I am embarking on a new adventure but it isn’t a trek up a Taiwanese mountain, it isn’t renovating restaurants in 12 hours for a reality show, and it isn’t flying over Mt. St. Helens to photograph the path of its 1980 eruption. However, my journey is going to be full of exploration, suspense, drama, an interesting learning curve, excitement, and if I am lucky, humor. I will spend the year getting to know the newest member of our family, Panda. Panda is not a new labradoodle or a hamster; Panda is my new electric car, a 2014 BMW i3.
I drove off the lot with my black and white i3 on December 2nd, 2014. It had 40 miles on the odometer. I fell in love with it as the tires quietly glided over the curb and onto the road.
Here are the top lessons I have learned so far from my first month with the Panda.
Size is deceiving. My car has a short hood, narrow wheel base, and blunt hatch back. From the outside it looks like a cross between a baby panda, a 1960’s model VW Bug, and a vehicle from Blade Runner. When you step inside, and you almost can, the space seems to defy physics. For someone who uses a car as an office I found that the interior is stylish and really clever. There are multiple cubbies to stow away change, lot passes, and pens and a USB port for additional music. The console has an elevated navigation screen that nests in the sway of a beautiful open-pore eucalyptus wood dash. The seats are large and comfortable proving that BMW has created a car like the tents in Harry Potter; small on the outside and incredibly roomy on the inside.
Energy efficiency is the goal and the achievement. My car rapidly decelerates when I take my foot off the gas. Why? Because it has “brake energy recuperation.” It sounds impressive but I wasn’t sure what that meant. A visit to the BMW website cleared it up. My take away was this: the electric motor serves as a generator using the motion of the spinning wheels to return energy back into the motor, like four tiny windmills. My car is an energy producer. There is a dial on the console that shows whether I am using electricity, producing electricity, or in a balance between the two. The LED lighting is top of the line and draws a tiny fraction of the wattage of halogen lighting.
Panda is stealth. It can go 0-100 real quick. When you press the gas pedal there is no waiting period for the torque to build while the engine speeds up . The electric motor offers full torque instantly for an acceleration of 0- 60km/h in under 4 seconds. Yep; found that out and along with that just how silent the car is. I also found out it has a nice loud horn to compensate.
I must plan ahead to commute into the city. This one scared me the most and I found a term that is now part of my vocabulary: “range anxiety”. I did opt for the model with Extended Drive so I have a spare 47 miles if I fill the little extender tank with gas, but my goal is to avoid getting to that as long as possible. I drive with the belief that my range is what is listed on the dash for electric range or 60-80 miles depending on my driving habits. Which leads to another thing I learned…
This car is smart. Not just Blue Tooth and navigationally smart, but smart enough to adjust to my style and habits of driving. After just a couple of weeks I noticed that town driving is more efficient than freeway driving. I am pretty sure it is because of the above mentioned “aggressive braking regeneration”. Blogs I have read reinforce this assumption, and I have since heard that the term for releasing the brake is “lifting”. I thought I had discovered this on my own, and had begun lifting my foot off the gas in hopes of generating more power. Apparently it does generate more power, but the acceleration needed just after the “lift” seems to outweigh the benefits. So I try to keep the dial in the middle where energy used and energy produced are equal.
Panda has taught me to overcome obstacles and do something no one could inspire me to do for many, many years; make room for a vehicle in my garage. Not since the New England Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl have I been able to park a car in my garage. At the end of every day, it goes in the garage and I plug it into the handy dandy charging station I got from BMW because I faced my hoarding demons and cleared the garage. That alone, is the best lesson so far.
There are so many more things the Panda can teach me. Check back for more as I navigate the technological jungle with my i3.