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Top Gear host to buy a BMW i3 for ‘different sort of pleasure in motoring’

James May, a host on the popular UK car show, is planning to purchase a BMW i3 REx. He conceded that electric motors are better for propelling vehicles than the combustion engines that his show typically favors.

The show Top Gear has always appealed to so-called ‘petrol heads’ and is not known for its glowing reviews of hybrid and electric vehicles; in fact, Tesla actually sued the BBC program for libel and malicious falsehood for blatantly staging a disastrous drive of the Roadster back in 2011.

The show appears to have come around recently, and atoned for its earlier Tesla-bashing by gushing over the Tesla Model S, calling it “the most important car Top Gear has tested.” Now Transport Evolved reports that one of the show’s three presenters, 51-year-old James May, has told BBC radio of his plan to buy the range-extended version of the BMW i3.

“We’ve known for a long time that the electric motor is the ideal way to propel an electric car,” said May. “We’re discovering that there’s a different sort of pleasure in motoring in an electric car because of the smoothness, the silence.”

May conceded that battery advances have at last made the electric car practical, although he also conceded that lack of infrastructure is the weak link. This may not be entirely true, but owning a range-limited EV does without a doubt require more trip planning ahead of time, as May acknowledged in the interview.

To combat his own range anxiety, the host opted for the range-extended version of the i3 out of “pure cowardice.” Adding the 2-cylinder gasoline engine reduces the vehicle’s all-electric range from 81 to 72 miles, but adds another 78 miles of emergency range once the gasoline engine kicks in.

“You don’t have to use it, and I will try not to use it,” he said of the backup engine. “It’s a bit like when I tell the doctor I’m not going to do any drinking or smoking but I will do a bit. I will try to use the electric car infrastructure as much as possible.”

It is great to see one of the hosts of arguably the most prominent automotive television show switch to an EV. The i3 has drawn very positive reviews, and no doubt May used his expertise to make a highly informed decision.

Given the history of Top Gear, this news confirms the beginning of a shift in the way that automotive purists view electric vehicles. The acknowledgement from such a respected ‘petrol head’ that the electric motor is the superior method of propulsion is music to the ears of electric vehicle advocates.

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Yes, it does seem like there's a shift going on among gearheads for EVs. Did you see that Tesla was driven around the track to open the Formula 1 race in Monaco?