Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles – Dislikes

BMW i | June 23rd, 2014 by 18

I have to say that overall I am very pleased with my i3. It’s living up to what I had hoped it would be, and …

I have to say that overall I am very pleased with my i3. It’s living up to what I had hoped it would be, and after a month of ownership I’m convinced it was the right electric vehicle choice for me. However that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. In fact it’s far from perfect, but so is every other car out there. As much as I really love my i3, I can probably list a couple dozen things that I would have done differently. Listed below are some of the top things that I’m not particularly fond of.

READ: BMW i3 – Likes

The Range. So let’s just get this out of the way now. I’m disappointed that BMW didn’t deliver a real “100 mile” electric vehicle as they had been promising. The 81 mile EPA range on the BEV i3 and the 72 mile rating for the REx, falls a little short in my opinion. If the BEV i3 had an EPA range of 95 miles per charge or greater then I wouldn’t have ordered the REx, and I think a lot of others share that opinion. I hope I’m wrong, but I believe this is going to hold back BEV i3 sales significantly. I think 82 miles falls just short of what many US customers will find acceptable for a premium electric vehicle.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

I took this picture from an i3 display at the LA Auto Show. Somehow 100 miles turned into 82 miles once the production i3 was revealed.

No Proper State of Charge Gauge.When I first found out that the i3 wouldn’t display the state of charge in numeric form, I was dumbfounded. Instead, the i3 state of charge display is just four bars that slowly erode as the range diminishes, and it displays the predicted amount of miles the car “thinks” you can travel. In other words, a Guess O Meter. When Nissan initially offered the LEAF, this is basically the same way they displayed the state of charge. Their customers complained so much, that after a couple years Nissan finally realized they made a mistake and added a proper state of charge display. I dedicated an entire blog post to this back in December of last year when it was revealed that the i3 wouldn’t display the SOC. Still to this day I am in denial and refuse to believe it’s not coming in a future software update. There is absolutely no logical reason for omitting it. It was simply a mistake on BMW’s part and like Nissan they will indeed realize that and add it to the display at some point. I’m not saying they need to eliminate the bar system they have, just give us both and let the customer decide which they prefer to rely on.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

Looks like the battery is 3 & 3/16th’s out of 4 bars full. Wonderful.

No Battery Temperature Readout. Like the state of charge gauge but to a lessor degree, this is a little puzzling. Maybe the majority of i3 owners might not really care what their battery temperature is, but I do and I know quite a few others who do too. It’s further puzzling because both of BMW’s beta test cars that I drove, the MINI-E and the ActiveE, had battery temperature displays.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

Like the MINI-E before it, the ActiveE had a clear state of charge and battery temperature display. It’s puzzling why both of these important features were omitted on the i3.

I like to see how well the thermal management system is performing, how hot the battery may have gotten while baking in the direct sun of a parking lot for a few hours, or how cold the cells are after parking outside overnight in the dead of winter. Knowing the battery temperature helps me know what to expect of the car performance-wise and can also help me to keep the cells from getting too hot in certain circumstances. The car knows the battery temperature, just provide that somewhere on a screen buried in iDrive somewhere and I guarantee many i3 owners will appreciate it.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

When you are in “Glide Mode” the white bar is in the position it is shown here. As you use power the bar moves to the right (ePower) and if you are recuperating energy with regenerative braking, the bar moves to the left (Charge) of center.

Glide Position Difficult to Achieve and Maintain. BMW describes the i3’s glide feature as such: “The BMW i3’s accelerator has a distinct “neutral” position; i.e. rather than switching straight to energy recuperation when the driver eases off the accelerator, the electric motor uses zero torque control to decouple from the drivetrain and deploy only the available kinetic energy for propulsion. In this mode, the BMW i3 glides along using virtually no energy at all.” I’ve only had the car for a month, but it seems more difficult to find the glide (or coasting) position and then hold it, than it was on the ActiveE. A few years ago I was talking with a BMW engineer about this and I suggested there be a switch to turn off regen completely if the driver wished. I would prefer to do this on long, high speed highway driving where I want to coast as much as possible. I was told that they probably wouldn’t offer such a switch to disable it because they would be worried the driver would forget they deactivated the regen, and possibly have an accident because they expected it to engage later on. I still think this would be a good solution for maximizing efficiency by coasting at higher speeds.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

The kenaf deck in direct sunlight

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

You can see the reflection of the dash

Windshield Glare. The majority of the top deck of the dashboard is made of compressed kenaf fibers. The use of this material has garnered some criticism because some people think it looks cheap, and not worthy of being in a car made by a premium automaker. I actually like the look of it but what I don’t like is that in direct sunlight I can see the reflection of the entire dashboard up on the windshield. After a few weeks I’m getting used to it and it isn’t as annoying as it was when I first noticed it, but it definitely isn’t ideal. The shiny kenaf surface does cast a pretty clear reflection on bright, sunny days.

