2018 BMW i3s Six-Month,10,000-Mile Long-Term Update

JUN 22 2018 BY TOM MOLOUGHNEY 53

Does the BMW i3 (Sport) still impress after living with it for a time?

After a little over three years with a 2014 BMW i3 REx, I picked up my 2018 BMW i3s BEV on December 30th, 2017. It was actually the very first i3s delivery in North America.

I had a little over 72,000 miles on my i3 REx when I had the unfortunate luck of crossing an intersection at the same time a woman was looking at her phone when she should have been stopping for a red light, She subsequently t-boned my car on the passenger side, sending it to an early retirement.

You can really tell the i3s apart from a regular i3 from the wider rear stance.

It all worked out well, though. At the time I had my eye on the just-announced Sport version of the i3, and this gave me a legitimate excuse to upgrade. I would also be upgrading from the original i3’s 21.6 kWh battery to the larger 33.8 kWh pack which was introduced in 2017. The added battery capacity allowed me to ditch the range extender and go back to a BEV, after driving BEVs for five years previously.

Not long after I picked up this new Sport version, I stated in a post here that this is the i3 that BMW should have given us in 2014, and the six months I’ve had it has only reinforced that. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed my 2014 i3, but BMW is a premium brand and one that prides itself on the driving experience. There should have been a Sport option available right from the start. I also believe that BMW should have figured out a way to stuff more batteries in the original i3, so it could deliver a solid 100 miles of range.

The original i3 BEV delivered only 81 miles per charge, which is why I needed to get the range extender. Sure, you could squeeze out 100 miles in perfect conditions, but in the harsh winters of the northeast, it would sometimes only deliver about 60 miles of range. With my 2018 i3s, I was able to average 90 miles of range in the coldest winter months, and now that it’s warmer, I’m having no problem getting 120+ miles per charge.

Here I have 42 miles to go after driving 100 miles on a charge.

The i3s has 14 more horsepower (184 hp vs. 170 hp), and 15 more lb-ft of torque (199 lb-ft vs. 184 lb-ft) than the regular i3 models. The increase in power isn’t really felt much at the low end though, and BMW’s claimed zero to sixty times are only .4 seconds faster (6.8 sec vs. 7.2 sec). The real difference in power is felt at speeds above 40 mph. The car pulls strongly all the way up to 90 mph, and the top speed is 6 mph higher than the regular i3 (100 mph vs 94 mph).

However, the biggest improvement may very well be in how the car drives. BMW upgraded the suspension to include specially developed springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars. This new suspension is unique to the i3s, and the car is 10 mm lower, with a 44 mm wider track. In fact, BMW had to add fender flares to accommodate the wider track. Add wider tires and 20″ sport wheels and the i3s feels like a different car than my 2014 i3 REx did.

At highway speeds, the base i3 can be a little skittish at times, especially on windy days. The tall, boxy shape and skinny tires were really designed for lower-speed city driving. However, the lower and wider suspension, plus more rubber on the pavement have eliminated all of the deficiencies the base i3 has at high speeds. The car feels rock solid and planted now, all the way up to the electronically-limited 100 mph top speed.

The base i3 models have always had three driving modes: Comfort (the default mode) Eco Pro, and Eco Pro Plus. The i3s has all of those, but it adds a new Sport mode. The owner’s manual says that the Sport mode offers a “more direct accelerator response and tighter steering characteristics” and I definitely agree with that. In fact, it can be too responsive at times. If I’m looking for a more leisurely drive, I won’t use Sport mode because the accelerator is so responsive. The car lunges forward with the slightest touch of the accelerator and goes into regen as you back off. The Sport mode isn’t designed for casual daily driving, it’s really set up for those times that you want a spirited driving experience and it delivers.

BMW also improved the traction control system from the previous generation i3. This feature isn’t unique to the i3s, but since it’s new for 2018 I didn’t have it on my previous i3. BMW says this new system can crunch data 50 times faster than the previous traction control and offer instantaneous power delivery. That’s mostly credited to the control process being calculated directly in the powertrain, instead of in a remote unit requiring long signal paths.

In previous model i3s – as well as my ActiveE and MINI-E, when the car experienced uneven road surfaces, or sharp corners, the traction control system would reduce the regenerative braking, or in some cases completely shut it off in an effort to keep the tires from losing traction. That gave the sensation of sudden acceleration to many owners. If you were in full regen, hit a bump and the regen shuts off, the car freewheels. While it doesn’t actually speed up, it stops slowing down, and that gives the same feeling as sudden acceleration. That is completely eliminated with this new traction control system. I’ve actually gone out of my way to try to defeat it and I haven’t been able to.

