2019 BMW i3 Extended Road Test: Bigger Battery Improves Range

MAR 1 2019 BY TOM MOLOUGHNEY 43

What’s changed? We drive a 2019 BMW i3 REx for a week to find out

The BMW i3 has been a polarizing EV since its inception. Besides being BMW’s first electric car offering, its unconventional styling has been a point of contention, which has most certainly contributed to the i3’s lackluster sales.

However, BMW has sold around 125,000 i3s worldwide in the five years it has been in production, so it clearly has appeal to many people. For the 2018 model year, BMW made some minor visual changes, and added a sport version. There’s also been some minor interior changes over the years, as well as new exterior color choices. However, the biggest change BMW has made has been with regards to the i3’s battery pack.

The original 2014 i3 had a 21.6 kWh (total) battery pack which had a usable capacity of 18.8 kWh. The BEV version was EPA rated at 81 miles of range and the range extended version had a 72-mile electric range. About 2.5 years later, BMW introduced a new battery which became available in August of 2016 as a 2017 model. This new battery had a 33.2 kWh (total) battery with a usable capacity of 27.2 kWh, according to BMW. I say according to BMW, because I have a 2018 i3s, and my usable capacity was 30 kWh when the car was new, so I believe BMW underestimates the usable value. The BEV version had a 117-mile electric range and the REx version was rated at 99 miles on battery alone.

The 2019 BMW i3’s range is up by roughly 30% over last year’s model.

For 2019, the i3 now comes with a 44.2 kWh (total) pack. I haven’t seen BMW’s statement on usable energy yet, but my time with the car demonstrated it’s right about 40 kWh, if not slightly less. The new BEV i3 is EPA rated at 153 miles, and the range extended version’s EPA electric range rating is 126 miles, before the REx kicks on.

Like the i3 or not, you have to admit BMW hasn’t been sitting still with regards to the i3’s battery. This is the third battery available for the vehicle, and the i3 has only just begun its sixth year of availability. Only Tesla, and soon Nissan, with the 62 kWh LEAF Plus, has offered battery upgrades for their EV’s so many times, and in such a short period of time.

The i3 has a “hidden service menu” that, once accessed, reveals the usable capacity of the battery.

Besides the battery, the 2019 i3 gets a couple new options. There’s a new brown exterior color called Jucaro Beige Metallic. That new color replaces the popular Protonic Blue Metallic. I’m a little surprised that BMW discontinued Protonic Blue, but I suppose that since they added Imperial Blue in 2018, they decided they didn’t need two different shades of blue. As for the interior, Mega and Tera World trims offer new shades of brown SensaTec and leather, respectively. The i3 I was loaned was equipped with the top-of-the-line Tera World interior with full leather seats.

Other changes include standard auto high-beams, which I found worked pretty well. The only complaint I have is they seemed overly cautious and disengaged the high beams often when it was unnecessary. For instance, while driving down dark country roads, the car would turn off the high beams if I was approaching a property that had lantern-style lights at the entrance of the property Evidently, the car thought the lantern lights were approaching vehicles. They quickly turn back on once I passed the lights, but I found that this happened more frequently than it does on other cars I’ve driven with the auto high beam feature.

The i3 I had came with the Tera World interior, which has brown leather seating and dashboard appointments.

There’s also a new wireless charging pad (for mobile devices, not to charge the vehicle) and WiFi hotspot option that costs $500.00. Unfortunately, the car I had didn’t have this option, so I couldn’t test it out. Another difference is the i3 BEV no longer comes standard with a heat pump system, it’s now a $150 option. The heat pump still cannot be ordered with an i3 that has a range extender, because the heat pump system is located where the i3 REx’s fuel tank is.

On the road, the 2019 i3 I had felt a little slower than the 2018 range extended i3 that I have previously driven. I admit that since my daily driver is a 2018 BEV i3s, I had a hard time judging the quickness of this car. Not only is my i3 the sport version with more power, but it’s also a BEV, so it’s about 300 lbs lighter. Still, the 2019 felt a little slower than the 2018 non-sport REx i3, perhaps because the new battery adds a little more weight.

