BMW i3 at LA Auto Show: Driving Impressions & Details

4 Y BY TOM 63

First Drive of BMW i3

BMW i3 First Drive

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got to drive an i3.

From ActiveE to i3...The Transition Starts Soon

From ActiveE to i3…The Transition Starts Soon

I’ve actually been getting tired of having journalists contact me and ask me for my opinion of it on the road compared to the MINI-E and ActiveE and having to tell them I haven’t had the opportunity to drive one yet!

So, did it live up to my (high) expectations? Yes, it did.

It’s certainly not “the perfect EV,” but in my opinion it does do more things better than any other electric vehicle that cost less than $70,000. And yes, the $70,000 is the threshold mentioned because slightly above that, (actually $72,240) is the starting point before incentives for the least expensive Model S you can buy in the US.

Though Impressive, the Tesla Model S Should Not be Considered a Direct Competitor to the BMW i3

Though Impressive, the Tesla Model S Should Not be Considered a Direct Competitor to the BMW i3

Price is worth mentioning here because since the i3 has launched, there have been endless comparisons between it and the Model S. My contention is that they are both excellent electric vehicles and while there will be inevitable comparisons and even some cross-shopping, they are really vastly different cars and if they weren’t both electric, would never be compared. The i3’s base price is $42,275. That’s $29,965 or about 40% less than a base Model S and that alone should end the need to compare them. However, I feel it was important to touch on this because everybody else is. These are both excellent EV’s, but they serve different masters. The one thing fascinating about the Model S is that it’s such a great electric vehicle, that every other electric vehicle that comes along will now be compared to it, well done Tesla.

In addition to my test drives, I had the opportunity to sit down and interview just about every BMW representative there and I will do a future blog post dedicated to at least one of those interviews. However, here I’m going to focus on my thoughts on the driving experience and answering the many questions about the i3 I’ve received in the past few weeks in the form of comments, personal emails or posts on the BMW i3 Facebook page or in the BMW i3 forum, both of which I am the administrator of.

Optional Wide Nav Looks Impressive

Optional Wide Nav Looks Impressive

BMW had fifty identical i3’s at the LA Auto Show for test drives. They were all exactly the same color, had the 20″ wheels, the top of the line Tera World interior and had every available option the i3 will offer. I later found out from BMW NA i3 product manager Jose Guerrero that these cars were actually the very first i3’s to roll off the assembly line and that they were pre-production vehicles and European spec so they had to be updated with US charging ports, navigation software and other small modifications so they could be used here in the US for test drives. Also, after the LA Auto show these cars will gradually filter to dealers all over the US so depending on where you live your local BMW dealer may get one soon for demonstration and test drives.

Lined Up and Ready to Go

Lined Up and Ready to Go

What about the range extender?

Looks Fairly Spacious Doesn't It?

Looks Fairly Spacious Doesn’t It?

Unfortunately, none of the cars had range extenders, so I can’t answer many of the REx questions I’ve had like: “How quiet is it?, Can you feel the vibrations when it’s on? and What MPG does it deliver?” I did learn some new details which I’ll discuss later in the post though.

I will say this though because the question of how robust the range extender is has been a common theme on every website that has an i3 discussion. At a private event on Thursday that BMW held for the ActiveE drivers that question was brought up and Jacob Harb, BMW’s North American manager of sales and strategy for electric vehicles said he wanted to straighten out the confusion around a comment that a BMW representative once said, and that was that the REx wasn’t meant for daily use. Jacob said you can certainly use it every day if you need to, but that BMW didn’t envision the car being used by someone that has a 120 or 130 mile daily commute. The car could do it, but if your daily driving needs were this extensive then perhaps a different vehicle might be a better choice.