So while I really am loving the new i3s, it is still far from perfect. The one thing that I can’t get past is how BMW hasn’t added a heated steering wheel and back seats. I can almost forgive them for the back seats, but not for the steering wheel. Every electric vehicle should have a heated steering wheel, period. Especially one that is priced at the higher end of the market. You can really save energy in the winter by using the heated steering wheel and seats, and limiting the use of the cabin heater, and that translated into longer range. While all BEV i3s come with a very efficient heat pump system, the REx versions do not, and have conventional resistive heaters.

The coach doors look good, but can be cumbersome

Also, the coach doors are still kind of a pain at times. Luckily for me, I don’t have any kids, so I rarely use the rear seats. However, when I do, it can be inconvenient for the people sitting in the rear. I have it straight from a high-level BMW i executive that they will not be employing rear coach doors on future BMW i models. Another nitpick is how the windshield wipers drag some of the water back into the view of the driver on their return stroke. This has been the case with all i3 models since the initial launch, and BMW hasn’t been able to improve or eliminate it. It can vary from annoying to slightly obstructing your vision depending on how heavy the rain is. I found that if I use a product like Rain-X, it greatly reduces the issue.

With all that said, the i3 is still a tough sell with its current price point. My car is pretty much loaded with every option available, except it has the Deka World interior which is the base interior, and the MSRP was $54,845.00 (including the $995 destination charge). That’s a lot when you consider the comparison (Nissan LEAF, Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3). Still, the i3 is really a unique vehicle, and in my opinion after more than four years on the market doesn’t look outdated yet. I still like the interior better than any other EV, and that’s really important to me. BMW knows they are priced high for the segment and have been offering great deals including $10,000 utility discounts (which expire next month!) and very competitive lease rates to ease the pain of the high MSRP.

The i3 has been rumored to be getting another battery upgrade at the end of this year, increasing the capacity to an estimated 43.2 kWh. That will exactly double the size of the i3’s original battery offering which had 21.6 kWh capacity. If true, that would most likely bring the i3’s EPA rated range up to around 150 miles per charge. Since I’m getting 120 – 130 miles per charge on my i3s with a 107 EPA range, I’m sure the new i3 will be able to get 175+ miles per charge in favorable weather conditions. The added range of the new battery will most likely drastically reduce the number of range extender models sold.

Overall, I’m very happy with my i3s and would absolutely recommend it. Look out for a sizable manufacture discount or special lease rates, as BMW has been putting cash on the hood to help make the i3 more competitively priced in today’s growing EV market.

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53 Comments on "2018 BMW i3s Six-Month,10,000-Mile Long-Term Update"

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Thanks Tom for the great writeup. Really sounds like they addressed a lot of the concerns with the original i3. I love mine, but the handling could be better for a BMW 😉 Those narrow tires and suspension don’t like to be pushed hard especially on bumpy surfaces.

On a slightly unrelated note, Tom, do you see yourself in a Tesla model 3 in future. Do you still have the reservation? When is the expected delivery?

The one thing that I can’t get past is how BMW hasn’t added a heated steering wheel and back seats. I can almost forgive them for the back seats, but not for the steering wheel.

My 1998 BMW 540i has a heated steering wheel, so to find out that BMW isn’t even offering it on the i3 in 2018 is unconscionable.

They could at least throw in a pair of driving gloves 🙂

Excellent report. Now that Canada and the USA are in a trade war we have had to eliminate both the Tesla Model 3 and new Nissan Leaf from our list of possibles when it comes time to upgrade our Leaf. The 2019 maybe 2020 i3 sport sounds like a contender. Maybe time for a test drive. :).

John, what in the name of tarnation does the so-called trade war have to do with Tesla and Nissan products? If it is personal, then keep it to yourself. Don’t throw it out here like a misguided idiot muddying the waters. There are plenty of us on both sides of the border who will always be friends without having to confront biased contaminants with virtual blinders.

You need a vacation or something.

Who cares about his rant.