There’s good news on the pricing front, as BMW has held the line and is not increased the price of the 2019 i3, even though it now has a much larger battery. Still, even with the new longer range, with a starting MSRP of $44,450, the i3 is not a great value proposition, and probably the biggest reason sales haven’t been better.

I was able to drive the car about 500 miles in the week I had it, so I got a good feeling for the true range. It was February in New Jersey so the temperatures were mostly in the 20’s and 30’s, but I did get one warm day where temperatures were in the 50’s. On that day, I drove the car 142 miles and still has an estimated 20 miles of range left. The range estimator showed 80 miles of range for the REx, which translates into a total of 242 miles of total range.

That’s even more range than the BEV i3 is EPA rated for. I averaged 4 mi/kWh that day which isn’t very difficult to do with an i3 in warm weather. On the colder days, I averaged about 125 to 130 miles per charge, which was surprising, because I was able to match the EPA range rating in 30-degree temperatures, and that’s usually not the case. I suspect it won’t be too hard to get 175 miles per charge with an i3 BEV in milder temperatures.

DC Fast charging on a 50kW EVgo station

Charging rates remain the same as the 2018 i3, with 32-amp level 2 charging, and a 50-kW limit for DC Fast charging. I used an EVgo DC Fast charger one day and was able to go from 12% to 70% in 30 minutes, and take in 24 kWh. I had to unplug after 30 minutes, but I then plugged back in and 14 minutes later I was at 94% state of charge. Therefore, in 44 minutes, I added 82% SOC, which was 33 kWh.

The i3 took 5 hours, 41 minutes to fully charge

 

At home, charging on a JuiceBox Pro 40 I was able to charge from the range extender setpoint of 6.5% state of charge (the lowest I could drain the battery down to) to full, and it took 5 hours and 41 minutes. The JuiceBox app showed that 39.01 kWh had been delivered to the car.

While charging on level 2, the i3 will accept the full charge rate (32-amps) all the way up to well over 90% SOC before the power begins to taper down.

 

One of the biggest complaints about the i3 for the North American market has been how the range extender is implemented. Unlike in other markets, the user doesn’t get to decide when the range extender turns on. It automatically turns on once the state of charge drops below 6.5%. The range extender then works to maintain the 6.5% SOC, it doesn’t charge the battery past that set point.

The problem is, there are some driving conditions (high speed & extended uphill climbs) where the range extender cannot keep up with the energy demand of the vehicle. In those instances, the car will deplete the 6.5% buffer and then go into reduced power mode, limiting the vehicle to speeds around 40 mph. This even led to a class-action lawsuit in 2016.

The good news is, as the i3’s battery size increases, so does the 6.5% buffer, reducing the chance of the car going into reduced-power mode:

  • 2014 – 2016 models: 21.6 kWh battery = 1.4 kWh buffer
  • 2017 – 2018 models: 33.2 kWh battery = 2.2 kWh buffer
  • 2019 – on  models: 44.2 kWh battery = 2.9 kWh buffer

The range extender now has more than double the available buffer than the original i3 REx did, about 3 kWh to prevent the chance of reduced power mode. While it can still happen, as long as the owner understands how the REx works, they should be able to prevent any issues. Before I had the 2018 BEV i3s that I currently drive, I had a 2014 i3 REx for three years, and personally never had a problem with reduced power.

Charging at home on JuiceBox Pro 40

However, it’s important to note, I don’t typically drive in areas that are mountainous, with extended drives up long inclines. On the occasions that I needed to drive 100 or more miles with the range extender running, I kept my speed at 70 mph or less and there was never any issue. I noticed that if I drove much faster than 70 mph, the state of charge would slowly go down, and I would risk going into reduced power. Now, with double the buffer capacity compared to my 2014 model, I’m confident the range extender will be able to satisfy the needs of nearly all, but the most challenging uphill driving conditions.

In all, the 2019 BMW i3 is basically the same EV it has been for the past five years, except it now has nearly double the range it did when it first came out as a 2014 model. The people that don’t like the i3 will still not like it. However, those that do like it, now have an even more compelling reason to get one, and that’s about 30% more range than it had in 2018.