He was then asked about taking it on a long drive and refilling the take and continuing to drive. Again he said that BMW doesn’t really envision people using the car like that all the time, but technically it’s perfectly capable of doing so. He even said that technically speaking, you could drive an i3 from New York to LA simply by stopping for gas every 50 or 60 miles and refueling, and then qualified it by saying “But I don’t know why anybody would want to do that.” and personally I agree. 😉

Driving in LA:

Time to Stop for a Photo Op

Time to Stop for a Photo Op

I actually had the opportunity to drive it twice and to do a ride along once so I probably spent a collective 20 miles in them. I had a press pass so I registered for a press drive and then at the ActiveE event we were all allowed one test drive plus I rode along when fellow Electronaut Todd Crook took his turn. On the first drive, BMW handed me a course that they wanted the press to follow. It was basically a 3 mile loop that had you driving five blocks and turn right four times and you ended back where the ride originated from which was the Staples Center parking lot.

You were alone, so you could of course vary from the course if you “got lost”. Being from New Jersey and never having driven in LA before I found it difficult staying on course and accidentally drove a little longer. It was pretty much what I expected it to be. Very quick, (we were told it does 0-60 in 7.0 seconds) very quiet (quieter than the ActiveE for sure), it has very responsive steering, an amazingly short turning radius and the braking was probably the best I’ve ever experienced. I practiced some emergency stops in a parking lot and the car stopped in exceptionally short distances. I can’t wait to see official road tests when they measure braking distances. I predict it will deliver some of the shortest braking distances of any car on the road today.

Time to Put Some Miles on the Odometer

Time to Put Some Miles on the Odometer

I really didn’t get the chance to push the handling because of the LA city environment but I did have some fun weaving in and out of traffic, sprinting from streetlight to streetlight and mashing the accelerator to the floor at every opportunity. I don’t know how it will do auto crossing (yet), but I give it an A+ for making the most fun you can out of city driving. I even tried out the Parking Assistant and it worked perfectly. I also purposely hit every pothole there was – and incidentally LA doesn’t have nearly as many of them as we do in New York, and the car absorbed them without a problem and I didn’t hear any unusual rattles or noises that I’ve read a few other journalists report when driving over bumps.

Backup Camera in Action

Backup Camera in Action

The regenerative braking was about 10% weaker than it is on the ActiveE, but it’s still by far the strongest regenerative braking on any electric vehicle. I’d say the Volt in low driving mode and the Model S are tied for 2nd, but the i3 has stayed true to BMW’s promise of having the strongest regen in the industry which really allows for “one pedal driving”. Like on the ActiveE there is what BMW calls a glide mode (basically the ability to coast to improve efficiency). By slightly easing back on the accelerator, the motor decouples and the car freewheels. While this isn’t what you would normally need in a city driving environment, it will come in handy at higher speeds on the freeway. By easing back a bit more on the accelerator the motor then reengages and the regenerative braking grabs.

Generous Load Bay

Generous Load Bay

The seats were comfortable and supportive and felt like they would do fine holding you in place during spirited driving but definitely don’t grab you into place like seats in a sports car would. This, plus the lack of a center tunnel on the floor does allow you to easily slide across to the other side of the car and exit out of the passenger side if you wanted to, which I did just to see how easy it would be.

The back seats have plenty of room for two big adults. I even brought along three passengers on my second test drive to see how we all fit and if the extra 600+ lbs would effect the driving dynamics. The car was slightly slower as you would expect but the handling felt just as good as when I was driving alone but again, I couldn’t push it much on the streets of LA but I did make some rapid lane changes at about 40 mph and the car felt precise and planted even with the full load.

What was learned:

As I mentioned above I’ve had a lot of people ask me i3 questions recently and I promised I’d do my best to get answers once I drove the car and had the opportunity to speak to the program managers again. Without listing the specific questions here the answers to most of what I’ve been asked:

