BMW i3 ‘virtual test drive’ app (2013) CAR review

Published: 13 September 2013

Though we’ve seen new the BMW i3 in full production trim, and had a ride in the carbonfibre electric city car, there’s still a short wait before anyone can get behind the wheel of a showroom-spec example in the UK – or is there?

BMW has launched a smartphone and tablet app – ‘BMW i3: Become Electric’, which it claims allows users to virtually test drive the new i3 without so much as setting foot outside their front door, yet alone finding the time to head to a BMW dealership. It’s available now on the Apple App Store, and from 26 September 2013 on Google Play.

Our guide to electric BMW cars

Test driving a BMW i3 on an iPhone? Sounds preposterous…

BMW says the app ‘invites users to assume the position of the driver and supporting actor in a dramatic, fast-paced race to save the world… [the app is] shot in 360-[degree] detail using complete surround sound’. CAR fancied saving the world and trying out one of 2013’s most hotly anticipated cars, so we’ve downloaded the app and given it a go.

What’s it like?

Better sampled on a tablet than a phone for a start – the bigger the screen, the better. As for the actual driving experience, you’ll only control the i3 once: tapping the screen to ‘press’ the accelerator pedal. Users can operate the sat-nav when prompted too, but mostly you’re just a passenger in the storyline.

Browse BMW i3 cars for sale

The ‘show-your-friends’ feature is the 360-degree interactivity of the app. Using the accelerometer in your device, you control the viewing aspect by tilting and turning your phone or tablet. Want to turn to face your excited, world-saving passenger? Simply tilt to the right and look across at the agitated chap who’s inexplicably chosen a 168bhp EV as a do-or-die getaway car. Then look left to spot the hooded figures chasing your mission down. Why Harry Potter’s Dementors are after a BMW i3 we’re not too sure…

What do we learn about the i3 from the app?

In terms of facts and figures, nothing you can’t glean from our original news story. The cabin looks rather smart at night, and visibility looks decent thanks to the elevated driving position. That’s about it for this novelty app, though. Why not incorporate some sort of driving level where the idea is to avoid draining the battery and firing up the range-extender engine, BMW?

Still, the 360-degree panning vision is fun, and it’s a free app, after all – worth checking out as a preview of the future of new car promotion, and then consigning to the Recycle Bin. We’ll wait with interest for the real-life test drive of BMW’s potentially revolutionary city car – and its i8 supercar sibling. In the meantime, if you’ve downloaded the BMW i3 Become Electric app, tell us your thoughts on BMW’s virtual test drive idea in the comments below.

>> Click here to read CAR's BMW i8 news story