One final note. I’d like to thank Chris Chang, General Sales Manager of BMW of Bloomfield, in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Chris arranged for me to take a brand new 2019 i3 he just received in stock for this review, when I couldn’t arrange to get one directly from BMW NA. Chris is a big i3 fan, and does a great job of selling them at his dealership. That’s noteworthy because it’s been well documented that many dealerships, of all brands, are struggling to properly explain and sell their electric offerings. BMW of Bloomfield is doing a great job with their plug-ins, and Chris is the main driving force behind it.

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43 Comments on "2019 BMW i3 Extended Road Test: Bigger Battery Improves Range"

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“Still, even with the new longer range, with a starting MSRP of $44,450, the i3 is not a great value proposition, and probably the biggest reason sales haven’t been better.”

Only crazy people are going to buy the BMW i3.

For that kind of money you can buy a Rear Wheel Drive Long Range with premium interior Tesla Model 3 (Range: 325 miles).

They don’t really buy it new…most are actually really good leases.

Some people have a cultural/emotional preference for the “Made in Germany” label; you can’t call them crazy for that alone 🙂

And there are a few other reasons for *some* folks to like the i3 (1) Carbon fiber body, (2) Suicide rear doors – I personally loved that feature on the 2010 F-150, don’t think I am alone, (3) High driving position is better for congested traffic, (4) Short wheelbase and small footprint for urban environment (4) With rear seats down, a voluminous, one-piece cargo area, (5) Cool, but non-weird, practical and ergonomic dashboard, (6) Assembly, fit and finish quality.

Re: #(2) – you are not alone! 2008 F-150 and 2018 i3s. Agreed on all other points too. I’ll add that the i3 is a parking ninja and the exceptional turning radius makes some incredible urban driving maneuvers possible. I do wish it had Tesla like range and charging network support but life is not fair. The $20k+ cash on the hood deals do help (via USAA, Costco, Fed rebate, BMW CCA, and dealership rebates). Still the only real BEVx (EV with a backup plan) on the market.

Also: The super – pretty interior.

The real thing here is that in the US the i3 still has the full tax incentive, and USAA, and numerous power companies offer a $10k rebate. That puts the i3 in a lower price zone as the Model 3 base for a very flexible, very fun to drive car, and much much better build quality than the label would suggest (the i3 is the best rated EV for reliability).

It won’t do 120 mph, but it will more than meet your needs as a posh, comfortable commuter without the production ramp-up teething issues that still plague the Model 3.

Unfortunately for BMW, those incentives don’t make enough difference vs the now-available Standard Range model 3, which should be noticed still delivers a full 30% more range the i3, not to mention many other benefits you can only get from Tesla.

I lease an i3 currently, but I can’t ignore the Model 3 any longer. BMW prices simply can’t compete even with the huge discounts on leases.

Also add, that if you actually drive in cities, there’s greatly reduced “parking anxiety”. You’re pretty much going to find NO Parking for an F150 in small town, or city streets. You’d need to pay off-street parking. Who needs that headache to visit a town.

Also, you’re getting the smoothness of the Electric drive experience, along with a BMW front suspension which you can feel, and rear wheel drive.

And suicide doors work well on city streets, greatly increase entry and exit ease.

This is a luxury EV. Small on the outside, large on the inside.
“Form follows function”. This car was built for the city/suburb/country commute.
It makes commuting a pleasure.

It’s hard to remember all the positive attributes of this car.
EV heat: you can pre-heat your car in your garage before you get to it.
Right out of the shower, turn on the car heat, get dressed and leave and the car is at perfect temperature. ( It’s good to own with a smart-phone. )
Something that would be suicide in a gas car.

Difference is, that BMW i3 2019 wtih giga interior can be had for about 22k in some states with all incentives.

Great review Tom.

Thank you for the review. I have a 2018 i3s and am waiting for delivery of a 2019 i3s so this was very helpful. Both i3s are BEV with no RX, so efficiency on battery alone has been important. The i3 is not for everyone, but as my daily driving in less than 60 miles, it’s a great car to zip around in. Love the higher seating position and the interior is great too. Have pre ordered a Rivian R1S for longer trips and all wheel, all weather capability. My biggest gripe with the i3 are the limited winter tire options, going from a 20″ to a 19″ winter tire is ridiculous. BMW need to do much better!