  • The range extender engine is liquid cooled, but it’s a different system and coolant than what is used for the battery management system. In fact, the i3 REx has three separate cooling systems. One for the BMS, one for the passenger cabin and one for the REx engine. The battery pack uses air conditioning refrigerant and the REx engine uses conventional liquid coolant.
  • Waste heat from the REx is not used to heat the cabin.
  • In the US the heat pump is standard on all BEV i3’s, but it’s not available on the i3 REx. BMW doesn’t believe it’s a necessary option if you have the range extender.
  • Yes, you can certainly precondition the the cabin (heat or cool) and the battery even if you have the REx (Two people from the UK asked me this so evidently there is inaccurate info somewhere there)
  • European delivery will not be offered on the i3.
  • There are no optional interior color choices. Each interior level only comes in the color shown. So you can’t for instance get the Terra World with gray interior, it only is available in the brown leather like the pictures shown above.
  • The REx does not turn on until the state of charge is under 5%. It is robust enough to maintain the charge under all but the most strenuous conditions. You can manually shut it off so it doesn’t turn on at all for instances when you know you’ll make your destination on battery alone. If you do so it resets once you turn the car off and on again. This way you can’t forget you shut the REx off.
  • The REx has start/stop technology and shuts off when you are driving under 10mph unless the SOC is so low that it needs to stay on to get the car to 5% SOC. This is so that the car remains quiet at low speeds and while parked. This means you can’t park the car with the REx on and let it charge up for a while.
  • There is no speed limiter when the REx is running, but there is when you choose Eco Pro+ mode. In Eco Pro+ mode you are limited to 56 mph (BMW has provided us with an update on this aspect of the i3.  In Eco Pro+ mode, US versions of the i3 will not be speed limited). Jose Guererro showed the ActiveE group a picture of the speedometer he took while driving an i3 with the REx running and he was going about 70-75mph (I don’t remember exactly) he also said the car was maintaining the charge without a problem at that speed.
  • Heated seats are optional, and this was a bit of a head scratcher: You can’t precondition the passenger cabin with heat unless you get the seat heater option. I don’t get that at all, but that’s the way it is. Anyone that lives in an area that has cold temperatures during the year simply must get the heated seats option in my opinion or they will regret it later.
  • The rear seats fold down completely flat and split 50/50.
  • Comfort Access is standard with Giga and Tera World trim packages, as is the sunroof.
  • The battery pack is comprised of 8 modules which each have 12 individual cells. The cells are supplied by Samsung but BMW assembles the modules in house.
  • You have to get the Parking Assistant package to get the rear view camera, it’s not a standalone option.
  • US orders will begin in January, not in November as previously reported.
  • i3’s bound for the US will begin production in March, likely arrive in the US for delivery sometime in April.

*End note: For more on BMW i3, including additional images, check out Tom’s blog by clicking here.

Category: BMW, Test Drives

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63 responses to "BMW i3 at LA Auto Show: Driving Impressions & Details"
  1. Josh says:

    Glad you finally got your drive.

    Thanks for your thoughts and the updated delivery info.

  2. Airton says:

    Thanks Tom for the awesome i3 review, I can’t wait to get behind the wheel for this car myself.

    1. You’re welcome. I’ll see you on the 11th then?

      1. Airton says:


  3. AT says:

    “BMW didn’t envision the car being used by someone that has a 120 or 130 mile daily commute”.
    It would seem to me that the i3 would be the best option available, in that case, after a Model S.
    With any other plug-in hybrid/EREV you would have a much shorter battery range, so you would have to burn much more gas. Not to speak of non plug-ins…
    And the fact that you would be using all the battery capacity every day (or most days) just means that you would have the biggest possible savings and repay the price premium for the car earlier.
    Besides, there is the possibility that, at some point, it will become possible to plug-in at work, and make the return trip as well on zero gas.
    Am I missing something?

    1. Evil Attorney says:

      In that scenario, you would need to stop at the gas station to fill up almost every day. Not too appealing to me.

      1. MTN Ranger says:

        If you can charge at work, then you could be fully electric for 120-130 miles.

      2. AT says:

        I forgot to say that I enjoyed very much the review – very useful, as usual. Great.

