2014 BMW i3 – Long Term Review
The BMW i3, A “Bulls-i” for the Bavarians. We just don’t know it yet.
While the BMW i8 is the super-sultry twin sister that gets all the lustful gazes, the BMW i3 is a masculine stout machine geared for the gnarly bullring that is the city of today and tomorrow. Not cute or ugly and certainly not sexy…. The BMW i3 is a Bavarian bull. The i3 is stronger than the “Man of Steel” with its flame cured fibrous carbon skin. Stocky and full figured sitting on its haunches, tall with no neck, lightning quick first steps with tons or strength. Smart instincts, legs that look thinner than they should for such a beast. Not the prettiest of faces on the prairie, the local zoo or the urban asphalt jungle. Definitely a bull, albeit one with a BMW roundel for a nose ring.
While most new car models are simply this year’s fruit ripened off a long established tree, occasionally someone actual plants something new. Rarer still… someone plants a “forest of new” that materially changes the definition of what was for a century a “clean white sheet of sheet metal.”
The BMW i3 is not just this years fruit, not just a newly planted tree, a similar species planted by everyone else the past 100+ years; No, the i3 is much more, it’s entirely revolutionary. The BMW i3 is a moonshot in the way cars are envisioned and constructed, a new interstellar (oops I’m ahead of myself, sorry Elon) intercity base from which the future of transportation will evolve in its many iterations. It’s brilliant and misunderstood in equal amounts. Its genius is not lying in batteries or electric motors, but in carbon fiber lightness and intelligence.
Many see the first few years’ sales of the BMW i3 as disappointing (US sales here). I see the first few years as a “bud break” of sorts indicating better things to come. At launch in 2014, I too was unimpressed. Having come off the Mini-E and the BMW ActiveE, I was hoping for a sleek coupe with 90 miles of range. I was disappointed in the form and range of the i3, my wife Julie loved the form (she likes the functionality and high seating) but was also disappointed by the range. We both love the performance, luxury and tech of the BMW i3, much superior to its two prototype predecessors. I have to admit, the form is growing on me and I very much like it now.
Julie and I both are BMW i3 drivers, hers is a Capparis White Electronaut Edition with Tera interior loaded with 23,000 miles. Mine is a Laurel Grey with Giga interior loaded with 14,200 miles. We picked up both cars in May of 2014 continuing our electric driving after the Mini-E and the ActiveE. With both i3s we have driven a total of 37,200 miles on electricity provided by the sun via our Solar PV system. Our home and the i3s are solar powered with no utility bill or gasoline cost. We installed our solar PV in January of 2007 and by April of 2012, the system was completely paid off with our utility and gas savings. From then on and for the rest of our lives, it’s zero emission driving with zero cost for energy.
Just pause and think about that for a second, your home is now your gas station, sunshine is now your gasoline. That’s the ultimate premium driving experience.
We have had no issues with the i3s at all, I had a cracked windshield, which was replaced, (it was a huge rock kicked up by a truck) while Julie had new rear tires at 20,000 miles. Front tires still have tons of life left. The cars’ interiors are holding up great and both cars look as in showroom condition. Exterior of the cars are simply the best I have ever seen. Typically for Julie and I, we would each pick up a door ding or two every year. The i3s after 2.5 years on the road are scratch and ding free thanks to the thermo plastic skin mounted on the CFRP. It’s amazing stuff and almost impossible to ding. The only area for improvement is the bumper ledge when you open the rear hatch. Lots of stuff going in and out, a few scratches there.
The BMW i3 Tera interior with the Dalbergia brown leather, wood dash panels, open loft / floor feel and quietness is simply the best interior comfort and luxury of any car at any price point. It’s truly an amazing experience; remember I also drive a BMW i8, so that’s high praise for the BMW i3. I’m sure you can get bigger and more expensive, but you can’t get better than the Tera interior of the i3. World leading in my opinion.
The cars also stay amazingly clean, as there is no brake dust. The dirty grimy black stuff that ruins a nice car after the wash is replaced by kinetic energy recovery via regeneration or regen. It’s one pedal driving for 95 perent of the time in the car and again, world leading in my opinion. Nobody does regen better than BMW.
The performance of the i3 is often understated. Not a track car and not a huge top speed number, mundane 0-60 times for a BMW for sure. It’s really fairer to compare the i3 with the X3 and X5, as opposed to the sedans. However, first in line at a stoplight with just about any performance car including the BMW M lineup next to it and your going to be surprised at how effortlessly and quickly the i3 gets it on. Chances are you’re going to be looking at its taillights for the first 30 to 40 mph. City performance is where it excels, not the autobahn.
Julie and I have owned several cars for over 30 years each, after 2-3 years on the road, all cars start to show their age. All cars except it seems, the BMW i3. The i3’s defy old man time and does not age or wear, the ride is just as tight, the acceleration just as brisk as the first day, appearances are as if you just left the lot and so on. Truly remarkable, we’re used to getting new cars every 3-4 years but we might need to rethink that strategy.
Would I buy the car again? In a heartbeat and we are. We plan on keeping the Capparis White Electronaut Edition, as well as the BMW i8 Electronaut Edition. The grey i3 will be returned after three years, Julie will be buying a new 2017 BMW i3 with a sunroof, most likely the Protonic Blue color with Tera interior. A carbon fiber car wearing the BMW roundel, with the best interior in the world, that drives on sunshine.
