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Cooking up an electric storm
DFT: James Martin standing next to a BMW i3
Television chef and restaurateur James Martin loves fast cars, and didn't think the range-extended BMW i3 was right for him. Until he started driving it
James Martin purchased his last battery-powered car at age four, but after a test driving a BMW i3 he expects his next will be a little more grownup. Photograph: David Viniter
Normally I don't do electric or ultra-low emission cars. I've got a Range Rover, which tree huggers seem to hate, and therefore me for driving one. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for cars to help save Pingu.
I have driven an all-electric car before. I liked the speed and the instant power, but recharging the batteries in the countryside near my home wasn't easy. I want to see how much they've changed over the last five years. The BMW's back-up petrol engine makes "range anxiety" a thing of the past.
I like the way it feels so solid. It's built like a hi-tech racing car, with a lightweight carbon-fibre bodywork wrapped around an aluminium frame, complete with durable plastic body panels. This BMW i3 really is different. It has two motors, one electric and one petrol for back-up. It looks like a proper motor car, though jumping in and firing it up takes a bit of getting used to – only the lit-up blue dash reminds you you're powered up.
I love the seating position, higher than a typical small car, giving brilliant visibility, and the interior is as well designed as the exterior. The tablet-sized satnav cum main computer holds pride of place in the dashboard which is ultra modern in design, with great build quality, clean surfaces and no button or gadget clutter.
This is one quick car, because it's super-light, has 170hp and no gears. It becomes addictive. Each time you plant your right foot you leap forward without making enough noise to drown out the nattering of the hedgerows, and it is just as much fun slowing down – regenerative braking from the electric motor means you only need to touch the brake pedal if you
I drove it for 90-odd miles until the tiny back-up petrol engine kicked in. Even after that happened, it was just as much fun to drive, the rear wheel drive and supermini style steering combined with the weight of the batteries made it corner like it was on rails. But the countryside is the last place this car will end up.
The city will be clamouring for this great little car. It is brilliant. I couldn't fault it, so much so that I'm going to buy one for work, and this from a Yorkshire man whose last purchase of a battery-powered car was when I was four years old.
Learn more about ULEVs
Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles are motor vehicles that emit less than 75g of CO2 per kilometre.
A growing number of cars fit this criterion. They divide into three categories. Pure electric cars have only an electric motor and run on rechargeable batteries. Plug-in hybrids have an electric motor, plus a regular engine that kicks in when the batteries run down. Range-extended cars, like the BMW i3 tested here, combine an electric motor with a small petrol engine that maintains battery charge. For more information, see goultralow.com, and for a chance to win a luxury weekend away in one of these cars, click here.
[© 2014 Guardian News and Media]
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