The car most comparable to the first Chevrolet Volt is the current BMW i3 fitted with the optional REx range-extending engine.

Both cars run entirely in electric mode until their battery packs are depleted, unlike other plug-in hybrids which switch on their engines under maximum power demand.

But few drivers can say they've owned and driven both--and one who can has contributed his thoughts and comparisons to Green Car Reports.

DON'T MISS: BMW i3 Electric Car: Why California Set Range Requirements, Engine Limits

The following article covers three years with a 2013 Chevrolet Volt and a bit more than a month with a 2015 BMW i3 REx.

It was written by Jeff Pantukhoff, of San Clemente, California, and (lightly) edited by Green Car Reports for length and clarity.

Jeff covers his decision process, his goal of avoiding travel on fossil fuels, and his long-distance trip to get his car home from the dealer where he bought it.

And he compares his new BMW i3 REx to his previous Chevy Volt for his personal uses. He writes ...

2013 Chevrolet Volt

2013 Chevrolet Volt

I absolutely loved my 2013 Volt; it was the best car I had ever owned to this point. It had a sticker price of $44,120 and I leased it  for $405/month, with $800 down, including tax and a lease-protection plan, from a dealer 75 miles from my home in Southern California. The lease gave me 10,000 miles per year.

While shopping, I called seven Chevy dealers with lease ads in all. Only one at that time would actually deal with me on the phone, and that dealer gave me the best deal available at the time for a fully loaded Volt.

In the three years that I owned my Volt, I drove a total of 19,054 miles, experienced no warranty issues, had three recalls costing me zero dollars, and did one oil change and two tire rotations, totaling $86.33 for maintenance.

ALSO SEE: 2017 BMW i3 Electric Car: 100- To 110-Mile Range, Battery Pack Retrofit?

And I burned just 117.6 gallons of fuel. I have the great benefit of free recharging in my garage, as that electricity use is included in my monthly homeowner-association fee.

My previous car had been a 2000 Volkswagen Passat that averaged 20 mpg, so over my three-year Volt lease, I burned 835.7 fewer gallons and saved approximately $2,925 in fuel costs (based on an average of  $3.50 per gallon).

 2000 Volkswagen Passat

2000 Volkswagen Passat

My Passat averaged $1,250 per year in maintenance and repairs, totaling $3,750. Netting out the $1,500 rebate I received from California for the Volt, my lease actually cost about $180 per month--to drive a brand-new, fully warranted $44,120 electric car for three years instead of my 2000 Passat. That made it quite the bargain!


At the time I leased it, it was the best alternative, as I could not afford a Tesla Model S and I had to drive more than 80 miles a day a few times a month. I didn't want to deal with the anxiety of an electric car with less than 100 miles of range.

Overall, my Volt was a pure joy to drive. I always drove it in “L” and the majority of the time in “Sport” mode.

According to the Volt’s stats, my car averaged 150 mpg and I drove solely on electricity more than 75 percent of the time. The funny thing is that every time the gas generator kicked in and I started to burn fossil fuel, I felt really guilty.

MORE: 2014 BMW i3 REx Vs Chevy Volt: Range-Extended Electric Cars Compared

Over the last year I’ve been trying to decide what I would do once my Volt lease was up.

Buying it as a used car was out of the question for two reasons. The residual was way too high (at $27,628) and electric-car technology is changing too fast.

As an early adopter, I evaluated all alternatives and decided that a two-year lease, if I could find one cheap enough to offset the loss of the California rebate (which requires a higher minimum), was all I wanted to do

(Note: When I leased my i3 in October, BMW offered only 24- or 36-month leases. Now it offers 30-month leases too, which qualify for the California rebate of $2,500 for an all-electric i3 and $1,500 for an i3 REx.)

2013 Chevrolet Volt and its replacement, 2015 BMW i3 REx [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2013 Chevrolet Volt and its replacement, 2015 BMW i3 REx [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

Chevy had already announced the 200-mile range Bolt EV with a delivery date of 2017, and of course the Tesla Model 3 will be delivered… well who really knows when? Perhaps 2018, perhaps not.

Since I loved my 2013 Volt so much, I called the general manager at the Chevy dealer where I had leased it and asked if they offered 24-month leases on the 2016 Chevy Volt.

He told me they weren't, so with a new Volt out of the running, only one other car intrigued me: That was the battery-electric version of the BMW i3.

CHECK OUT: BMW i3 REx Electric Car: 'Coding' Unlocks Features Owners Want (And May Void Warranty)

I searched online for 24-month leases on 2015 models, and found an ad from a San Francisco BMW dealer offering a one-time payment of $6,888, including tax, for a 24-month lease on a base 2015 i3 with a list price of $43,945.

