: 13.5 seconds
Range: 130 miles
Length: 4,084 mm
Width: 1,945 mm
Height: 1,562 mm
Kerb Weight: 1,468 kg
OTR Price: £15,195 (including Government Plug-In Car Grant of £5,000)