BMW i3 – 2,000-Mile Real-World Review – The Likes

4 Y BY TOM 22

Now that I’ve had my i3 for nearly a month, I’m starting to get a good feel for what I like and what I don’t. My initial thought was to do one post with both the likes and dislikes at this point, but after assembling the lists, I realized I wouldn’t be able to spend enough time on each topic if I did it that way. Therefore I decided I’d do two consecutive posts, with one for the likes and one for the dislikes. I’m tackling the easy one first, the likes:

Adaptive Cruise Control With Stop & Go:

This feature is really useful. It’s kind of like locking in on the vehicle in front of you with a tractor beam and letting it pull you along. I’ve found it great for both low speed and high speed driving and the car will even come to a complete stop and accelerate again once the car in front of you does. The only things that aren’t perfect is I’ve found it sometimes leaves too large of a gap in between you and the car you are chasing (for safety reasons I guess) but that allows people to easily cut in front of you if they want to.

Also, sometimes it disengages for no apparent reason and when it does that, the car goes into full regenerative braking mode, since you don’t have your foot on the accelerator. It seems to do it more in the rain and also when approaching overpasses. Both could possibly confuse the camera-based system. That is not an ideal situation by any means, and something I hope BMW will address with a software update in the future. If the adaptive cruise control does disengage by itself, the car should temporally suspend the regenerative braking until the driver touches either the brake or the accelerator themselves.


This display appears when the adaptive cruise control system automatically disengages

*Editor’s Note: This post appears on Tom’s blog.  Check it out here.

Seating Position:

Like many things in any “likes & dislikes” list, this is highly subjective. The seating position in the i3 is very high, and really “un-sports car like”. It’s actually like sitting in a mini SUV. I like this position and really like the outward vision you get in the car, with lots of glass surfaces and an absolutely huge windshield. The only think I had to get used to was that you cannot see the nose of the car at all. The hood drops off so prominently, it’s impossible to see it from inside the car. After a week of two I was past that though, and feel totally comfortable with not being able to see the nose at all.

The high seating position and the abundance of glass allow for a great outward view

The high seating position and the abundance of glass allow for a great outward view

Charging Rate:

One of the advantages of having a small battery in your electric vehicle is that it will charge quickly, provided it has a robust onboard charger. The i3 is supposed to be able to accept up to 32 amps @240V which would be about 7.7kW. I haven’t seen my charge rate quite that high, but I do seem to be pulling about 6.9kW from my home EVSE. That’s good enough to refill a fully discharged battery in about 3.5 hours, or give me roughly 25 miles of range per hour of charging. My ActiveE took about 5 hours to fully charge when it was new, and then when BMW lowered the charge rate due to onboard charger problems, it was taking nearly 7 hours to fully charge. My i3 charges in about half the time it was taking my ActiveE and that makes such a difference for someone like me that does a lot of driving.

Charging at home. The quick charge rate has allowed me to drive 120+ electric miles in the same day without the need of the REx a couple times already.

Charging at home. The quick charge rate has allowed me to drive 120+ electric miles in the same day without the need of the REx a couple times already.

Cargo Space:

For the past five years I’ve been driving BMW’s beta test electric vehicles which were converted gas cars. Both vehicles had severely compromised cargo areas because they were conversions. I use my car to run errands for my restaurant and I’m frequently picking up various supplies. The hatchback cargo area of the i3, especially with the seats down is so much more useful than either the MINI-E or the ActiveE was and I’m so happy to finally have a real purpose built electric vehicle. The battery packaging doesn’t interfere with any of the passenger or cargo space, as it’s located directly beneath the passenger compartment in one large aluminum case. As much as I liked my previous EV’s, the fact that they were indeed conversions did limit their utility.