        Yes, that’s certainly a point.
        Of course, everyone has its own priority. For me, to stop even every day at a pump, if on my way (extremely likely, on a 120 miles trip), would be a price I would not mind much paying, in order to be able to drive an i3. It would just be a 2-3 minutes extension of a one and a half – two hours driving, anyway.
        The only other option I would consider (apart from a Model S) would be a Volt or Ampera (which I also like), since I would not be happy with a lower battery range plug-in hybrid (for the given scenario, at least). In that case, visits at the pump will be much more rare, of course.
        The main advantage of the i3, though, would be the still lower emissions, very important to me. And, of course, I like very much the i3. That’s certainly an important aspect as well.
        Also, here in Europe, the i3 would be the most economical choice (actually, not only respect to an Ampera, but, I believe, respect to any other car in that category). That’s because here gasoline is at about 9$ per gallon, and because the price of the i3 REx is only a thousand euro above Ampera price (41k euro against 40k). So, at the end, TCO would be much lower for the i3.
        Yes, quite a different situation than in US.

        So, I think I would go for the i3 even in this case.

        Anyway, a much more ideal situation would clearly be a commute equal or in case a few miles longer than battery range: not much pump visit inconvenience in that case, and great savings.
        I think that’s exactly where the exceptionally long battery range of the i3 REx respect to any other plug-in hybrid makes the biggest difference. I think BMW should value it and advertise: “you travel 80-100 miles a day? The i3 is the most economical option!”.
        But I realize at the end, most people would not buy an i3 mainly for that…

        Great to have many plug-in choices, now!!!

  4. David Murray says:

    I wonder what is the cheapest you can get an i3 + rex?

    1. James says:

      Thanks Tom for the comprehensive first look and drive!

      I like your photos from the website and every new look opens a few new clues
      as to this unusual animal called an i3.

      Your insights reinforce that so many things about the i3 are optional. BMW
      liked to claim the bare min. MSRP ( don’t all car companies? ) but as I’ve
      stated in the past, it looks as though things like heated seats also come at
      a great cost as must be packaged in with things you necessarily don’t want.
      This all adds up, and I’m sure potential i3 buyers will look much more
      favorably at the Volt after they realize the car packaged the way that would
      work for them with ReX will run them well north of $50,000. Add to this
      the expense of owning a BMW / service + parts and the great unknown of
      fixing minor to mid body accident damage.

      Things I like more than b4: I dig the Euro-mod house interior look inside.
      The bentwood rounding up and down under the flat screens. While the
      implementation of the flat screens I find questionable ( why use a mouse
      device when touch is more direct? ), I do like how it seems to usher in
      an age when these types of devices could be modular – Where they’d
      plug in and out, as to be updated as tech updates ( like going from a
      Kindle Fire to a Fire HDX, or a Nexus 7 to new Nexus 7 or iPad mini
      to better Retina iPad mini…etc, etc, etc. ). How maddening is it to
      buy a car and the payments aren’t have finished when the GPS Nav is
      so out of date as to make you want to rip it physically from the dash?!!

      The control stalk on the column is genius! How much should Ford, GM,
      Dodge and Toyota learn from this! A control stalk with this functionality
      and ergonomics could revolutionize the driving position of a pickup
      truck, minivan or CUV. You can get up and move about, or as you say-
      have bench seat versatility to move about the cabin without a stalk,
      shifter or giant center console impeding your movements! How much
      more sensible this setup than the awkward, ancient column shift on
      trucks or their combo AWD/FWD knobs and buttons mixed with a center
      shifter! My Prius opened my eyes to this with it’s little shifter on the dash –
      this one is much better still.

      The steering wheel looks cool – yet looks to still not have HVAC on the
      controls ala: Prius. To me – many functions can skip the screen interface
      through a mouse knob on the console, or touchscreen or buttons by just
      doing what 2nd gen Prius did and put all access to these functions on
      the steering wheel.

      Your test drive and braking performance comments really have to wait on
      real tests. I remember my first LEAF drive where they also limited it to a
      several block square at ridiculously slow speeds. I never did get an
      accurate impression of the car until I went to a dealership and just was
      let loose with one. Surely the lightness of the car ( for an EV ) will help
      it in braking, yet the tiny contact patch of those itsy skinny tires leaves
      lots in question. Seems rainy/oily surfaces and the like will be dicey –
      traction control or no — But the weight helps,naturally. Crosswinds are
      another big ?. The car’s profile is tall, and it’s tires skinny… How will
      this relate at highway speeds in high crosswinds? Will it be a VW Beetle
      of old ( blow into the next lane ) or will it’s low center of gravity win out,
      and it be highly controllable in such conditions?

