The Luxury Chronicle

Can electric also be luxury?

We drive the BMW i3s

In the long history of automobiles, fossil fuel driven cars arrived late. Steam, wind, even battery were the earlier choices. The experiments with electric cars, or battery-powered cars were very popular around 1910. Perhaps now the time is ripe for a historic shift. The double whammy of improved technologies in electric engines and pressing environmental concerns over burning of fossil fuels petrol and diesel, the new dawn of clean and silent electric engine cars is here.

By Somnath Chatterjee

Luxury carmakers go to great lengths to make their cars as quiet as possible for the ultimate refinement. This is either via sound deadening material or other measures like modifications to engines. Silence then, is very much a part of the luxury motoring experience. So in that sense the BMW i3s beats with ease some of the much bigger luxury cars with internal combustion engines, as it is electric. The i3 is also a significant car being one of the first EVs to be made by a bona-fide luxury car brand. BMW jumped into the electric car game way before its rivals and the i3 was and is one of those cars that are way ahead of its time.

The i3s does not follow conventional car design and nor does it comply with the usual BMW ethos. It is something entirely different. Also it is refreshing to see BMW rethinking what luxury mobility can be. Thus with EVs being talked about and currently being the flavour of the season, we borrowed one of the first luxury EVs to see how life can be with one.

The i3s does not have a conventional engined brother, as it is a part of the BMWi brand. The shape or even the philosophy with which the i3s is designed and built is completely different. Being electric means there is no engine, thus it is compact but spacious on the inside. It is around the size of a large hatchback but is dotted with lovely details that make you gawp. The massive 20 inch wheels, the sharp lines and the unique styling cues draped all over gives the i3s immense presence. It may be small but it packs a punch and draws more attention than a pink Lamborghini.

The showboating factor is obvious, when you stop and get out of the car, the onlookers gasp and whip out their phones. It is unlike anything else. You have an amalgamation of various lights and a space-age cockpit. There is no transmission tunnel or a B-Pillar or even conventional rear doors as they open on the opposite direction for further drama. Inside, the view is dominated via a superbly constructed cabin with a large and airy feel. Look closer and you will see that even the materials are all sustainable. For instance, the ‘natural leather’ is taken from an Olive leaf extract, plus there are recycled plastics, renewable raw materials, natural fibres and open-pored, unbleached eucalyptus wood. It is different and a treat for the senses.

Unlike a conventional BMW it does not come with the usual gear lever. Instead you have to push a button and slot it into ‘drive’ via a ‘The Jetsons’ like knob. It feels alien and incredibly futuristic to drive in this car. There is no noise of course and within a few seconds, one is whisked away to big speeds with no fuss or drama. The i3s is powerful and fast plus given the various modes on offer; you can tailor it to your needs too. In the city given its tiny dimensions and the instant power of electricity, you end up having more fun that a sports-car!

Of course, there is the thorny issue of range and charging. Or is it? We got the car at full charge with 220 odd kms showing and went on to drive it for another 60-70 kms that day. The range dropped to 130 km. We drove it next day also with around 40-50 kms when the charge dropped to 80/90km. We were using the ‘eco’ mode and this is where you get the best range plus even in this mode, performance is quick so you do not feel bogged down. Thus, you can easily go two to three days with a regular city commute.

In the end what have we learned? Well electric mobility can be luxury too and the i3s is an intriguing take on what the future of motoring can be. It is different and wears its EV credentials on its sleeve with pride. BMW has not launched it here in India, but we think it should. It is a different sort of a motoring experience and is like a breath of fresh air in today’s altogether more boring cars.

Expected price – INR 50 lakh.

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