I agree, Nick, that this is a nice user review. What I don’t understand or can’t yet concur about is the high value you ascribe to making available a winter tire for the 20″ wheel size, for the models with 20″ wheels, rather than the currently available winter tires for 19″ wheel size. A 19″ wheel fits on all i3 sold with 20″ wheels, so what is the ridiculous nature of the situation?

You’re right about the 19″ winter tires fitting on all i3’s but the i3s (sport) has wider front and rear tires than the non sport version. The 19″ winter tires have a slimmer/narrower profile than the 20″ tires on the i3s. So any benefits of having wider 20″ tires in the sport version are not available in the skinnier 19″ winter tires. This is not a problem for ex with Tesla, summer and winter tires are all the same width on the M3.

Ridiculous might have been too strong a word to describe the i3 winter tire situation. Your objection has changed from the wheel diameter to now the tire tread width. Most european brands, BMW included, use as standard practice the narrowing of tire width for the winter-specific options they sell and recommend. Not only does this provide, from most tire models, a traction performance upgrade, but it also allows the users of the vehicles in many markets with winter conditions (and road user regulations) to fit traction aid devices such as chains without fouling the suspension arms and links. Wider tires for width’s sake alone doesn’t seem to be of value. It probably isn’t worthwhile for BMW to pay to have a wide winter tire for 20″ wheels developed in the absence of a need.

What’s the point of all these upgrades if they still haven’t reach 200 miles of range on a full charge?

The car is a nimble city car, this isn’t to be underestimated. The turning circle is many feet tighter than a standard car (about 6′ tighter than Model 3), it is tall with good visibility, and it is very well built. It is not really meant for long range highway car.

You are right though, most would probably prefer long range especially for most US driving. Most of our cities don’t need cars that can do U-Turns where almost every other car would fail to turn without backing up, etc.

I have an ’15 i3 Rex Tera and the 72 mile range is actually fine for me given the generator. I love the premium but simple interior. Buying new I think the Model 3 LR RWD would be more appealing to me as it wouldn’t be only a city car (and I don’t live in a big city).

Don’t worry, on e the remove the carbon fiber, it’s range will increase

The vast majority can live with this sports-lux car with 50 miles out range, 50 miles back with a 50 mile buffer. Trim the buffer as you wish. And then you can recharge on a longer trip. 100 miles out, with a 50 mile buffer, get to a charger. It’s literally not hard, if you know just how far 100 miles is, and that most people 98% don’t drive that distance.

Right?? These people must be European drivers because in the US this car is a complete ripoff compared to the EVs coming to the market now. No way in hell 44k for 170miles of range. I couldn’t even make it to Vegas or San Diego here in the LA area..

Even though US-California abiding i3s can’t have their REx used anywhere between 75% – 6%, you guys are at least lucky now that you can get a REx with the 120 Ah. Seeing the comments down here, sure the Model 3 is a leader in its own regard, then so is every other EV in some fashion and especially range extended vehicles. With the Volt gone it’s the only one, and there’s scant information on whether Nissan – Renault will bring their own e-power plug-ins.

(And the i3 at least has a hatch and RHD lads, the Model 3 is just another sports saloon to us in the EU…)

Oh! If only BMW thought to engineer a longer wheelbase or longer rear bodied mini-estate version. Being shorter than a Mini One has its drawbacks (cargo space, proportions and aerodynamics).

Thanks Tom, I appreciate your reporting. Sounds like there is almost no charging taper. DCFC users should rejoice.

Biggest problem is that it’s an eyesore.
It’s the ugliest car in the world.

Yea, no. The more you see it the better it looks.
It’s actually got some fine design lines, like the hood.

