My name is Mike from metro Richmond, Virginia. I was Born Electric for the second time on August 11, 2014, with the purchase of a new BMW i3 with Range Extender!
The i3 is my first BMW but my sixth car from the BMW Group as I have owned several MINIs over the past twelve years ranging from a base Cooper to the track-ready JCW GP. The i3 shares currently shares driving duties with my first EV, a 2012 Nissan LEAF SL. It’s the first time in 25 years of driving that I don’t own an ICE car as well as a car with a manual transmission. I think I am having serious withdrawals with no clutch as I really miss shifting for myself!
Racing the Sun
My first exposure to electric vehicles came at Virginia Tech as a student in the College of Engineering. As a guy passionate about cars practically since birth, I naturally found myself working with peers to design and build a solar electric vehicle for entry in Sunrayce 97, a multi-day competition sponsored by GM and DOE. This race would pit us against other schools from the U.S. and Canada and have us driving the car on public roads between Indianapolis and Colorado Springs with pit stops along the way. A typical one-day stage had us driving 50-200 miles completely on electricity.
Hyper-miling techniques would take on new meaning and would have to be the norm rather than the exception! Like the i3, the solar car made use of carbon fiber (plus Kevlar) and aluminum to keep weight low and strength high. Unlike the BMW, our car employed several pounds of lead-acid batteries which were mandated as a means to level the playing field and keep costs low.
Boy has battery technology really evolved since 1997!
I would have the honor and privilege to qualify the car first at the GM Proving Grounds in Michigan and then across the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Throughout the event at IMS, I remember watching GM reps drive through Gasoline Alley in an EV1 and thinking about how futuristic and cool it was at the time. We ultimately made the race and I was able to drive the car across the finish line in Colorado. It was both scary and thrilling at the same time! I just knew at some point down the road I would have an electric vehicle of my own. Little did I know that the knowledge and experience that I gained from the solar car program would not only boost my interest in EVs, but also somewhat change my driving habits.
Enter Nissan LEAF
Fast forwarding into this century, I had anxiously awaited the arrival of LEAF and Volt in my area. The Volt is nice, but I was more interested in the Nissan. I carefully monitored sales, waited until prices came down a good bit, took a few test drives of the Nissan, and finally leased a new fully loaded 2012 LEAF SL in Blue Ocean.
The LEAF was my introduction to production electric vehicles and would allow me to gauge over a 24-month period whether or not a battery electric vehicle would mesh with my driving habits work in my life, allow me to explore the local charging infrastructure (or lack thereof), and force me to setup charging at home. The central Virginia infrastructure currently shows only a few public charging stations, but we do have Tesla supercharging stations so hopefully more Level 2 stations will be installed in the near future. More on the LEAF later, but let us now move into BMW territory.
No Availability of MINI-E and ActiveE
As a longtime MINI owner until a few months ago, I would have jumped at the opportunity to participate in the MINI-E and ActiveE trial programs but was unable to do so because neither one was available for lease in my area. Shame on MINI and BMW for not offering these cars in non-urban markets! I did get to see an ActiveE in person earlier this year which was an unexpected thrill. An ActiveE owner from the greater New York City area moved to Virginia and returned the car to my local dealer.
Choosing the i3 w/Range Extender
The BMW driving experience and range extender option are the two main reasons why I chose the i3. The LEAF is a very good car especially for the price, however, I simply wanted more in my next plug-in:
1) Greater range with the ability to travel to Washington DC, North Carolina (to visit my family) and beyond without stopping for a lengthy recharge, even if it meant using a little gas
2) Better all-around performance – handling, braking, acceleration
3) More attractive styling outside and inside
4) Remain practical enough to tote around my 8-year old son (who loves to ride!) and occasionally carry a few adults and stuff
5) Greater use of available lightweight and/or sustainable materials
6) All of the above for a decent price
The i3 Rex fits the bill almost perfectly for me (except for the lofty price!) because I can limit my environmental impact by driving the car as a BEV about 90% of the time and engage the Rex 10% of the time for long journeys. My daily commute is less than 20 miles roundtrip. Most of the time I won’t need the Rex, but it’s there when I do need it thus eliminating the need on a daily basis for an ICE vehicle. The i3 is compact and roomy but not as limited in some areas as the MINI, it’s nimble and quick, it features traditional BMW rear-wheel-drive, it doesn’t look like any other car in terms of the exterior and interior styling, and I can take my 8-year son just about anywhere anytime. I actually like the rear window styling and think it makes changing lanes a little safer since it improves visibility! Does it look a bit strange? Yes it does, but the rear window along with the rest of the i3 is interesting in a good way.
