Occasionally in life we encounter something new that feels both revolutionary and obvious at the same time. I’ve experienced such a thing recently, thanks to the BMW i3’s mobile app.
Although we have had a mild winter so far this year, with few really cold mornings, there have recently been a few chilly enough to experiment with the car’s 'preconditioning' feature.
This is one of several features of the BMW app designed to help i3 and i8 users take full advantage of the functionality of their car.
The idea is that when the car is plugged in, as long as you can predict the time you plan to jump in and go, you can program it to use mains power to warm everything up before you leave.
So how does it work in practice?
In short, beautifully well. The app isn’t perfectly designed - it takes a while to work out how to find your way around it. But once you’re at the right page in 'Settings' it’s very easy to set a departure time and turn on the 'Preconditioning' function.
Then you hit 'Send' to give the car its instructions via the internet.
But it’s what happens at departure time that’s the real magic. As you approach the car, you notice that it’s not silent. The sound of the heater fan is just audible from outside. Unlock the car, unplug the cable, and open the door, to be greeted by a cloud of really warm air. It feels odd but very pleasant to settle down into a warm seat before the first journey of the day. And no signs of condensation or frost on any windows. By contrast, on the first morning I tried it out, there was a thin layer of frost on the windscreen of my wife’s car which was alongside the i3 on the drive.
The logical rationale for preconditioning the car is to minimise the impact on range from using the fan heater and heated seats after you leave. These devices are two of the most power-hungry pieces of equipment in the car. And the logic works - it’s noticeable how much more slowly the range counter drops when you don’t need to have all heating on full for the first couple of miles.
But never mind the logic - feel the emotions! The playwright George Bernard Shaw famously wrote that 'all progress depends on the unreasonable man'. Is it unreasonable in 2016 to expect a car to be able to be completely ready to drive when you need it? Modern cars can brake for us and steer for us. They can 'see' all around. They know where they are. Why should they not keep us warm from a standing start on a cold morning? It’s not just about comfort - there’s a safety benefit, too, if you can see out properly from the moment you drive off on a frosty morning.
The i3 is proving a wonderful daily companion. Many of its virtues are completely predictable, but in other respects it changes the way you think about what you expect from a car. This is not a normal journey!