Delivering a catering order

Delivering a catering order

Picking up some supplies

Picking up some supplies

The Interior:

If the unconventional exterior styling has some people scratching their heads, just tell them to open the doors and take a seat inside. The interior is stunningly beautiful, with well laid out instruments and more space than a car of this size ever deserves to have. The tall body and wide stance allows the i3, which is more than a foot smaller than a 1-Series to have nearly as much interior space as a 3-Series. The huge 8.8″ center instrumentation screen is amazingly clear, and somehow doesn’t have a glare problem as I feared it may. The seats are comfortable and the armrest is adjustable so you can set it at the height you prefer. There is plenty of space to store stuff with huge door pockets, each that will hold two beverage bottles. There are two cup holders between the rear seats and two cup holders in the front with a slot for another optional cup holder. In all the car has up to nine beverage holders. I thought German engineers didn’t understand the American obsession to hold drinks in the car?


The “Tera World” interior of my i3

The Efficiency:

The i3 is the most efficient passenger car available in the US. So far, according to the data I’m compiling it’s nearly 25% more efficient than my ActiveE was. That means I’m using 25% less energy that the ActiveE which was a pretty efficient EV in it’s own right. I actually did a blog post last week on the subject of efficiency which you can view here.

If you can curb your enthusiasm for the instant torque, the i3 can be an extremely efficient machine

If you can curb your enthusiasm for the instant torque, the i3 can be an extremely efficient machine

Comfort Access:

OK, so this isn’t really anything related to it being an electric vehicle, but it’s the first car I’ve owned with this feature. You just walk up to the car with the key in the pocket and it unlocks when you grab the handle. Then get inside and just press the start button and it turns on. When you leave you just touch the door handle in a particular spot and it locks. The only think I don’t like about this, which will definitely be mentioned in my “dislikes” post, is the extremely loud beep the car makes when you lock or unlock the doors. It’s ear-piercingly loud and makes everyone in the general vicinity look your way.

The Range Extender:

I was on the fence for a long time trying to decide whether to get the REx or not. Once it became evident the BEV i3 wouldn’t have a real 100 mile range that I could depend on, the REx really became a necessary decision. I’d prefer having a 100 mile EV and a good robust fast charge network, but that will take a few more years, at least here in the North East. For now, the range extender concept works perfectly for me. When I first got the car I purposely didn’t charge it so I could fully test the REx performance and it worked even better than I imagined. I did about two hundred miles of driving in REx mode, mostly highway driving at 70 to 75 mph and it was perfectly capable of maintaining the charge.

I still haven’t had time to really test it by overworking it until it cannot sustain the charge, but I will. The good news is that I’ll have to actually try to do that, because it is definitely robust enough to do anything I’ll need it to, and that includes 230 mile trips to Vermont. I drive about 30,000 miles per year, and I’m guessing I’ll do about 1,000 miles with the REx running. The one great thing about the REx is not having to think about where I’m going in order to make sure I can plug in if I need to drive a little further than planned. I believe in the near future the range extender won’t be necessary, but with where battery tech and charging infrastructure is today, I believe it makes sense for a lot of people and will certainly help with the adoption of electric vehicles.

The i3's range extender sits next to the electric motor above the rear axle.

The i3’s range extender sits next to the electric motor above the rear axle.

Collision Warning:

Collision Warning with Brake Priming Function is activated at speeds up to 35 mph. It is able to respond to both moving and stationary vehicles ahead, as well as to pedestrians. If you are rapidly approaching a vehicle or pedestrian, it offers a audible warning and “primes” the brakes so they are ready for the moment you depress the brake pedal. BMW claims this allows for shorter stopping distances. What I really like though is the audible alert. I’ve only had it come on twice so far and in neither time did it actually prevent me from having a collision, but I could definitely see it doing just that under certain circumstances (like distracted driving). It’s definitely a neat safety device and one that I hope all cars have some day.

Hill Hold:

If the BMW engineers that are responsible for the hill hold on the i3 are reading this I’d like to say something: Bravo! You nailed it! Electric cars will roll freely forwards or backwards like manual transmission cars do. For the ActiveE, BMW employed the same kind of hill hold feature like they do on their conventionally-powered cars. You needed to depress the brake pedal to activate the hill hold feature, and it would release in a couple seconds. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t perfect either. The i3 won’t roll backwards at all unless you put it in reverse, and you don’t need to depress the brake pedal to activate the hill hold, it just does it automatically. However it will roll forward to assist in your launch, which is the way it should be. The hill hold feature doesn’t time-out, and holds the vehicle as long as you need it to. This seems so natural when you drive it, and now that I’ve experienced it I’m wondering why no other electric vehicle manufacturer has come up with this yet. I’m sure they will copy it though.