I think all of the entries in the plug-in category are terrific however the Tesla Model S and Cadillac ELR (not really a consideration) are priced out of my range. The Chevy Volt is modern and refreshing on the outside but not so exciting on the inside. I might have considered a Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive or VW e-Golf (my pick between these two cars) however both cars will not be available in my area for quite a while. Sadly, the Honda Fit EV, Fiat 500e, Toyota RAV4 EV, and Chevy Spark EV are also not for sale leaving only a handful of plug-in EV models from which to choose out of the increasing pool.
Order, Production, and Shipping of my i3
My first trip to the local dealer took place way back in August 2013 not long after BMW released the first bits of information and images of the production i3. The MINI sales manager, whom I knew very well, introduced me to the BMW sales manager. I told him that I was very interested in the i3 and wanted to place my name at the top of the list. The only major thing that I wasn’t sure about was the price as it had not been announced yet. Meanwhile, I kept in touch with the dealer, followed the press releases, and discovered many i3 discussion groups and online forums. Many thanks to Tom Moloughney, Chris Neff, and other i3 owners around the world for their knowledge sharing and great blogs! I finally placed an order in early February for an i3 on somewhat of a reasonable budget with the following options:
· Range Extender
· Solar Orange metallic paint (changed from my initial order of Andesite Silver)
· Giga World trim
· Technology and Driving Assistant Package
· Heated Seats
The dealer pulled some strings to secure me a production slot in Week 10 (early March) only to have BMW headquarters push my order back a couple of months to build pre-configured i3s, accommodate supply constraints such as the shortage of Tera World leather, etc. I am a patient guy so it was fine with me as long as I ultimately got the car I ordered in the right configuration. While I received some updates from the dealer about my order, I frequently called the BMW Concierge to get information about my car. The Concierge was great and more than happy to give me the status of my order and answer any questions. Thank you, BMW, for this welcome service! My car entered production on May 21, completed production on May 30, passed QA with flying colors onJune 2, but then got held up at the factory nearly a month. It shipped out to the VPC (New Jersey) at the end June and eventually arrived in Virginia around the 1st of August. I was perfectly fine with letting BMW keep my car as long as necessary to do more quality control, perform hardware and software updates, etc. as long as it arrived just the way I asked for it and without significant issues.
Total time from order to delivery was about 6 months.
I ordered my i3 with the gorgeous Solar Orange metallic paint. It really glows in the sun (pun intended!) and looks great with the two-tone interior of the Giga World trim level! The color palette is pretty limited at the moment with too many silvers and greys, so it’s a good thing that I have wanted to buy an orange car for a long time. Solar Orange truly hits the mark! For the time being, I am the only one in my area with an i3 in this color although someone else in a different part of town has a Solar Orange / Mega i3. My second and third choices, respectively, would have been Ionic Silver and Capparis White with either Mega World or Giga World trims. I had considered the Andesite Silver, but deemed it too brown.
Here is my opinion regarding each trim level and individual option:
· Range Extender – Must have in my case, biggest distinguishing feature between i3 and other EVs
· Mega World – Looks good with some colors, if seats are a bit light and materials not as rich looking as Giga World and Tera World trim, no Comfort Access and Sirius radio (can be added)
· Giga World – Best suits my taste with two-tone cloth and leather combination, leather dash, and eucalyptus wood plus you get Comfort Access, Sirius satellite radio, and garage door opener
· Tera World – Too dark for my taste, reduces the light and airy feeling of the passenger compartment; Climate is too hot / cold here in Virginia to have dark brown leather seats
· Technology and Driving Assistant Package – Required in my opinion since you are spending this much money on a high-tech car you should have the big center screen and bells / whistles too
· Parking Assistant Package – Did not order, but decent value at $1,000; Most likely would never use the autonomous parking; Backup cameras will be required on all U.S. cars starting in 2018
· 20-inch Wheels – Gorgeous, but slightly harsher ride, more noise, perhaps more punctures
· DC Fast Charging – Currently no infrastructure in my area to support this option
· Heated Seats – Won’t buy a new car without them, great with cloth and/or leather seats
I feel that I should mention here that the actual delivery of my new i3 Rex was quite disappointing. Not only was the car not even halfway charged nor did it contain even remotely close to a full tank of gas (even if it is only a whopping 1.9 gal!), but I would ultimately have to return to the dealer not once but TWICE to re-sign all of the Owner’s Choice with Flex financing paperwork making a total of three times to sign all the important documents. The dealer had driven the car to a local music festival along with other vehicles without asking me when they knew darn well that I had ordered the car and was close to coming to get it as I was negotiating with the sales manager but had not yet taken full possession of it. Plus it was not plugged into the charger, thus leaving the SOC around 30% at the time of the delivery.