No AM Radio. I like to listen to AM talk radio and I am a Mets fan (unfortunately). Mets games are only broadcast on AM so I was disappointed to find out that i3 doesn’t have an AM radio. BMW spokesman Dave Buchko recently told Jim Motavalli the reasoning for excluding the AM radio was primarily due to interference from the electric motor: “We learned from our experience with MINI E and BMW ActiveE that the electric motor causes interference with the AM signal. Rather than frustrate customers with inferior reception, the decision was made to leave it off. HD Radio is standard on the i3 and through multi-casting, many traditional AM stations in key markets are available on secondary and tertiary HD signals.” I admit the AM radio in the MINI-E had really bad interference, so much so that I rarely listened to it, but it wasn’t bad on the ActiveE. Other electric cars have AM radios and they don’t seem to be all that bad. This is a little bit of a head-scratcher to me. I’m learning to live without it, but why should I have to?

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

Grooves like this in the pavement can be felt more in the i3 than in other cars. I believe it’s because of the vehicles light weight combined with its narrow tires.

The Thin Tires Can Get Caught in Pavement Grooves.When roads are paved, unless they are narrow secondary or tertiary roads, they are usually done in multiple strips. This also allows the street to remain open with one lane of traffic flow at a time during the paving process. The problem is, the line where the two sections of the new pavement meet has tiny gaps and over time the road degrades with the help of water and ice and a groove develops. The i3’s tires are so thin that they are effected by these grooves and uneven pavement more so than most cars that are heavier and have wider tires. It doesn’t present a safety problem; the car doesn’t lose any control, you just have to be cognizant of this and make sure you have a grip on the steering wheel when one wheel dips into pavement grooves – which is a good idea in any event. I also believe the very sensitive steering of the i3 adds to this sensation that the grooves are trying to steer the car for you. The i3 has very tight and sensitive steering. You only need to slightly lean in one direction or the other to make a turn, and it is something that takes a week or so to get used to. It has by far the most sensitive steering I have ever experienced on any car. The turning radius is also a freakishly-short 32.3 feet.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

The Key FOB will open the front trunk, but not the rear hatch.

Key FOB Doesn’t Open the Hatch. This is a minor complaint, and since my i3 has comfort access I can open the locked hatch just by grabbing the hatch handle as long as I have the key in my pocket. I would still prefer to have a button on the FOB that remotely opens the hatch. There is a button that opens the front trunk, which I will rarely ever need to open, I don’t know why BMW didn’t use that button for the rear hatch, or just add a button and have one for both.

Regen Braking is Less Aggressive. Before I start complaining, let me say that I’ve driven just about every modern electric vehicle and plug-in-hybrid and I believe the i3 has absolutely the very best regenerative braking system on the market. Telsa probably comes in second and the Volt, when driven in low mode, is right behind the Model S. BMW dialed back the regen on the i3 a bit, probably in the vicinity of about 10% when compared to the ActiveE. People who never drove the ActiveE or MINI-E won’t understand what I’m complaining about because the i3’s regenerative braking is still strong and very smooth. It can bring the car to a stop without using the friction brakes faster than any regenerative braking system on any other EV will. Still, I liked it stronger like it was on the ActiveE and MINI-E. I guess regenerative braking is like coffee. Some will prefer the Blonde Roast with cream while others want the Dark Roast served black. Give me my regen as strong as possible please. I recommended to BMW that they offer different regen settings and let the customer decide how strong they like it, but that didn’t come to pass on the i3. It’s still very good, and integrates seamlessly when decelerating, I would just prefer it a bit stronger.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

When the car is locked the connector will not release, even when charging is finished