Soft Speed Limiter:

This is another feature that I believe is unique to the i3 and is pretty innovative. Perhaps the biggest range thief with electric vehicles is excessive speed. The i3 employes a unique soft speed limiter to gently remind you that you are driving fast and perhaps you should consider slowing down to extend your range. There are three driving modes in the i3: Comfort (this is what the car defaults to) Eco Pro and Eco Pro +. There is no soft speed limit in Comfort mode, but while driving in Eco Pro and Eco Pro +, the soft speed limits are at 75mph and 55mph respectively. The reasoning behind this is if you are in comfort mode, you likely have plenty of range and aren’t consciously concerned with extending it. However if you selected Eco Pro or Eco Pro +, you likely are concerned with how much range you have and are making an effort to maximize it. Since driving fast is very inefficient, the car coaches you a bit and “reminds” you that you may want to slow down.

Here’s how it works: When you reach the speed that the soft limit is set at (75 mph for Eco Pro and 55 mph for Eco Pro +) the car will not exceed that speed, even if you continue to depress the accelerator. In order to go faster, you need to continue to depress the accelerator further and after a couple seconds it realized that you are aware that you’re passing the soft limit but wish to do so anyway, and it will indeed accelerate. It actually takes off rather quickly with an abrupt burst of speed at that point, almost as if to say “Well you asked for it!” I really like this “coaching” feature. There have been plenty of times in my other EVs that I was driving on the highway and wanted to keep my speed down a bit to conserve energy but would find myself creeping up and driving faster than I wanted to without noticing it. With this feature, you really won’t pass the soft limit without really intending to, you can’t do it by accident.
When you activate Eco Pro + mode, you get this display prompting you to keep your speed under 55 mph for maximum range. This lead some people to assume it meant the car wouldn’t go faster than 55 mph in this mode, which is not correct.

When you activate Eco Pro +  mode, you get this display prompting you to keep your speed under 55 mph for maximum range. This lead some people to assume it meant the car wouldn't go faster than 55 mph in this mode, which is not correct.

When you activate Eco Pro + mode, you get this display prompting you to keep your speed under 55 mph for maximum range. This lead some people to assume it meant the car wouldn’t go faster than 55 mph in this mode, which is not correct.


I saved the best for last. The i3 is really a blast to drive. I have the REx i3 which is about a half a second slower than the BEV and have been timing myself from 0-60 in around 7.6 seconds. It’s not Tesla fast, but it is a really a quick little car and is much faster and more fun to drive than my ActiveE was. The instant power in the 10 mph to 50 mph range is amazing and feels quicker than my Porsche Boxster did when accelerating at those speeds. This is indeed a fun car to drive, and drives so much better than anyone would expect just from looking at it.

Category: BMW, Test Drives

Tags: , ,

22 responses to "BMW i3 – 2,000-Mile Real-World Review – The Likes"
  1. David Murray says:

    Very good news about the range extender. I’ve seen SO MANY posts about it being a “limp mode” and yet that is not the information I’ve seen coming out of BMW. So it is nice to hear some anecdotal evidence in this matter.

    I also love the idea of the ECO PRO mode. I wish the Volt and Leaf had similar modes. I often find my speed creeping up, especially on the highway. I can set the cruise control to help limit that, but often have to turn it off after a few minutes when traffic speed changes.

  2. Mart Shearer says:

    The external styling really reminds me of Mercedes’ 2005 Bionic concept, which was based on the boxfish.

    1. Warren says:

      Closer to a loaf of bread actually.

      The BMW i3 EV is 7.4 feet CdA, and the Rex version is draggier at 7.6 feet, much worse than the Tesla S at 6.2 CdA.