We did go to the gas station and fill up the tiny tank with Shell premium unleaded for just $6.55. At least it was squeaky clean as they had run it through the detail shop. While my car was on order, my Client Advisor had been promoted to a Finance person so I will chalk up the first mistake to the learning curve with his new role. The second mistake was inexcusable as I was told i3 financing paperwork had to be printed on “special” printer paper. Excuse my ignorance, what is wrong with the regular printer paper which is probably made of the same recycled paper? Honestly, I could discern no differences when I sat down for the third time to sign the paperwork.
At least I got the dealer to discount the car by $1,000 (not great considering better deals could be had 100 miles away) and throw in some accessories.
Accessories and Paint Protection
As part of my deal for the i3, I asked the dealer to provide me with the all-weather mats and trunk mat/box free of charge. The trunk mat doubles as a cargo box with the pull of the drawstring which is kind of cool. I highly recommend the all-weather mats as they are significantly easier to live with than the standard Giga crème mats! For extra protection in the interior, I went to Target and purchased charcoal grey bath towels to place over the seats, particularly in the rear where my son will sit. The dealer also gave me a voucher for $50 for use in the parts shop which I took over to get two blue glow-in-the-dark key covers and the BMW i notebook. Additionally, I placed a call to Joe @ Autobahnd (for those of you with i3s in central Virginia he does top notch work) shortly after delivery to cover the front of my i3 with clear bra to protect that luscious orange paint. Joe did a great job and charged me $650 for full hood, front bumper, headlights, fog lights, A-pillars, and the trapezoidal lower sections behind the front wheels. I will ask Joe to return in the near future to do my lower doors and front fenders also.
I charged the LEAF over the past two years using a combination of Level 1 (home) and Level 2 (work) chargers. Now that I own two EVs, I went ahead and purchased a Bosch Power Max EL-51253 home charging station from Amazon for about $550 (after using a $50 gift card that I had lying around). The only disadvantage is the 18 foot cord, but it is long enough for my needs. I highly recommend this charger as it was easy to install, looks great in my garage, and charges the i3 and the LEAF without fail!
The i3 has been a blast to drive and trouble-free throughout my ownership period of two months and 1200 miles, with no warning lights or error messages. Overall, the car is fast, comfortable, efficient, fun, and turns some heads! The acceleration throws you back in the seat and the steering is very responsive, almost too fast. BMW engineers nailed the steering however I will have to spend more time evaluating the suspension to determine if BMW got the handling right because while the ride is fine I am not sure if the suspension and large wheel / tire combination really hit the mark.
The i3 carves a very nice arc and corners more flatly than the LEAF but it doesn’t feel as stable and composed over bumps as I would expect from a BMW. My favorite part of the car is the strong regenerative braking – I LOVE the one-pedal driving! Switching the car into Eco Pro or Eco Pro+ mode allows me to complete local but long round trip drives (without tapping into the range extender) that I could not previously do in the LEAF, even driving conservatively in the middle of summer. The i3 BEV is fantastic also, but the range extender makes the car just that much more versatile. Visibility to the front and sides is excellent with a commanding view of the road ahead. I feel like I sit higher in the i3 than I do in the LEAF, which is surprising. I would not call visibility to the rear great, but the standard parking sensors work well enough.
I am not a music lover, however, the base stereo sounds good considering there are no rear speakers and I have come to enjoy the Sirius radio on my commutes to work. My last few cars have all had Sirius and I had never spent more than a few minutes listening to it but now I do in the i3. If there is one thing to which I am not accustomed yet, it would be the drive pod (transmission). While easy to operate, it does not feel intuitive as I find myself often selecting Drive rather than Reverse or vice versa.