      While I’m sure it outperforms the ActiveE, I’m not sold on many things
      re: the i3. For sure, it’s LEAF utility with a very expensive asking price –
      with so many things optional as to raise the price above what many
      people are – A) able to, or B) willing to afford.

      1. James says:

        And did I mention the hokey, tiny rear doors? Believe me,
        they will be a point of contention to purchasers who don’t
        think these types of things through.

        To learn what owning a vehicle with rear doors that cannot
        be closed until the fronts are opened ( then reverse order the
        process )…Just look to extra-cab pickup trucks of the past
        and ask owners how many times they *&@#!ed them out
        with kids and passengers flailing away at using them. This
        feature gives the i3’s cramped rear seats even less utility.
        See that newer pickup trucks went to the conventionally-
        hinged rear doors in response to owner complaints. The
        gains ( aesthetics and a pillarless door ) won’t mean much
        when it’s a b*&^# in daily use.

        1. Scott says:

          They still make trucks with doors that are that way. I believe it’s called a ford f150 or something. I think they still sell fairly well though.
          I test drove a volt, but I couldn’t sit in the back seat without hitting my head off the roof/rear window. I am hoping this isn’t the case with the i3.

          1. James says:

            All others have skipped the “SuperCab” and gone to a
            front-hinged rear door setup. Why? I can rest assured you’ve
            never owned one of those extra-cab trucks with rear doors
            that have to be shut in sequence. They are a major pain
            in your posterior.

      2. krona2k says:

        Apparantly the tires have plenty of grip, the wheels are large so the patch is long and thin rather than short and wide as is more usual.

  5. Dan Frederiksen says:

    Too poor aero, too heavy, too slow, too expensive and not that good looking. Any questions.

    1. Brandon says:

      Too Slow? really? have you even driven it? the thing is SUPER FAST, quicker than an M3, i bet its even head to head with a 60kw Model S

      1. EVMD says:

        Faster than a Tesla 60 Kwh, you are joking right

        1. 0-40 mph it’s definitely as quick as a 60kWh S, but after the S will certainly pull away.

    2. Brandon says:

      oh and it looks a lot better in person, and the aero isnt that poor

    3. GeorgeS says:

      Nope, no questions. You are dismissed.

    4. TWS says:

      cd under 0.3, weighs less than a Toyota Corrolla and almost as quick as an M3. So yes, I have questiobns. How could this or any car meet your expectations???

      1. KenZ says:

        He’s a troll. Don’t feed him.

        1. Volt says:

          There is a video of the i3 out accelerating the M3 so he is definitely not a troll, you are just simply a moron.

  6. Evil Attorney says:

    Thanks Tom. I was hoping to get out to the auto show last weekend for a test drive, but couldn’t make it.

    Tom, how does the interior space compare to the Volt and Leaf? The picture you posted makes it look like the back seats have less leg room than the Volt/Leaf.

    1. Brandon says:

      i went for a drive in it, the back seats are sort of tight, it will be harder for older people to get in and out but younger people not a problem, and the rear doors have to close first. i’d say the volt and its space are even? the i3 has flat ground so you can slide right to the other side so its not confined like the volt… little more head room in the i3 than the volt.

      1. That’s what I would say also. The LEAF has more room and I’d call it a tie with the Volt although you “feel” like you have more room in the i3 because there is no center tunnel so you can move your legs from side to side easier, plus more headroom but the leg room in front of you is about the same as a Volt.

  7. SeattleTeslaGuy says:

    Great review. Before owning a Tesla, I might have jumped on this car. But now, there seem to be too many ifs, ands or buts compared with a Model S. Yeah, they aren’t in the same league but I hate compromise in a vehicle..