I called the dealership, and they had the color I wanted for the $6,888 price. But being from Southern California, I called five other BMW dealers in my area to see if they would match it--none would even come close.

Planning the trip

Since I had business in San Francisco for two days the following week, I called the sales rep back and told him I wanted the car, but would not be able to do the deal until the following Thursday.

2015 BMW i3 4-door HB Dashboard

2015 BMW i3 4-door HB Dashboard

The rep told me the car that met my specs was at the port and scheduled for delivery the Monday prior to my arrival, and that they had put my name on it.

Now for the fun part.

Since I was tackling range anxiety head-on, I had to plan my return trip from San Francisco to San Clemente, approximately 600 miles, with a vehicle that had a rating of 81 electric miles--with a half-hour recharge to 60 miles if I could find a DC fast charger.

I used PlugShare to see what charger sites I could find along my route, and I also decided to ask my girlfriend to join me to make a romantic weekend trip out of the journey. We planned to stop overnight in Paso Robles for wine tasting, then drive to Santa Barbara the next day and spend the night there.

After an hour or so of research, I had my charging stations mapped out, along with hotels to stay at with charging stations. I was all set, or so I thought.

Last-minute hitch

The day before leasing the car, I called my sales rep to make sure the car would be ready by noon when I arrived from the airport. He told me that my car was still at the port, and hadn't been released--and he was not sure when it would be. He suggested I should come in the next week to get the car.

2015 BMW i3 4-door HB Steering Wheel

2015 BMW i3 4-door HB Steering Wheel

I explained that I was flying in tomorrow, I would only be San Francisco for two days, and I had made all my hotel reservations--so I had to have the car tomorrow by noon. He called me back later to say the dealer only had a 2015 i3 REx in my color, with more options, and a sticker price of $49,295.

He said the one-time lease payment for two years would now be $8,400. I told him no way, and dealt directly with the sales manager. In the end, I got the i3 REx for a single payment of $7,999, still a screaming deal for a model almost $4,000 pricier.

Smooth sailing

Although I now had a REx with about 70 gasoline miles available as insurance on top of its 72-mile electric range, I still wanted to do the entire journey without burning any gasoline. (And for the next two years, I will try to burn as little gas as possible.)

The next day I picked up my new i3, in brilliant Solar Orange--the only color for me, even though my last nine cars have all been white. The i3 is a bit quirky in design, but it makes quite a statement in that color.

All went very smoothly and easily at the dealer; I left there with 65 miles of charge, and drove 59.5 miles to my hotel in San Jose.

2013 Chevrolet Volt and its replacement, 2015 BMW i3 REx [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2013 Chevrolet Volt and its replacement, 2015 BMW i3 REx [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

I pulled up to the Level 2 charger with 31 miles remaining on the display, so the hilly drive and my driving style had actually added estimated range. I recharged overnight.

Quirks and complaints

The only complaints I had my first day with my i3 is that I didn't like the location of the start-stop knob on the right side of the instrument cluster, which is awkward to push.

Also, the drive selector is reversed, with “Drive” at the top and “Reverse” at the bottom--which nearly caused me to have an accident when I thought the car was in drive. What were the BMW engineers thinking?!?

2015 BMW i3 4-door HB Gear Shift

2015 BMW i3 4-door HB Gear Shift

They also put the charging port on the rear passenger side of the car, which makes it awkward to charge, requiring me to back into some charging stations. Again, what were they thinking?

And, there is no AM radio, which seems just bizarre. I was told it's due to interference with the electric drivetrain, but the Volt’s AM radio worked just fine--and it has an electric drivetrain too. Again, you would think the BMW engineers could figure it out.

Hitting the road

With meetings nearby on Friday, I didn't drive. Saturday morning I picked up my friend at the San Jose Airport, and we headed south with 60 miles of charge showing. There was a NRG evGo DC fast-charging station in Gilroy, about 40 miles away, so that was our first stop. After lingering at Starbucks for 25 minutes, we left with 70 miles.

Our next stop was a second NRG evGo DC fast charger at Nob Hills Foods in Salinas, 35 miles away. Unfortunately that charger would not connect to my car, so I called NRG customer service. They tried to fix it for about 30 minutes, but still no luck--so I moved over to the Level 2 charger. Which was out of service.

2015 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Keefer's, King City, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Keefer's, King City, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

The next DC fast charger was 49 miles away at Keefer’s in King City, and the i3 was showing 51 miles of range. Since the car was adding electric miles to the estimated range on each leg, I chanced it. What I didn't know is that this leg is basically flat or slightly uphill, so we didn't regenerate any electric miles.

The REx is set up to kick in automatically with 6 percent of battery charge remaining, or 4 electric miles--and it did so with about 2 miles to go, spoiling my all-electric trip. At least I now knew the range extender worked, and it proved both seamless and much quieter than the Volt’s generator.