Locking ConnectorWhile charging, the connector is locked to the car as long as the vehicle is locked. The connector cannot be released unless you unlock the doors, even when the charging session is complete. I’ve found this very annoying and so have many other i3 owners. The ability to lock the connector to the car should be configurable in iDrive, giving the owner options like “Unlock when charge is complete” and “Do not lock connector”. Allow the owner to decide what works best for them. Many people like to share chargers, especially in EV-friendly California. These people will leave a note on their dashboard telling others it’s OK to unplug them and use the EVSE once they have finished charging or after a specific time. The locking connector prevents any charger sharing unless you leave your vehicle unlocked, which is not a viable option in most circumstances. I can understand this locking feature would be necessary in Europe because the charging cables are not tethered to the EVSE like they are here in the US and this prevents theft. It seems BMW may have built the i3 for the European charging process and didn’t consider the inconvenience it would cause for US customers. This is another feature I believe we’ll see changed in a software update at some point in the future.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

When I navigate this bend in the road by my house, the regenerative braking disengages. Since the road is also downgrade I find I have to use the friction brakes to keep from accelerating down the hill. I didn’t have to do that in the past while driving my MINI-E or ActiveE as both would allow the regenerative braking system to hold back the car during turns like this.

Regen Braking Disengages During Hard Turns. I’m a little surprised with the second complaint I have with the regenerative braking. While negotiating turns, the regen sometimes disengages which will give the sensation that the car is actually speeding up. Of course it isn’t (unless you are going downhill), but when you are in full regen and it suddenly disengages, it does feel like the car is accelerating when if fact it just isn’t being slowed down by the regenerative braking. During the MINI-E and ActiveE programs, I personally spoke to dozens of people who contacted me asking if my car ever suddenly surged ahead. What was happening with those cars was different though. If the regenerative braking system was operating and the car hit a pothole or a bump that caused the wheels to lose traction, the traction control would disengage the regen in an attempt to prevent the loss of control. When this happened, it would give the driver the sensation of sudden acceleration, especially when driving downhill. This was unsettling if you didn’t understand what was happening and typically when this happened the owner would take the car to the dealer for service. The dealer would look it over and find nothing wrong and give it back to them. Frustrated, many of the drivers then contacted me to ask if anyone else had complained of this sudden acceleration problem. After explaining what was actually happening to them they understood what was going on. I would also caution them to always have their foot ready to press the friction brake when they were using regen to slow the car down, especially if they were approaching the car in front of them as they were decelerating.

BMW has indeed improved the whole traction control/regenerative braking system communication and the i3 performs much better than the MINI-E or ActiveE did when the tires lose traction during regenerative braking. However it now disengages during cornering, and neither of its predecessors ever did this. I can tell by how it’s working that it isn’t a flaw in my system, it was intentionally designed to do this, perhaps to prevent the thin tires from losing traction while negotiating hard turns. Again, it’s not a problem as long as you know it’s going to happen and you are ready to use the friction brakes if necessary. I’ve found it mostly happens while I’m taking a highway off-ramp that circles down under the highway overpass. It seems the speed I’m traveling combined with the sharp, constant turn is too much and the traction control preemptively disengages the regen in an attempt to prevent the loss of traction. I believe this is something the dealers need to communicate to the customer. It can be a safety issue if new i3 owners aren’t prepared for it. Just like with the MINI-E and ActiveE, I’m certain there will be customers that believe there is something wrong with their car and will take it to the dealer for service. And just as I’m sure that will happen, I’m sure the service departments won’t have a clue what the customers are talking about and will tell them they checked it out and car is fine. Unless the service manager happens to read this post.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

I haven’t had this happen to me, but a couple people have reported it.

Software Bugs and Various Glitches.There have been a number of various software bugs and other issues reported since the car launched here in the US about two months ago. For example, all of the i3s with the range extender option have had their check engine light (CEL) come on sporadically. Evidently there is nothing actually wrong with the engine, it’s just a software bug and BMW has just released a patch to stop the light from coming on, but it’s still not something you want to see on a new car. I’ve also heard of a couple people have their onboard charger fail, and a few others report that the car flashed a “Drivetrain Malfunction” warning. In the cases I’ve heard about, it just cleared itself and the owner was able to take it to the dealer to be checked and there was no problem found. Honestly I did expect there would be some initial glitches, and it’s really too early to tell if these are isolated cases or if it’s an indication that there are indeed going to be more problems to come. Other than the phantom CEL warning, my car has been perfect so far, but I’ll be watching it closely and reporting on what I experience as well as what I hear from other i3 owners as time passes.