    Probably the biggest deye opener to me is the reality of the REX. It doesn’t solve the long distance travel problem which I believe is one of the key issues that people have with owning an EV. I admit I haven’t thought about it much before…

    1. Congrats on the Model S, as you can tell I’m a big fan also. The one thing I have to question about your comment is that “It doesn’t solve the long distance travel problem”. I think you have to look at “long distance travel” person by person. For me, it actually works perfectly.

      Even though I drive a lot (35k/year), I rarely ever drive to a destination that’s more than 100 miles from my house. The single exception is when I drive to my in-laws which is 225 miles away in Vermont. Even a Model S 85kWh wouldn’t make the trip in the winter when it’s below 30 degrees and mostly highway driving without a lengthy stop to charge at some point. But I can take the i3 REx if I wanted to. Sure I’ll stop twice for gas along the way, but that’s a 5 minute pit stop at one of the many dozens of stations along the route. But in reality I probably won’t drive it there anyway because I prefer to take our all wheel drive vehicle when I go to Vermont in the winter.

      I think “long distance travel” varies greatly from person to person and also depending on where you live. Personally I’d love a 150 mile Ev. Beyond that I’m paying a lot of money for a battery that I don’t need and have to lug around with me all the time. So for me. neither the i3 or the Model S are “perfect”.

      1. SeattleTeslaGuy says:

        Well, you are right if a supercharger isn’t nearby. Though, the chademo adaptor is coming so there may be those available to you and high amp L2’s are rolling out (Canada’s Sun Country Highway, Washington State’s project as well).

        The problem with rex is the need to “stop every 50-60” miles for gas. That is worse than long charges, IMO.

        I don’t want to be argumentative but will give you a counter example. This weekend I drove my MS P85 from Seattle to Portland to Newberg, OR (Wine country) back to Seattle. Total mileage was about 500. 3 supercharger stops. The longest was 30 minutes which was just about right to get a cup of coffee, bathroom break and some leg stretching. It was pretty cold this weekend (for the northwest) – below freezing up to about 40F. To make it even sweeter, I didn’t pay a dime out of pocket for charging (though did pay for it when I bought car). Once the build-out is complete it looks like there will be 3 SCs in Vermont, by the way so a Model E may be a great car for you.

        “lugging” around extra battery is a subjective thing. I like that I can go 250+ miles on a charge. Do I use it all the time? No. But when I need it, I really appreciate it. A larger battery also makes for a more powerful car and can do higher regen as well. I agree there is a limit but we disagree where that limit is. 250 miles worth works well for me as that is 3+ hrs driving before a recharge.

        1. You aren’t being argumentative. This goes back to your needs for “long distance travel” vs mine. You may see it as us disagreeing with what the limit is, but I see it as my limit is different than yours, and that’s cool – neither of us is “right” or “wrong”

          The evolution to electrics is going to take a long time. We need various ranges, styles, price points, etc. The Model S is perfect for a lot of people and I think the i3 will be also, just as the Volt and the LEAF are. I know these sites are there so we can debate things to death, and that’s fun in itself, but my opinion is any new plug in coming to market is a good thing. If it’s not accepted then it won’t sell well and the manufacturer will be forced to do a better job on their next plug in car.

          You mentioned the Model E and yes, it’s high on my radar, but it won’t be available for over three years and by then I’ll have 100,000 miles on my i3 and will be looking to trade up anyway! 😉

          1. Mark H says:

            +1 to that Tom. My only disappointment is failing to use the wasted heat from the Rex.

            1. Mark: That is probably the thing that bothers me the least. How often do you expect to really use the range extender? Then figure after you’ve driven your 80 miles or so the engine has to warm up before heat is even available. The engine is in the rear of the car so the heat would have to be piped ten feet or so up to the front and up behind the dash to the vents. There isn’t much room in there and the battery is flat up against the passenger compartment. I[‘m not saying it couldn’t be done, but it just isn’t worth the work if you ask me.

              If this was a car with a 30 or 40 mile AER, then definitely, but with 80 to 100 miles you aren’t going to use the REx that much for all the extra work and expense. I know Volt owners that drive 90% of the time on electric. The i3 has more than double the Volt’s AER, most people will hardly ever use it, they just want it for security.