I’m not sure i follow. The US government (representing the American People) have imposed tariffs on Canadian goods because the American government has determined we are a security and defence risk. The US government has stated that the Canadian Goverment is week and untrustworthy. So clearly we are no longer considered an ally. The US government headed by the president has also proclaimed the governments of North Korea and Russia “admirable” and trustworthy leaders. . Clearly there has been a change of alliances for Americans. Many Canadians simply prefer to purchase products from allied nations. Tesla’s and Nissan Leafs are built in the US. Americans should be able to choose whoever they want to represent them. And Canadians should be able to buy their products from whoever they want. Nothing oersonal here. It just makes sense to stand by your country. I’ll stand by mine, you stand by yours.

That is the great thing about democracy – every democratic country has the leaders it deserves.

The actual US president is a worldwide shame but in the USA!
So it will hurt many and mostly american themself, but is been elected and there’s is little other country can do.
In 🇨🇦 that won’t change much for european manufacturer but who knows?
BMW is more a status car versus a sound choice in general and unfortunately that’s even more blatant for the i3 or the i3s.

Calling canada a foe and get away whit it, is lamentable.

John, you’re commenting on a website based in the US, likely on a Korean or US designed, Chinese built phone. Most of the food you eat in Canada was likely grown somewhere in the US. We don’t only consume products from “allied” countries, whatever that means – WW2 has been over for 70 years. It’s really hard to take people like you seriously. Lighten up, dude. If we all read the news and took it as literally as you do, the world would become a really odd place.

Great report, and nice car…

Ron Swanson's Mustache

As someone who’s always wanted a BMW car, at first I hated the i3, but the look has really grown on me, especially with the Honda Element-style coach doors in the back. The vehicle was obviously designed to have a quirky aesthetic, but in black it actually looks quite good.

I want one of these. Not as much as a Model 3, but an BMW i3 would be pretty neat nonetheless.

If the i3 is Ron Swanson’s mustache, then the i3S is like Nick Offerman after he grew a beard.

What did you do for winter tires? I thought I’d read that there aren’t anything but performance for those wheels, and other size i3 wheels have issues with clearance.

Tom, how often do you fast-charge it and what is you general charging experience with the previous i3 and now with the i3S with a larger capacity battery?

I commend BMW for pioneering the Carbon-reinforced plastic body panels that light-weighted the i3.

But I think the i3 has largely been a failure. The range of the pure EV version was limited and there was not enough space to add more batteries to make the range 200+ miles. The range extender idea was interesting but it was a bit underpowered and the tiny gas tank was just really weird.

But mostly…the design was of an EV weirdmobile. The polarizing design really limited the market. Looks weird, only 4 passengers, suicide doors, can’t lower back windows, etc.

I look forward to new pure EVs from BMW being a bit more normal….I don’t want them to be just like the current 3, 5, 7 series boring sedans….but something aerodynamic and more practical.

The i3 is a success. They just increased production. There are months of waiting lists.

i3 is not a failure. Not liked by everyone, sure, but even people who think it is weird (you used three times in the post) will have to admit that it is a inspired blank-sheet EV design. It has many hidden gems that you won’t understand unless you spend a little time with it:
– regen is awesome, rarely do you need the brakes
– is there another car with egress on left or right from any seat?
– the tiny engine used for the range extender is quiet and efficient, and EXTENDS the battery (not battery replacement)
– a city mobility car that can turn on a dime and park anywhere
– tall ride position and height give nearly SUV visibility
– TORQUE! (even more of that in the i3s)
– iDrive and Connected drive offer amazing utility on the go or over the smartphone.
– so many more!

The doors are great with young kids. I have two sons age 6 and 3. There is good acces for helping them in and out. Also helping both from the sidewalk side. The older need help with the seetbelt. They should not open the doors by themselves any way.
I find that the ability to enter and exit the driverseat from both sides is great when parking along the sidewalk on a busy street.

I agree. Kids love the i3. My kid’s friends are always excited to ride in the back. The coach doors also give good access to back seats for car seats. The area where they are a disadvantage are parking lots. If you like in the city and do a lot of parallel parking like I do, there is no issue.

Thanks for a great report Tom ! —- Still lovin’ my 2014 i3 Rex, but looking forward to upgrading to a 2019 i3s !

