This week I am behind the wheel of the 2017 BMW i3, a small all-electric vehicle that in many ways stays true to its BMW roots. For instance, this car is rear-wheel drive, which gives it much better handling and a more enjoyable driving experience than most of the other electric vehicles in production today.
My review vehicle has what is called a Range Extender, or REx as BMW calls it.
Simply put, when the battery range gets down to 5 percent, a 2-cylinder motorcycle gas engine kicks on to serve as a generator to supply charging to the battery pack. The i3 is not designed to run on the range extender, but rather to relieve “range anxiety” and to get you to a charging station. When the range extender comes on, you pick up an additional 66-80 miles of range. Bear in mind, the gas generator does not drive the wheels, it only serves as a charging agent.
So is this a hybrid?
Actually no, because the gas engine does not power the wheels.The BMW i3 has a battery range of 110-125 miles between charges, depending on which drive mode you are in.
Like most electric cars, acceleration is actually very good, with the battery pack supplying 170-horses and 184 pound-feet of torque. The i3 clocks a 7-second flat time from 0-to-60 and has a single-speed automatic transmission.
There are 3 driving modes you can choose from. Comfort, Eco Pro, and Eco Pro Plus. Eco Pro Plus conserves the most battery life, but turns off the air conditioning and limits your top speed to 56-miles per hour.
The looks of the i3 are certainly unusual on the outside.
It has a full carbon fiber body, and rear-hinged suicide doors. 19” alloy wheels that are set out to the corners of the car look great.
The hood, top, and rear hatch are painted black and you notice the beltline of the car is different. The beltline drops dramatically at the rear doors, then raises again toward the rear hatchback. BMW makes it appear that the roof and body are not connected. The dual BMW front split grills are unmistakably BMW.
As you open the door, you notice a very clean interior that looks nothing like anything you have ever seen before.
Unusual materials, including a cotton derivative, provide a lightweight, soft to the touch feel, and are also sound- absorbing. You also immediately notice the use of eucalyptus wood on the dash panels that BMW says breathes.
There are two screens you use, one that gives you speed, and combined mileage range that sits above the steering wheel.
In the middle of the dash, you get the typical BMW infotainment controls with a navigation system, Bluetooth, satellite radio, the car’s settings, etc. Everything is operated by a round knob on the center console.
I3 comes in three trim levels.
The base trim is called Mega World, from there you go up to Giga World, which is what this one is, then the top-of-the-line is Tera World which gives you a full leather interior versus the leather and cloth combination in this Giga World package.
You also get in this package: heated front seats, automatic climate controlled air conditioning, an alarm system, LED headlights, and keyless entry.
My tester has two option packages. One is the Parking Assist package which gives you parking sensors, a rearview camera, and it will parallel park itself.
It also has the Tech and Driving Assist package, which gives you adaptive cruise control, emergency stopping, navigation system, access to BMW apps on your phone, and real-time traffic.
Cargo area in the rear is better than I expected, since often with electric cars the battery pack takes up a lot of space, but not in the i3. In fact, it raises the floorboard some to give you a better view of the road from behind the wheel. The back seats fold down, and you get additional storage under the hood, where you would normally find the engine. In the case of the i3, the gas-powered generator is under the rear bumper.
The BMW i3 handles really well with a low center of gravity and well-balanced weight distribution. Like most electrics, the absence of an engine makes the car super quiet.
The accelerator pedal on the i3 definitely takes some getting used to.
Because friction from the brakes supply additional charging to the batteries, when you let off the gas pedal, the car starts to brake. At around 30 miles per hour or so, when you let off the gas, the car will come to a complete and fairly quick stop. There is no coasting with i3 unless you kick it into neutral from the more than weird shift knob.
For most people plugging in at home, charging time will take 26 hours with a standard 8 AMP electrical plug. If you have a 16 AMP, you can cut that to 16 hours, or you can install a $750 Wallbox Pro that will get you an 80% charge in under 3 hours. Of course, you can use public charging stations, and the navigation system will locate those for you.
Using the Government’s electric car estimates, the i3 gets the equivalent of 111 miles per gallon combined, when only running on the gas generator, combined mileage drops to 35.
MSRP is $54,295 and the car is eligible for the $7500 Federal Tax credit.
If you are in California, there is up to $7000 in state funds that are also available, and you can drive in the HOV lanes.
All in all, this is a technological marvel of a car, and if you can stay within battery range, never going to a gas station again is very appealing.
The biggest complaint with this car is that amazingly, you cannot get AM radio stations. As a guy with a radio show airing on over 30 AM radio stations, I find that quite disturbing.