              1. Mark H says:

                I actually think that is exactly their logic. It is very true that EREV drivers like to get as many EV miles as possible (I do). This is important to us all. The thing is that one finds that starting out on the extender to warm the cabin AND the battery is actually a clever and efficient thing to do. I should have said heat from the Rex AND a Hold mode for as you stated it is pretty pointless otherwise.

                I hear ya on the placement of the engine and that surely has an impact on heating the cabin. Most EREV drivers do have it as both a security and the ability to eliminate a seconds ICE for trips.

                I have PV solar, thermal solar, pellet stove for heating along with my Volt. I also have ATVs, a riding lawn mower and a Ford F150 that gets 2000 miles of must driving per year. I guess if I am going to have a Rex I want to maximize its capability especially when it is only engineering.

                Still looking for the Hold hack for my 2012 Volt!

  8. GeorgeS says:

    -Waste heat from the REx is not used to heat the cabin.
    -In the US the heat pump is standard on all BEV i3′s, but it’s not available on the i3 REx. BMW doesn’t believe it’s a necessary option if you have the range extender.

    Why does having a range extender mean you don’t need the heat pump. ?? That doesn’t make sense.

    1. I “think” there are two reasons for this. First, it was packaging. Whit the REx, things are really tight and the range extender equipment goes where the heat pump is positioned in the BEV i3. Secondly the thought is that when you have the BEV i3 there will be occasions where you will need to squeeze every mile out of the battery and if the heat pump adds 3 or 4 miles of range than that might be the difference in making it home or not. With the REx it’s not nearly as important because you’ll always make your destination without worry.

      ….and, you’re welcome! 😉

    2. MTN Ranger says:

      Without REx, saving watts on heating the very important in improving range. With the REx, you have the backup generator that will make up the difference in miles. The biggest reason is that the heat pump is supposedly located in the same spot as the REx.

  9. GeorgeS says:

    PS thx for the report Tom. !!

  10. Aaron says:

    “Waste heat from the REx is not used to heat the cabin.”

    “In the US the heat pump is standard on all BEV i3′s, but it’s not available on the i3 REx. BMW doesn’t believe it’s a necessary option if you have the range extender.”

    WHAT? So, if you have the REx, you have to use less-efficient heater? How the hell does that make any sense? Even the LEAF SL/SV have a heat pump.

    “Heated seats are optional, and this was a bit of a head scratcher: You can’t precondition the passenger cabin with heat unless you get the seat heater option.”

    Even the i-MiEV allows pre-heating and pre-cooling your car AND has a heated driver’s seat on the lowest-end model (ES). This is a money-grab.

    PS: Thanks, Tom. I enjoyed your write up, even when I don’t appreciate BMW’s packaging. 😉

    1. You’re welcome. I agree about the money grab but I’m sure a BMW rep would tell you they don’t want to charge people that live in warm climates for something they don’t need, that’s why it’s optional. 😉

  11. Brian says:

    “Waste heat from the REx is not used to heat the cabin.
    In the US the heat pump is standard on all BEV i3′s, but it’s not available on the i3 REx.”


  12. James says:

    As I stated in my comments re: BMW’s ActiveTourer ( possible plug-in someday ),
    – these BMWs make the Volt look even more brilliant than before.

    With things like wide LCD screens and heated seats being optional with bigger
    packages – and the whole ReX proposition and it’s expense… The good ole
    American Volt looks better and better.

    Today, a Volt can be had for a very reasonable price. Not so with this very
    limited i3. The Volt does away with range anxiety and doesn’t charge you
    more for it. The inside of the Volt may be a bit more future-cheesy, as the
    BMW’s interior design is nicely finished off – but when you sit back and
    contemplate the sheer cost of the BMW – it’s justifiability just goes out the

    The Volt with built-in range-extender just does everything better than i3
    with or without ReX. The only thing I’ve concluded is that i3 is a bit
    quicker 0-60, but since when are you stomping the hell out of the go
    pedal and expecting it to go far on batteries? So driving like a nut just
    is counter-intuitive to why you buy an i3 or Volt in the first place. Of
    course, the Tesla checks both of those boxes…but as Tom adroitly
    points out – the cost of admission there is stratospheric, compared.

