I HAVE seen the future. And it's going to be a life-altering experience. BMW had a fleet of exotic and unique machinery for South African journalists to drive at George in the beautiful Western Cape last week, to give us a taste of what's on the horizon for motorists in the very near future – and we are talking about late next year.
Expect to see (and own) the futuristic BMW i3 and the i8, both of which set the benchmark for future electric/ hybrid vehicles.
Previously known as the Megacity Vehicle, the BMW i3 is the group's first series-produced all-electric car, which focuses squarely on the mobility challenges in urban areas.
Then comes the BMW i8 Concept, (which is now a reality) a sports car of the most contemporary variety – forward-looking, intelligent and innovative.
Its unique plug-in hybrid solution brings together a combustion engine and an electric drive system to create an extraordinary driving experience, complemented by extremely low fuel consumption and emissions.
And to experience the future, BMW South Africa had a fleet of very special test cars, which had already chalked up thousands of kilometres, for us to drive in and around the George and Oudtshoorn area.
Day One saw us driving the BMW ActiveHybrid 3 and 5 vehicles, which are forerunners of what is to come.
The performance was staggering and if one was not aware of the hybrid technology under the bonnet, it was a safe bet that most drivers would assume they were ordinary petrol-powered vehicles.
But they were not, but rather a major step forward for BMW and the rest of the motor industry.
Day two was my life-altering experience.
First off was the E-Drive Mini E, an electric vehicle built on a Mini chassis with zero emissions.
Acceleration was staggering but torque steer was evident when unleashing the power.
The electric Mini accelerates to a top speed of about 160km/h without hesitation and smoothly like a sewing machine motor picking up the revs. Lift the foot off the accelerator and the car drops its speed quite dramatically.
Indeed there's very little braking needed as the motor regenerates the power from the slowing action to recharge the lithium-ion battery pack.
Next up was the more sophisticated Active E, which is a result of the knowledge gained from thousands of kilometres testing the Mini E throughout the world.
This four-seater, which resembles a 3 Series, is a fine example of the merging of BMW's emerging technology and real world experience.
There's less of the pocket rocket go-kart experience that the Mini delivers and is rather in line with what one expects from a luxury car maker.
The idea behind the driving experience was to showcase what we can expect next year when the BMW i3 and i8 hit our roads.
Expect to see the electric motor in the i3 situated over the rear axle – which generates output of 125kW and impressive torque of 250Nm from a standstill – and a small turning circle combine to deliver pleasingly crisp driving characteristics. The i3 accelerates from 0 to 60km/h in under four seconds and from rest to 100km/h in less than eight seconds. Then there's the ultra beautiful i8 Sports car. The i8 has is an innovative plug-in hybrid concept which combines the modified electric drive system from the i3 – fitted over its front axle – with a high-performance three-cylinder combustion engine producing 164kW and 300Nm at the rear.
Working in tandem, they allow the two-drive systems to display their respective talents to the full, delivering the performance of a sports car but the fuel consumption of a small car.
Acceleration of 0 to 100km/h in under five seconds combined with fuel consumption in the European cycle of under three litres per 100km are figures currently beyond the capability of any vehicle powered by a combustion engine of comparable performance. Thanks to its large lithium-ion battery, which can be charged from a domestic power supply, the i8 can travel up to 35km on electric power alone. Added to which, the 2+2-seater offers enough space for four people, giving it a high level of everyday practicality.