We love the BMW i3 here at Auto Express. And so we were very disappointed when we lost our innovative range extender for a month due to a fault not only with the car, but with BMW’s dealer network. 

You’d think the company would be pretty hot on looking after customers of its pioneering ‘i’ brand. After all, these people have been brave enough to invest a large amount of money in a relatively new technology.

Surely BMW would pull out all the stops to make good any problem to ensure these customers keep faith with its cutting-edge kit? Er, no. 

What happened when a sinister warning light appeared on our i3’s display proves there’s no point spending billions building a brilliant car like the i3 if the dealer service doesn’t match the product’s quality – you won’t get repeat business or word of mouth recommendation.

That’s why only selected BMW outlets are allowed to service ‘i’ vehicles – there’s one not far from where I live. And I was confident I’d be in safe hands with Spire BMW Highgate in north London, having been treated well by its sales outlet when I charged the car a few weeks earlier. So I called the service department, explained the fault message on the display and was told it’d be able to deal with the problem. 

First impressions were good. The service centre was as stylish as an Apple Store and there was free coffee dispensed by a posh machine. So I handed over the car keys, and then trotted off for a two-week holiday expecting the car to be fixed in time for my return. 

While abroad I received an E-mail from Spire stating it didn’t have the equipment to repair the car, so would transfer it to another dealer. I was told everything was in hand. But it wasn’t.

When I returned home, I found out the i3 hadn’t been moved anywhere. Due to a ‘miscommunication’, it had been sat at Spire doing nothing. Needless to say, I was raging. And I was also upset Spire hadn’t arranged for a courtesy car to keep me mobile until the i3 was fixed. Instead, I had to beg for one, which turned out to be an entry-level MINI – and I was told I was “very lucky” to get this, as there’s usually a waiting list for loan vehicles. 

On the contrary, I felt rather unlucky that the i3 had suffered issues after only 7,000 miles, and that after two weeks no one had bothered to get round to fixing it. Over the following days I kept chasing Spire for progress, but got nowhere. Eventually I gave up. Finally, four weeks after first taking the car in, I got the call I was waiting for. The i3 was ready! 

Sadly, the disappointment didn’t end there. While the i3 had been cleaned, the battery hadn’t been fully charged and the fuel tank was almost empty – whereas it was almost full when I handed it over. 

It was the same story with the MINI. I returned it with three-quarters of a tank, while it was only a third full when I took it. So I asked Spire for a refund. The service exec said he’d look into this, plus explain the problem with the i3. But he never got back to me, even after I chased him twice. 

Only when I went to the top did I get a response, from an apologetic Spire MD, Darren Guiver, who said: “We have now owned the business for 12 months and are working hard to turn around a long-standing culture. Our ambition at Spire is to deliver exceptional service at all levels.” Until that happens, it’s five stars for the car, but just one for the dealer…

BMW i3: second report

Can a BMW i3 beat an old school-style hot hatch round a racing circuit? That’s probably not a question you’ve ever asked before, but there is a reason behind what is undoubtedly the most unusual track battle video we’ve ever filmed for Auto Express. 

While it may be one of the cheapest cars to run, few feel as quick as the i3 in real-world driving. The instant response from its electric motor means it can get from 0-30mph faster than the previous-generation, V8-engined BMW M3.

Our car has even taken the scalps of Porsches, Aston Martins and Ferraris in away-from-the-lights sprints that are a common occurrence on its daily London commute. And this got us thinking...

Seeing as the i3 is such a hoot to drive in town, how would it fare on a track? It’s a BMW, after all, so it should be just as adept in corners as it is on straights. A Suzuki Swift Sport was chosen as the benchmark because, just like the i3, it’s entertaining to drive, yet its naturally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol engine is almost the opposite of the hi-tech electric motor and lithium-ion technology found in the BMW. 

And when we compared their stats, the match-up looked like it could go either way. Our i3 Range Extender is rear-wheel drive, has 168bhp and can do 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds, whereas the front-wheel-drive 134bhp Suzuki completes the sprint in 8.7 seconds. These numbers don’t tell the whole story, and that much was evident when the i3 took to the track.

The BMW may get off the line quickly, but this counts for very little when you are recording a flying lap. Mid to top-end power is more important here, and this favoured the Swift’s high-revving petrol engine. And at 1,390kg, our i3 is also 345kg heavier than theSuzuki. You can blame the batteries for this, although they are mounted low in the car to improve the centre of gravity. So, despite being tall, the i3 doesn’t roll as much as you’d think in corners. 

What it does do, though, is run out of grip pretty quickly. Its 20-inch alloys have a large diameter, but the tyres are very thin to reduce rolling resistance and maximise fuel efficiency. So, while the car responds keenly to steering, the stability control kicks in early to stop the BMW getting out of shape. Like in other BMWs, the safety system can’t be turned off, so you can’t exploit the rear-drive set-up and lack of grip to adjust the car’s line through a corner.

In the end, we weren’t too surprised that the i3 was 8.4 seconds slower than the Suzuki round our track. What we weren’t expecting, though, was that it would still be enjoyable. However, driving it 170 miles back to London from our test track wasn’t so fun. With little charge left in its batteries, the BMW ran most of the journey in range extender mode. 

The paltry nine-litre fuel tank meant we had to stop to fill up four times en route – and that’s part of the reason why we’re ‘only’ averaging 134mpg instead of the claimed 470.8mpg. Also, the car would occasionally restrict power by limiting speed to around 60mph to let the 650cc petrol generator cool down.

Still, the journey wouldn’t have been possible in the all-electric i3. And when we eventually got back to its stomping ground in the city, all was forgiven.

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