Living with BMW i3: After 2,000 Miles   Dislikes

The dangling plastic charge port cap seen here isn’t really too high on my list of annoyances, but I have heard quite a few other i3 owners complain about it. I even know a couple that have cut it off.

Minor Annoyances:
There are a few things that really don’t bother me that much, but I know other i3 owners who have complained about these things:

1) Charge port plastic caps. After you open the watertight charge port door you need to remove a plastic cap before you plug the car in. It really doesn’t bother me, but I agree it isn’t the best solution. a spring loaded cover that flips over and snaps in place like the ActiveE had would be better. Is this really even needed though?

2) The adaptive cruise control system will sometimes disengage for no apparent reason. When it works, it’s really a great feature, but it does have a tendency to disengage by itself. It seems like driving in the rain, in direct sunlight and going under overpasses give it the most trouble. I have used it a couple dozen times now and it has disengaged four times by itself. Not a big issue, but one that BMW will hopefully improve.

3) The “Door Ajar” warning light is very sensitive. If you don’t close the doors pretty hard, the door ajar warning light will come on while you are driving. The doors aren’t in any danger of opening, I just think the warning trigger is just too sensitive.

4) BMW advertises that for home charging a maximum charging power of 7.4 kW can be reached”.  I have yet to be able to crack 7kW’s and usually see my charge rate at around 6.7 kW to 6.9 kW. Sure, this is a minor complaint, but my supply is more than adequate to accommodate at least 7.2 kW, so why won’t the car pull it? I’ve talked to other i3 owners about this also, and 6.9 kW is about the most anybody has seen the car pull.

5) No programmable button on the key FOB to initiate battery and cabin preconditioning. The European i3s have this feature, but for some reason it was left off the US i3s. You can still initiate cabin and battery preconditioning via the smartphone app, but having it on the key FOB is easier. Some people (you know who you are!) have told me it was a deal breaker and wouldn’t buy an i3 without it.    

I’m sure I’ll come up with more dislikes as time goes on, and I’ll continue to post them here. Even considering everything I’ve detailed here, I’m thoroughly enjoying my i3. I drove it a total of 162 miles today and less than 2 miles was with the REx running. The range extender allows me to really push the range limit without worrying if I’ll make my destination. Oh yeah, that reminds me of one more complaint. I want the ability to turn the range extender off if I know I’ll make my destination. Twice so far the range extender turned on when I was less than a 1/4 mile from my house and once it turned on while I was pulling up my driveway! I believe the European i3s do allow the operator to turn it off manually, so that’s just another feature (sunroof, programmable key FOB, REx hold mode) that we don’t get here in the States. Yeah, I know… first world problems.

[Source: bmwi3blogspot]
  • Amro

    Some of these issues are also present on my 2014 335i:
    – Adaptive cruise disabling itself
    – Preconditioning removed from US build of BMW’s Remote app
    – Various software glitches with bluetooth streaming and notifications when using iOS 7

  • Rufus

    I was wondering why you would wrap a car that I believe is 95% recyclable with vinyl? What do you plan on doing with the vinyl when you’re done with it? I receive my car in about 4 weeks. I believe they stopped production of the i3 for a couple of weeks to fix the computer bugs you wrote about. .

  • Talha Basit

    Just ordered a Rex version. Will write in with my issues after it arrives.

    • Horatiu B.

      Great. Let us know

  • CDspeed

    Not bad overall, everyone has a wish, and occasional bug fix list. My 550i GT could definitely use bigger brakes, you can feel the weight of the car when you stop, and need to brake a few seconds early for a smooth stop. My 5GT and a few others I’ve had with the panoramic sunroof needs a better wind deflector, the deflector has a thin mesh material attached to complete it’s surface area, it could be better. And I had two recalls the first year I owned it, 1 to fix the float in the gas tank, and 2 a small water pump used to cool the turbos. Like your list though they were all minor things you can either ignore, or fix later if need be.

  • gerykatona

    Very good points sir. I have a couple more dislikes from my short drive in an i3. The ride is a little too firm. The i3 has the lowest COG of any BMW, so you’d think they would be able to better take advantage of that by softening the ride a little. I know the car is rather narrow, but still. And the too firm ride was compounded by the stuctural rigidity which did not feel as solid as I expected. Frankly the structure sounded a bit squeaky like it was a 2-piece design which of course it is. Immediately after I drove the i3, I got back into my 3+ year old Leaf and could immediately tell it was both more rigid (1-piece uni-body construction) and had a more compliant ride. Pretty dramatic difference to be honest. As an engineer, I know how difficult it is to get everything just right on the first attempt when introducing some much new technology at once.