Hi Tom great review, as an original owner of a 2014 i3 BEV I was interested to hear what you thought of the i3S’s handling. It sounds excellent, I decided to keep my i3 a bit longer so I recently extended the warranty an additional three years. I got the extended warranty through BMW, and if I do decide later to upgrade I’ll get the balance of what the extended warranty costs back, so luckily I’m not locked in to it. But I am a little attached to my i3, it’s been fun to drive, and the perfect example of a low maintenance electric car. I do agree that the price considering new competitors is high, but I’d still recommend it, it’s built like a supercar, it’s fun to drive, easy to park, and you rarely ever see a service center waiting room.

Thanks Tom for sharing, as always, your very clear, comprehensive, and smart thoughts on the latest edition of the i3. The improvements BMW has made since the original 2014 edition of the i3 (of which I had the BEV version) are all positive. But they are not, in my mind, enough to compensate for the fundamental flaws in the design concept. I appreciate that BMW was trying to make the i3 as efficient as possible, but, to me, the higher cost and the multiple sacrifices in user comfort that this resulted in are just not — even with the modest changes made since 2014 — worth the minor differences in efficiency and major differences in price vs other EV’s. As you and others on this forum know, I switched from the i3 to the Kia Soul EV in 2016. The price of the Kia was about ⅓ less than that of my i3, the MPGe of the Kia is running only about 10% lower than that of my i3, the range of my Kia is running about 25% higher than that of my i3, and — perhaps most importantly — my Kia is WAY more comfortable to drive: it has… Read more »

I don’t see “fundamental” flaws in the concept. It is the product of forward-thinking designers who had the courage to examine new materials, manufacturing techniques and aesthetic choices. EVs have always been a moving target in terms of technological development and the i3 is simply the product of this engineering tradition within BMW. For my wife and I, user comfort is perfectly fine and ranges have be more than adequate for its intended use. The car is rather expensive as new, but the pre-owned market is quite attractive. I’m encouraged by the updates to the new i3 and I think the i3s takes a fantastic concept even further with new levels of driver involvement.

Thankfully, we have choices in the EV market. For some folks, conventional is better. For others, different is better.

I fully agree with your sentiment as this is what I considered when buying an i3 after initially owning a Leaf and afterwards an Ampera / Volt. The i3 being designed from the get go as an electric was first and foremost when choosing.
I especially like the rear doors which are very convenient in accessing the rear for placing or retrieving items but admit there can be situations that prove a challenge.
E cars should benefit from flat floors sans center console with T shifters and this is exactly what future skateboard designs will be like so traditionalists beware.

Wow, without the extra weight of the range extender and the increased HP, I bet this car is noticeably faster than your old REX. BMW is very conservative with their range ratings. On a highway trip, I got 148 miles on my 2017 i3 BEV, starting off with 97% charge. And yes, the coach doors are great for my small children 6-8yrs old. I don’t want them trying to roll down windows or open the doors anyways. I think I will order my new i3s around September so I can have it by the end of the year. Hopefully by then, they will have the larger battery out. And if it is significantly heavier with no more HP, I would rather have your current i3s if it turns out to be the quicker one in acceleration.

Question to any i3 drivers i have a 2014 I3 all electric And i never got back that 7500 tax credit The irs said i didn’t owe anything so i was not eligible for the $7500. Did anybody else have this problem. I need help

The US federal tax credit is just that, a credit against taxes that you have paid…if you don’t pay that much, you can’t get it all or (potentially) any back. I had paid more than that $7500 in federal taxes, but still didn’t get it all back because of the alternate minimum tax rules…kind of pissed me off, but it is what it is.

Just completed 1,000 miles in our new i3S. My first EV extended trip traveling from LINY to Hyannis, MA. With the 33kWh battery and the backup REX, I was ready to go with no range concerns at all. The current BMW $10k discount was enough incentive to have me pass on my active TSLA Mod 3 build. Our i3S had $61K MSRP, but with all the rebates, the tax credit and our dealer discount, I got this fantastic EV for $36k before taxes. This car is lightening on wheels…performance is great. I’m not new to i3’s. I own a 2014 BEV i3 in Phoenix, as well as recently purchased CPO 2014 TSLA S85. I definitely would have passed on the TSLA Mod S, if I had driven the new i3S first. Sport’s mode is great improvement. Love it for jumping on highway. While away from home I use EchoPro + exclusively and find my usage is over 5 miles+ / kWh….just don’t see that in my TSLA. Stability is notably improved. I love how responsive this car is and its ability to turn on a dime. Moonroof is another great addition. BTW, the EVgo/Chargepoin+ network is well built out for… Read more »