Operation of Range Extender
A few weeks ago, I was able to experience the range extender by taking a 215-mile roundtrip deep into the Blue Ridge mountain range to do some apple picking with my son. The trip would prove one way or the other if the Rex was worth the extra dough as I would be driving mostly at highway speeds along both flat stretches of road and moderate hills along Route 29 between Charlottesville and Lynchburg. The night before going to the orchard, I was pulling the i3 into my garage when I noticed a message on the professional navigation screen saying the Rex would run in maintenance mode the next time I drove the car below 75% SOC. Sure enough, the next day driving along I-64 the little engine came to life for about 10 minutes holding the charge steady as I cruised around 70 mph on the way to the orchard. I can enthusiastically say that we made it to the orchard and back without a hitch! Here is the mileage I was able to obtain during this trip starting with a full charge and the gas added by the dealer at delivery:
· EV range (highway): 74 miles
· 1st Rex tank (used 2/3 tank of fuel): 47 miles
· 2nd Rex tank (used ½ tank of fuel): 49 miles
· 3rd Rex tank (used ½ tank of fuel): 45 miles
· Total mileage: EV: 74 miles; Rex: 141 miles
I arrived home with just under ½ tank of fuel after depleting the batteries and stopping twice very conservatively for a couple splashes of gas. This trip was my first chance to try out the Rex and I didn’t want to be left stranded somewhere with my son. The Rex performed flawlessly, going about its business without much fanfare! I could not tell it was operating at all on the highway, even with the windows up although we had the windows cracked all the way to the orchard. I could only make out a little bit of noise below 50 mph or so with more noise as I approached stoplights.
There is also a tad bit of vibration through the seats when the Rex is running. The vibration becomes more pronounced when the Rex is really cranked to its max. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it thrashing, but it is definitely more noticeable at times. The only negative thing I noticed was some hesitation in power during one of two hill climbs, however, the car never lost more than a few mph and giving me the confidence to continue driving with a few changes to my throttle position.
I should add that the hesitation occurred after the blue bar had dropped down below the 6.5% threshold and inched closer to the 0% SOC mark. Prior to this hesitation, I had taken off quickly from a stoplight in Comfort mode to gain momentum going up a hill but didn’t think about my acceleration affecting the power. The blue bar WILL move toward away from the small triangle and toward the 0% SOC mark if you accelerate hard and expend more power than the Rex is producing. I would suggest selecting Eco Pro or Eco Pro+ to avoid over exerting your right foot and closely monitoring both your speed and the SOC level. You shouldn’t have any problems!
Here are the aspects of the i3 that I like the most:
1. Strong regenerative braking – love using the motor to stop the car instead of the brakes
2. Strong acceleration – put the hammer down and it flies
3. Steering – ultra quick with a ridiculous turning circle
4. Exterior styling – futuristic and bold, especially in Solar Orange or Ionic Silver
5. Interior styling – love the design and use of different materials throughout
6. iDrive – completely new to me but I like it so far
7. Comfortable and supportive seats – conform well to my 5’7”, 160-pound body, no aches / pains
8. Clamshell (“suicide”) rear doors – easy getting stuff and / or my son in and out
9. Range Extender – brilliant, so far it has worked as advertised!
10. Adaptive Cruise Control – makes the car even easier to drive on the highway
11. Mirrors that fold down in Reverse – nice touch that makes parking that much easier
12. Enhancements – can be mostly done with software and hardware updates for current owners
There are a few things that either I don’t like or would like to see about the car, even though it is genius in several ways! Most of these items are minor and some even downright petty:
1. Unsettled suspension motions over bumps and changing pavement – could be more composed
2. Thin steering wheel – nice material, small diameter, but wimpy thickness
3. White / cream floor mats with Giga World – practically useless to me, what was BMW thinking?
4. Car is turned on but then turns off when door is opened – lawyers went overboard here
5. Transmission control stalk – not intuitive as I get confused selecting Drive or Reverse
6. Extras not available – heated steering wheel and opening rear side windows would be welcome
The i3 Rex has generally lived up to my expectations thus far as the first electric offering from BMW. This car is the most expensive vehicle that I have ever purchased, so I just hope it will deliver real value as the LEAF has a lot going for it at just $250 per month in my case! Frankly, the more I drive the i3 the more I really like it although I need to spend more time with it to understand its full capabilities. It was very exciting to drive my i3 a total distance of 200+ miles in one day – a genuine delight! I plan to keep the car for about 5 to 7 years and really look forward to a positive and rewarding ownership experience!