Meeting other owners

When we pulled up to the fast charger, another Solar Orange i3 was plugged in, so we went into the restaurant. Only one couple was eating, so I asked if they were charging their car and told them I had one just like it. They went outside to look at my car and check their charge status.

2015 BMW i3 REx charging at The Oaks Hotel, Paso Robles, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx charging at The Oaks Hotel, Paso Robles, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

Fifteen minutes later they were charged, so I plugged in--and found out not all DC fast chargers are created equal. This ChargePoint station operated at 24 kilowatts, not the 50-kw rate of the evGo stations. It took 90 minutes to get to 62 miles of charge as we lingered over lunch.

Our next stop was the Oaks Hotel in Paso Robles, 53 miles away. It offered free overnight charging, so we arrived there with 18 miles left, went wine-tasting, and then charged overnight.

Day Two

We left Paso Robles with 75 miles of charge and drove the 45 miles to Pismo Beach, charging at the Kon Tiki Inn with 43 miles showing. The inn sits on a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean, so we took a long walk enjoying the sights and 45 minutes later we left with 73 miles of charge.

2015 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Kon Tiki Inn, Pismo Beach, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Kon Tiki Inn, Pismo Beach, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

Our next stop was the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott ChargePoint DC fast charger which was 51 miles down the road and we pulled up to it with 22 electric miles left. We went to the lobby, watched some football, and 30 minutes later left with 77 miles of range, headed to our hotel in Santa Barbara.

We stayed at the Brisas del Mar, which offered charging for $2 for every 4 hours. That is all my i3 needed, so the next morning we left with 72 miles and headed for The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks, 56 miles away.

2013 Chevrolet Volt and its replacement, 2015 BMW i3 REx [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2013 Chevrolet Volt and its replacement, 2015 BMW i3 REx [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

We arrived with 20 miles showing and charged 30 minutes on a 50-kw NRG evGo charger while we lounged at Starbucks.

More ABB issues

With 70 miles showing, we headed to Carson Kia, but their DC fast charger would not connect to the car. It was the exact same problem with the same ABB charger that I experienced in Salinas. After 30 minutes on the phone with the tech trying to reset it, I finally gave up and looked for the next charging station.

It was 6 miles away and we showed 8 miles of charge, so we headed to the ChargePoint DC fast charger at “Fresh & Easy”--and again, 2 miles away, the REx kicked in.

2015 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Fresh & Easy, Carson, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Fresh & Easy, Carson, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

When we arrived at the charging station, we found another i3 plugged in, only the second one we’d seen total on the three-day trip. Luckily as soon as I parked, the i3’s owner walked around the corner and told me he had plugged in about 10 minutes earlier and would plug me in 20 minutes when he left.

We had lunch across the street at Denny’s, and returned in 45 minutes to find it charged up to 65 miles. With only 37 miles to go to get home, off we went.

Warning light

I immediately noticed that the yellow check engine warning light had flipped on after only a total of exactly 4 miles on the REx, so I called and made an appointment for warranty repair the next day.

It turned out it was the “actuator drive–charging socket cover” which BMW replaced under warranty.

In all, my trip from San Francisco to San Clemente covered 572 miles. Over the next three weeks, I drove another 1,049 miles for a total of 1,621 for the month--all but 5.5 miles of it all-electric. Notably, those 5.5 guilty miles were all a result of charging stations being out of order.

On various occasions I tried both “Eco Pro” and “Eco Pro Plus," finding that “Eco Pro” is still comfortable on hot days, effective, and worth it--but “Eco Pro Plus” mode was just not worth it. On hot days, it disables the air conditioning, and the cabin gets very warm very quickly, though on temperate days, I found it very effective.

2015 BMW i3 REx charging at Crevier BMW, Santa Ana, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx charging at Crevier BMW, Santa Ana, California [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx cargo capacity [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx cargo capacity [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx cargo capacity [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

2015 BMW i3 REx cargo capacity [photo: Jeff Pantukhoff]

As for cargo capacity, my brother and his wife visited for a week with two large suitcases, both of which fit into the i3’s rear storage area without having to fold a seat--which was a pleasant surprise.

Both of them sat in the back seat at one time or another, and found them comfortable, with enough legroom if the front seat is moved forward just a few inches. At times, my work as an underwater cameraman requires me to carry a lot of gear; with both seats down, the i3 easily handles all of my gear, and offers just a bit less storage than the Volt did.

Overall, after about a month driving my i3, I find it a pure joy. It sits higher than the Volt and has much better visibility all the way around. It takes corners like it's on rails, and even with its skinny tires, the ride is comparable to the 2013 Volt.

But the acceleration and handling are far superior in the i3. As much as I loved my Volt for three years, after just a month in an i3, I have to say I love it even more!


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