2014 Chevrolet Volt, 2014 BMW i3. Click image to enlarge
Review by Michael Bettencourt, photos by Michael Bettencourt and Jonathan Yarkony
Yes, the time has come for the reigning, undefeated Canadian plug-in sales champ, the Chevrolet Volt, to come under some serious, leather-lined fire. Sure, the all-new and futuristic BMW i3’s higher 45 grand starting price compared to its more mainstream $37k market rival will handicap the i3’s sales prospects somewhat, but there’s no question that BMW’s unique four-seat urban-friendly hatchback introduces a level of commitment to and innovation in plug-in vehicles unseen so far, with the possible exception of all-electric startup brand Tesla.
But new Teslas start at close to 80 large in Canada, before potential provincial clean car rebates of up to $8,500 on it and the i3 (and all other BEVs) in central Canada. And while a fully loaded i3 can venture up close to the 60 grand mark before taxes, compared to the Volt’s roughly $43k ceiling, the BMW i3 with a gas-engine range extender option is technologically the most similar to the Volt than any other plug-in vehicle currently on the Canadian market.
The Volt’s starting MSRP of $36,895, with similar provincial plug-in rebates available in Ontario ($8,231) and Quebec ($8,000), is still pricier than the all-electric Nissan Leaf that starts closer to $31k. However, the Leaf unfortunately doesn’t work as well for nearly as many buyers in Canada (yet), with range-sapping winter temperatures and much less developed fast charging infrastructure than in many parts of the U.S. So whereas the American-built Leaf and Volt trade the plug-in sales title like kids with stacks of sticker doubles, the Nissan so far in the lead there for 2014, no plug-in has been able to approach the Volt’s sales supremacy in Canada.
Could the BMW have enough widespread yet upscale appeal to mount a credible sales challenge to the Volt? The i3 has already won the 2014 World Green Car of the Year, an award the Volt won back in 2011, setting the stage for our quick but thorough drive and evaluation of them both for an afternoon.
2014 BMW i3 vs Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge
Like or hate its unique design, the BMW i3 looks like a car from the future – and it is. As the first in BMW’s new ‘i’ series of vehicles, this small hatchback is built using lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) body panels, sitting on top of a flat battery pack, which BMW says makes it easy to switch body styles by switching out the top “Lifebody” module. These lightweight body panels are produced in a newly constructed facility in Moses Lake, Washington, using virtually emissions-free hydro-electric power, before being shipped to Leipzig for final assembly – where the i3 and upcoming i8 sports car will be the first cars built using only wind-generated electricity.
“The tagline ‘Born electric’ means we don’t have to shoehorn batteries and systems into current gas cars,” said Marc Belcourt, BMW Canada’s national manager for the ‘i’ brand. “We have plenty of support (and investment) from the top.”