Try looking at one that isn’t too shiny. Without your face reflecting off the finish, you’ll be able to see the beautiful lines. 😂

This article should have mentioned that this vehicle qualifies for the full $7,500 federal incentive, and you can easily find a sponsor for the current $10,000 incentive on this BMW. New York State also offers $2,000. Use all three and you have $ 19,500 in cash and tax savings BEFORE you start speaking with your BMW salesperson. For example, simply join USAA Services and you qualify. Here is the link: https://usaa2.secure.zag.com/prices-new/bmw/i3-pricing/2019/?viprStyleId=64259. You also get three years of no-charge service from BMW. Also, the BMW website lists the battery at 42kwh.

The discount is for people who have served in the armed forces. Finding a loophole to get that discount is verging on stolen valor.

With most EVs in the same class having 200+ miles of range, it is ridiculous how BMW keeps dragging its feet. With a 250 miles range, and a cut to overpricing it would be a serious alternative

These cars (’14-’16 model years) make great used car buys. I am planning on picking up a REX version for my son as his commuter between college, work and home. They can be had for under 20K in both REX and EV versions.

Yup, I purchased a 2014 BEV and it runs like a dream. No problems what so ever. I mainly use it for short trips. Should be a solid drive for your son

I’ve been almost tempted to do the same. Depreciation has been brutal, which means there’s some great deals to be had in the second-hand market. The only things that worry me are:
– Long-term reliability
– Odd tire size
– Expensive repairs

I’m always curious to hear from more owners about their ownership experience.

Tires are readily available, you can but an extra set if so worried.

I’m with you Joel… thinking the same

Lack of warranty is worrysome on the older ones. Year at best.

We bought a 2014 BEV new. Its general warranty expired in November, 2018. Its battery pack warranty continues until November, 2022.

During our 4 years of ownership, it has been totally reliable with no unexpected repairs. During its scheduled maintenance visits every 2 years, an improved battery pack charging module, a strengthened motor mount bolt, and system software updates were installed at no cost.

That said, I do worry a bit about the potential failure of some very expensive electronic modules that would no longer be covered under warranty. I suppose similar potential expensive repairs might occur with almost any car. Having owned a couple of very reliable Hondas, had Honda made the i3, I would be less concerned.

I would not have any problem recommending a used i3 BEV. However, I would be less enthusiastic about recommending a used i3 REx due to its poorer reliability relative to the BEV.

I bought a 2014 CPO in 2015. I got the remainder of the 4 year warranty, plus 2 extra years. My car is still under warranty.

A bigger battery improves range? I’m glad I read this article.

The i3 was one of the first EVs I drove (after a Zoe actually) in about 2015 and it was fun. But geez, haven’t they fallen waaay behind now?

Let’s be honest – the Rex is an acknowledgement that they can’t build a bigger battery, and it never was much of a looker. For that price Model 3 please.

I drive one. It is a weirdmibile from the outside. But the light grey interior is my favorite car interior ever.

Good news everyone! This is the same generation of equipment that BMW will put in the new upcoming electric Mini! A premium hatch with a drive-train from like 2015! Wow! Never mind they’re about to totally revitalise their small-car EV powertrains, they’re still jamming the current gen into a brand new EV launching next year.

Very good article, with lots of nice battery data.

FWIW, a friend just bought a 2019 i3 BEV w/ $44.5K MSRP in Boston for ~$20k + taxes. $5k dealer discount, $10k fleet discount, $7.5k fed tax credit and $1.5k from MA.
I got a quite good lease last year on a 2018 BEV ($54k MSRP for $12.5k total 3 year cost) but if I could have gotten a deal like his would have bought a lower optioned model.

It is still limited to 50kW? Why can’t they increase the maximum charge rate to 100kW or even 80kW?
Also, what happened to that company that was going to put 100kWh batteries into i3’s, and they were getting 435 mile driving range?
BMW should take note, apartment dwellers would love an EV that they could drive for 2 weeks before taking it to a DCFC to charge. And even though it’s small, for one or two people, it would make a great road-trip vehicle(with 435 mile range, it is in ICE territory as far as range)

As a long time Leaf owner and newly minted closeout Volt owner, I really like the i3. What I don’t get is why they couldn’t squeeze in even a 5 gallon gas tank on the extended version… Maybe it would only apply in the US market, but an extra gallon or two would make it a reasonable experience on longer road trips. Unless there’s some engineering reason…