      They still have lower Wh/mile EPA average than any other electric car, because of the light weight, and low rolling resistance.

      If they had worked as hard on the aerodynamics, they could have replaced the Rex with 50% more battery, and had their 150 mile real range car.

      1. Doug B says:

        Adding 50% more battery would likely have added $5-$10 on the price of an already expensive EV. I’m hoping for an 100mile plus EV soon, but with drivers fascination with screens, gadgets etc, it will take a while for the battery costs to come down and allow for such.

        1. Warren says:

          The Rex adds $4K to the price, and 264 pounds to the weight.

          Considering that I can buy 10 kWh of NMC w/BMS,retail, for $7K at 100 pounds less weight, I don’t buy your argument.

          1. Brian says:

            Didn’t you just confirm his conclusion? The i3 has a 22kWh battery, so half of that is 11kWh. He said that it would add $5-$10k. $7k for 10kWh is exactly in line with that.

            1. Warren says:

              $7K minus the $4k for the Rex = $3k…less than the Rex, and 100% electric…none of the maintenance of an ICE. It is a win-win.

              1. Brian says:

                $7K minus the $4k for the Rex = $3k…less than the Rex

                I would check your math. You can’t subtract the price of the REx and use the remainder to claim it is less than the REx.

                That said, I suspect that BMW could integrate 10kWh of battery for less than $7k. They could possibly do it for about the same cost as the REx, and there would be a market for that. But the batteries would take more space than the REx, requiring either a larger car or eating into the trunk (a la Ford).

                1. Warren says:

                  My point was that if I can get the batteries for $7K they could have added them for the price of the Rex.

                  The battery I am talking about is a 27″ cube. I doubt the Rex is that small.

  3. Brian says:

    Nice writeup.

    Regarding the adaptive cruise control turning off, I have noticed that CC turns off in the Leaf whenever traction control engages. This doesn’t always mean bad weather – I have had this happen when driving over railroad tracks as well. I assume the metal tracks cause the wheels to slip, and then the car disengages the CC. I believe it’s a safety feature.

    I know you drive alone a lot, so you have the luxury of folding down the rear seats, but how is the cargo area with the rear seats upright? I used to drive a ’97 Civic hatchback and assume the cargo space is similar back there.

    1. Without the rear seats down, the cargo space is limited because the deck is high. It’s still better than what I’ve had the past five years, so I’m not complaining, but it’s probably less that what most hatchbacks have.

      1. no comment says:

        to me, the i3 is no different from any other hatchback. in that regard, it isn’t that much different from any other hatchback, although the shelf looks to be rather high so i would think that the capacity is slightly less than would be the case in a hatchback of similar height. on the other hand, the high self makes it really easy to load and unload the compartment.

      2. Nix says:

        Do you think it would pass the bike test? (fit a bicycle in the back with the seats down without taking any wheels off)

        1. Brent says:

          I am not sure it would pass the bike test (is this a folding bike?)

          As far as the ‘stroller test’, our i3 only fits our stroller (a bumbleride indie: if I remove the ‘parcel shelf’ and leave it in our garage (the thing that hides what is in the cargo area from lookers through the window)

          Our 2011 Volt fits the stroller with the parcel shelf still installed, and has a much more room left over.


        2. no comment says:

          there are a few ways that you can get a bike into a hatchback without taking the wheels off. if you don’t have any passengers, you can orient the bicycle so that the front wheel is against the front passenger seat; then if you need more room, you slide the front passenger seat forward. another way is to turn the front wheel so that it points upwards (at some angle); that effectively makes the bicycle shorter. there looks to be plenty of headroom in the i3 compartment to do that.

  4. pjwood says:

    “.. good enough to refill a fully discharged battery…or give me roughly 25 miles of range per hour of charging.”

    This is what I find most remarkable. No, it isn’t fast-charging, but it makes L2 public charging more productive, by far, when you go to the mall or out to eat. I think BMW can sell this, when describing the 7.4kw charger, and high kwh efficiency. It’s enough that I could see deliberately stopping at places, if the timing/item needs work, during a long trip.

    You kept the red kidneys?