After a couple of years on the road now, a truer picture is beginning to emerge for the future of the BMW i3; the tree is beginning to bear its fruit.
Just 2.5 years after its 2014 U.S. launch, the 2017 BMW i3 gains an astonishing 50 percent increase in battery capacity with range now 114 miles. With Fast DC charging and full utilization of the 2.4 gallon gas tank providing an additional 85 miles of driving for the REX model, the i3 is starting to look really smart.
LAPD placed an order for 100 of the BMW i3 BEVs winning a contract over the more vaunted Tesla Model S. For LAPD who tested both the BMW i3 and the Tesla Model S, the winning difference was the compatible telemetry, the lowest cost of operations per mile of any car in the US, demonstrated engineering competence, and the nimble turning radius required of a car in an urban bullring. Chalk this one up to the lessons learned by BMW in the Mini-E fleet field trails which I was proudly part of.
Julie and I sat next to an LAPD employee and his wife at the BMW i Power lunch in Santa Monica as we listened to Christina Fleischer, Manager of BMW i North America address a gathering of around 200 BMW i enthusiasts. What was clear in Ms. Fleischer’s remarks was a sustained path of improvements to both the i3 and the i8 beginning with the 2017 BMW i3. She hinted at three major advancements including one that she loved for the BMW i3 coming in late 2018 (most likely a 2019 model year) and updates to the BMW i8, including more range and power and the Spyder during the same time frame.
She dismissed as not true rumors of a full electric BMW i8 anytime in the foreseeable future. She also talked about the BMW iNext model due in 2020 which will be a new model focusing even more intently on sustainability, integration with humans as well as devices and autonomous driving.
Back to the LAPD and their three-year lease of 100 BMW i3s, this experience will set a data benchmark for all law enforcement agencies and other fleet operators across the nation. This is a huge deal as BMW seeks to “crack the code” and dominate in this market much as they have with their BMW police motorcycles. If they can prove during the next three years that the BMW i3 is reliable and has a low cost of operations and repair (50% lower,) you could be looking at the future police car of choice in the United States. Individual drivers care mostly about lower monthly payments, fleet operators care more about total cost of ownership and cost per mile of operations.
To begin with, these LAPD’s i3s are not for patrol beats with sworn officers, they will serve in a support role. However in several European countries the i3 is already the police vehicle of choice for sworn officers. In near future iterations of the i3, the range goes up, performance goes up and the i3 will see patrol duty here as well, just read further down my post before you laugh at the thought of a BMW i3 in a high-speed chase. Look for the i3 to go into patrol duty in the U.S. within a year or two, look for LAPD to up its order in the very near future and to go solar in a big way to provide the e-juice for the i3 coppers.
As mentioned by Ms. Fleischer there are three main upgrades in store for the BMW i3, none of which she could talk about, one of which she was really excited about. It was great to listen to refreshingly succinct talking points from the German engineer in charge of BMW i, words portraying a quiet strength and confidence, lacking in puffy twittering and marketeering. Ms. Fleischer would not spill the beans so this gives me a chance to speculate and guess on what these three main improvements could be. Here it goes!
1. For the 2019 model year arriving late 2018, an upgrade to 120 ah cells thus doubling the range of the original 2014 BMW i3 which had 60 ah cells. The new electric range of the car will be over 150 miles. This well also be the year that the REx is improved in horsepower and the gas tank is enlarged to 4 gallons to match the 150 miles of the battery. Mid-cycle design refresh of the car, lower price point than similarly equipped Tesla Model 3.
2. A stretched version of the BMW i3 in late 2018 for the 2019 model year. This will give room for eight battery modules instead of six, four typical doors and improve the range to around 200 miles. Perhaps even a convertible or sedan variant. The stronger REx will be available with a 5.5 gallon tank to match the 200 electric miles. Look for this to be the main response to the Tesla Model 3.
3. This is the one I think Ms. Fleischer was really excited about; after all she comes from the M world of BMW. In the past 2.5 years, we have used our BMW i3’s frunk exactly three times; once for champagne, once for wine and once for beer. It’s a terrible waste of space and I know what would better fit in that space. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself for a BMW i3 that will set lap time records at both Thermal and Spartanburg Two Day BMW M Schools. No I’m serious.
The 2019 BMW i3 AWD Coupe Sport. Two door, Dual electric 200+hp motors for a total of 400+ hp with insane amounts of torque in a sub-3,000 lbs car. Carbon ceramic brakes, 2 speed GKN axels similar to the BMW i8, wider dancing shoes, stiffer and lower suspension resulting in a carbon fiber track killing machine with a range of 150 miles electric. 0-60 times in the 3 seconds, crazy quick out of turns with no turbo spool up.
Dare I say “The Bull”?
As BMW enters into the Formula E ring in 2019, it will also begin a BMW sponsored Pro-Car racing series pitting the best of the East Coast against the best of the West Coast (an old Mini-E rivalry) with the 2019 BMW i3 AWD Coupe Sport.
I can hardly wait to see if any of my predictions hold true. There are probably a few folks at BMW right now either amazed at how close I am, or chuckling at my racer-boy folly.
Just build the Bull.