Living with a range-extended electric i3 REx
The one thing that continues to impress me about the BMW i3 is how enjoyable it is to drive. Three years later, I still really enjoy driving it every day.
The one-pedal driving experience provided by its strong regenerative braking is something all electric cars should have, in my opinion, and the adaptive cruise control ACC helps make commuting a breeze even on more congested highways.
I really love the minimalist interior. Everything seems to be placed exactly where I’d put it if I were designing the car.
The seats are very comfortable and, as noted before, the outward vision is exceptionally good. The car hasn’t had any squeaks or rattles, and it still feels solid like a new car.
I was a little concerned about how the interior might hold up, because BMW used a lot of new materials in the i3.
To promote sustainable manufacturing, much of the interior is made from recycled plastics. There are also door and dash panels made from lightweight kenaf fibers, a material BMW had never worked with before the i3.
Even the leather seats are made differently: the leather is tanned with an olive-leaf extract, without the use of any of the harsh chemicals normally found in the tanning process.
I was concerned that the seats might wear faster or crack prematurely, but that hasn’t happened. My seats show no visible signs of wear.
The way BMW decided to implement the range-extending two-cylinder engine for North American buyers has been, to say the least, controversial.
2014 BMW i3 REx vs Chevrolet Volt comparison [photos: David Noland, Tom Moloughney]Enlarge Photo
To qualify the i3 as a so-called BEVx under California Air Resources Board rules, thereby garnering more credits for the manufacturer under CARB's zero-emission vehicle sales requirements, BMW restricted the point at which the range extender can activate.
These restrictions, and the removal of the battery's Hold Mode via software led to a lot of criticism and even a class action lawsuit. This topic has been covered on multiple occasions and I'm not going to go into the details of it here, but no long-term review would be complete without at least mentioning it.
Personally, I haven't had any issue with the reduced engine power that quite a few i3 REx owners have experienced. That's primarily due to where I drive: here in New Jersey, the roads are relatively flat.
Sure, there are some hills to climb, but we don't really have mountain passes that require climbing thousands of feet at highway speeds, which is the kind of driving that overtaxes the small 0.65-liter REx engine.
Plus, since I understand how the car works, I keep an eye on the state of charge. When it starts to drop below 3 percent in range-extended mode, I slow down a little and there's no problem.
I've used the car for a few road trips to Vermont, Pennsylvania, and upstate New York, and not once have I had the reduced-power issue. I've found that if I set the cruise control at 70 mph or less, I can pretty much drive anywhere with the REx running, without power loss.
That's not to say this problem isn't an issue.
I have friends in California who like to drive to Lake Tahoe, and the range extender just doesn't supply enough power to make the long mountain climb there.
The decision to eliminate the Hold State that conserves battery range really limited the car's utility, most likely cost BMW some sales, and in the end caused the company a lot of headaches.
I really hope the extra CARB credits were worth it, because it definitely tarnished the ownership experience for a lot of i3 REx owners.
Range and Battery Life
The 2014 i3 REx had an EPA electric-range rating of 72 miles per charge. I've been keeping records of my range to monitor the battery capacity loss over time and so far it's been very promising.
Living in New Jersey, I like to split the year in half when I talk about range. In warmer months (April through September), when the car was new I averaged 78 miles per charge.
2017 BMW i3 electric car during winter snow storm [photo: owner Chris Neff]Enlarge Photo
In colder months (October through March), I averaged 65 miles per charge.
After 3 years and more than 70,000 miles, I'm still averaging 75 miles per charge in the warmer months and 63 miles per charge during the colder months.
I recently dedicated a blog post to this topic, discussing the methods used to calculate my range and the battery-capacity loss.
The minimal loss of range after three years and 70,000 miles indicates the Samsung battery cells used by BMW, along with the battery's thermal-management system, ensure many years and many miles of use for i3 owners.
I doubt that BMW will have to pay out on many battery-capacity loss claims, as its warranty guarantees at least 70 percent capacity for 8 years or 100,000 miles.