  5. no comment says:

    based on this report, i don’t find the BMW i3 to be particularly impressive. first, most of the comments are about the general design of the car and are not EV-specific. to that extent, i like the high seat position and visibility. my biggest objection with the design of the Chevrolet Volt is that the sight lines aren’t always great. part of this is due to the large roof pillars, although i am sure that i would be thankful if i ever got into a rollover collision.

    the i3 charge rate is very good, but i wonder what it would be when using a 120V outlet because this is a more common environment in which a person would own an EV.

    the 6.2 mi/kwh efficiency looks very good, although an 11 mile test is much too short of a distance to get any meaningful data.

    with regard to the interior, i guess it is truly a matter of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, because the i3 interior looks rather spartan to me. i think that the Volt interior is much better designed and the center stack is really beautiful, especially at night.

    the range extender does not change the fact that the i3 is a metro-area vehicle, although having a safety net is very useful, so i think that the car is better suited for major metropolitan area use in the USA than a car like the Nissan Leaf. in metropolitan use, the EV range is such that you would probably almost never run out of gasoline, even in the winter. I have a Volt and I rarely keep more than 2 or 3 gallons in the tank at a time. Where the Volt is really good is that you can operate it just like a conventional ICE car; so it was great when i took a 1,500 mile trip because i didn’t have to stop for fuel every hour. But that is a difference of design philosophy: the i3 is designed as a metropolitan car and the Volt is designed as a general car.

    i very much question the “soft speed” feature. first of all, in my experience, the biggest drain on EV range is not high speed, but use of a heater; so maybe Tom’s comments are directed to people who live in warm climates – I happen to live in Illinois, so i am not in that audience. i think that it would have been better to adopt an “energy ball” as is used in the Chevrolet Volt; that way, you have a visual indication that encourages you to drive in a more energy efficient manner, but if you don’t care, then the vehicle lets you drive as you wish. the other thing is that if you want to limit something, it would make more sense to limit acceleration. for example, in the Volt, you can operate in “Normal” mode, which limits acceleration; or in “Sport” mode, that allows you to get better acceleration. of course, better acceleration means less EV range.

    1. pjwood says:

      “the i3 charge rate is very good, but i wonder what it would be when using a 120V outlet because this is a more common environment in which a person would own an EV.”

      Even if you used L1, you’d have to find the occassion where you’d go through the 60-80 miles, and need more. Otherwise, those going 30, or 40, miles on average would only need to put those miles back. If that doesn’t work, or they travel further every day, buying a 240 volt unit (L2) makes sense.

      You’re right. There is no use in pretending that an outlet is going to replace 70 miles overnight. No biggie.

  6. kdawg says:

    “When you leave you just touch the door handle in a particular spot and it locks.”

    This is one of my favorite features in my Volt. But in the Volt you don’t need to touch a button, you just walk away and it locks behind you. I just leave my keys in my backpack or pocket all the time. Never have to use them for anything.

  7. Tomasz says:

    Soft speed limit is quite popular in Europe. I had Peugeot 307 where you could set it up at any speed in 5kmph increments. Very useful on curvy European roads where there is no point in setting cruise but soft speed limit keeps you from unintentionally speeding. I used that a lot.

  8. xxl says:

    Strange that you like adaptive cruise control when infact it is dangerous (auto regen brake) !

  9. Dan says:

    My Prius plug-in had the same lock/unlock feature, something I miss on my LEAF for sure.

    As for the hill assist feature, don’t most cars have this now? All my Toyotas had it, and the LEAF does as well. The LEAF does have an issue that whenever it hits a small bump/pothole, EV regen is disabled (triggered by oversensitive ABS iirc), I’m wondering if something similar is happening to your car?

    Did you get a chance to test drive an i3 without REx? On paper, the REx makes the i3 heavier, less efficient, and even affects EV performance according to BMW. Have you noticed this?

    The aggressive regen on the i3 is my favorite feature, but I’m guessing it was just like this in the ActiveE, or you would have mentioned it (being able to come to a full stop really impressed me, even as a LEAF driver).