Funny-looking and freaky-fast: Hands-on with the BMW i3 all-electric car

When it comes to innovation, nothing beats an electric car (EV) like the BMW i3. Ridicule its futuristic-Ford-Fiesta looks all you like, but in a recent test behind the wheel at the LA Auto Show, the i3 performed like a true sports car—pushing us back in the seat with a gasp-inducing lunge (really) that only the torque from an electric motor can provide.

The i3 also uses a unique regenerative braking system. When you stop pushing the accelerator, the car will stop automatically for you and use the brake pressure to help charge the battery.

Inside the car, the displays look like widescreen tablets positioned on the dash. The graphics are lush and engaging. As you drive, the navigation can show nearby charging stations. The i3 also warns you when you need to re-charge based on your driving patterns, drive mode, and route, factoring in things like whether you’ll be going uphill. If you have a destination that’s just out of range, the i3 will suggest a more economical drive mode that uses more regenerative braking.

The dashboard features dual tablets with lush graphics and helpful navigation and charging functions.

A BMW rep told us the car might eventually provide the alert audibly. Another innovation could be to let the driver know about alternate modes of transportation—for example, suggesting a bus or train route in a dense urban area that will get you there faster. This tech is already available in the European version.

A new BMW ConnectedDrive app for the i3 does more than just show you how much power you have left. You can schedule days of the week to charge the car, such as Mondays and Wednesdays only. You can send destinations to the car, and the app will tell you whether the i3 has the range to get there.

The BMW i3's technical advances make it look like the dweeby kid who outsmarts everyone else in the class. The i3 will debut in the US next summer.

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