    • gerykatona

      One more thing about range. The target market for these cars is the 80% of the population who are city dwellers and average 37 miles per day. Batteries are expensive and heavy. It is not hard to build a car to go 100miles, but then you’d be asking the target market to pay more for something they don’t need. If you are not a city dweller, then maybe electric cars have not arrived just yet. I find there is too much chatter about range. However, the real range issue is not the EPA rating. It is after 4~5 years. That is when range becomes an issue after the battery has deteriorated by 25% or so. If my 3-year old Leaf could still go 70 miles like it did, I’d be a happy camper today. This was my main concern before I bought the car. The product planning goes something like this I guess – design an EV that goes twice as far as the average city dweller needs and allow some margin for extra trips and battery degradation over a 10 year period. This is how I think about range, not just what the EPA states when new. If you don’t consider battery degradation, you’ll be seriously disappointed in a few years.

    • OCULUS

      I was going to ask if you were a Bimmer guy, but then saw your Leaf reference. FYI, BMW and MB have long been accused of using bags of cement for seat cushions….it’s an acquired taste.

  • Tennesseejoule

    I really like the interior design of the i3, basically I like cars that sit up tall, and are easy to get in and out of. Two deal breakers though — 1) Its pricey, 2) No AM radio????. I currently own two electric cars – A Chevy Volt and a Mitsubishi i-miev. Both have an AM radio and reception is as good as any car I’ve ever owned. I have to think it must have something to do with the carbon fiber body of the i3?

  • William C Bonner

    I test drove one of the euro models they were showing around the US earlier this year and enjoyed the driving experience. I didn’t like the composite dashboard, feeling it looked and felt cheap. I also didn’t like that the speedometer has only a numeric digital display and no analog choice. I’ve always found that recognizing how fast you are going is much easier with a needle than a number.

    I’d never have noticed that there’s no AM radio. In Washington state, the DOT broadcasts traffic information on low power AM radio stations, usually around 530 or 1610 (kHz?) It’s especially important to recognize that a bridge may be closed, or construction is going on and you may want to take an alternate route. The lack of an AM radio could be considered to be lack of auxiliary safety equipment.

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    “No AM Radio.” Too funny: I noticed that on my second test drive (first was BEV and only for fun; second Rex) and remarked to the salesman “I guess they don’t want to encourage listening to Rush in this market.” He laughed nervously….

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  • David

    Just picked up my i3 REx, and have been enjoying it for about a week. Many of the dislikes shared above have not appeared (yet). So far, the biggest WTF, ya gotta be kidding me moment I had for negatives is that the keyfob opens the frunk, but there is no remote key for the back hatch. Huh? Remote access to the front doesn’t make sense, since it’s rarely used. I guess if this is the worst thing I experience, it’s a non issue. Overall, vehicle performs better then expected.

    Also, I drive a Tesla, so doing a direct comparison as other articles have done is very unfair. These are two different vehicles that just happen to plug into the wall. i3 is not a Tesla killer as others have implied. That being said, Tesla has raised the bar and is the game to beat when it comes to what an EV needs to provide for user controls. The i3 software and controls are nowhere near as intuitive as the Tesla software. Even the i3 remote app is just ok in comparison (I’m being generous). Software is easier to fix then hardware, hopefully BMW will want to do so on the dash and on the app. Tesla definitely gets it right.

    Bottom line, i3 is a solid, well performing and comfortable ride.

    • OCULUS

      “the keyfob opens the frunk, but there is no remote key for the back hatch.” That’s because there is direct hand access to the hatch latch that works with fob in your pocket.

      So maybe the way to look at this is that the frunk does not have a complicated, large hand latch and I suspect inadvertent opening might figure into the equation.

      What the hatch latch needs is the Ford solution that opens the hatch when your hands are full with a wave of your FOOT under the bumper.


    “The dangling plastic charge port cap seen here isn’t really too high on my list of annoyances,”

    I trust by now you have discovered the two underside notches (either end of the twist handle on top of the cap) that engage the little hook on the flap. At first I draped the plastic tethers over that hook, but thought that not perfect, then I read someplace about mating the cap’s lip (underside) to that hook, and voila! neat and tidy again.