    Back to the point that BMW buyers stick up their collective noses at
    even the THOUGHT of visiting a CHEVROLET dealership…BANISH
    THE NOTION! — lol. I’m not kidding, snobbery has a good deal to
    do with some people passing on a Volt, and considering an i3. Not
    that i3 is better, it’s that they are buying a 2nd, 3rd or 4th car for the
    “stable” and they want a trendy electric car. Most BMW owners
    wouldn’t be caught dead in a Chevy dealership, and would worry
    if their neighbors saw them shopping Cadillac – I’m just sayin’…

    So I say to people who say they’re putting in their order for i3 to
    cross-shop Volt…. You’ll be surprised at the comparisons. Volt
    is a sweet piece of engineering and capability and if you’re
    shallow to a point of poo-poo’ing a Volt because it’s a Chevy – you
    may need a bit of counseling.

    1. James: For what it’s worth my wife drives a 2011 Equinox so not all i3 supporters are anti-Chevy! 😉

    2. David Murray says:

      Agreed – the Volt is certainly a better value for your money. But I’m still considering a BMW i3 for my next car. It will really depend on what the leases end up looking like.

  13. kdawg says:

    Does it have a Hold Mode or Mountain Mode?

    Will it have a 3G or 4G connection? Wifi?

    What rate does it charge at on 120V? 240V?


    1. Hold mode: Yes it does if you live anywhere BUT the US. The hold mode is disabled in the US for “regulatory certification”. Since the car has it and it’s just “turned off”, I expect a hack for this shortly after the launch! 😉

      It has 3G

      1.4kW on 120V and 7.7kW on 240V

      1. kdawg says:

        7.7kW is an improvment, but will have to wire the EVSE with 10AWG.

        Is there a subscription fee for the 3G service and is it called “ConnectedDrive”?
        I found this on BMW’s website
        “After the initial complementary period, use of the BMW ConnectedDrive services is subject to an annual subscription charge of £120.00 per year.”

        It also appears BMW is using a solenoid locking charge port. I’ve had trouble in the winter w/this on my Volt. It also appears the rubber seal is much larger on the i3 which could pose problems.

        1. Jerry says:

          In the US there is no subscription fee for the i3.

  14. ModernMarvelFan says:


    Thanks for all the great information.

    It is disappointing that REx’s heat is wasted…

    But other than that, it is great.

    I am still concerned that 5% buffer is NOT enough to climb the Sierra Nevada and Rocky, especially with heat on…

    1. You’re welcome MMF. The BMW program managers were constantly reassuring people at there that the range extender is robust enough for just about anything it will face, especially if you understand the situation and drive accordingly. I can see that under certain circumstances like the car is loaded with 4 passengers with heat on full blast, and driving up a long steep hill (15 or 20 miles long) at highway speeds where it can’t produce enough juice but how often will something like that happen? I suppose if you live an an extremely mountainous area and need to drive more than 100 miles or so it should be something to consider. I bet once the car is available BMW will allow extended test drives where people can test it out in these circumstances. In fact, I’m now going to bring this up with the BMW i managers and suggest they make accommodations for people that want to try this out. Understand though that I doubt this will be possible in the very beginning as cars will be scarce for a few months so if it’s that big a deal to you and you want to road test the REx up a mountain you’ll probably need to wait a few months till inventories grow a bit.

      1. MrEnergyCzar says:

        Can you find out the official performance when the engine is on? It appears BMW is avoiding this. Going to 5% charge before the engine comes on sounds like it will limp going normal highway speeds on a flat surface…. just a guess. Volt’s mountain mode keeps the battery at like 40% state of charge….


        1. I’m not sure what official performance figures you want. I have talked extensively with the engineers that drive them every day, and the product managers that are driving them as their company cars.

          At the event, Jose Guererro (chief US i3 product manager for the i3) explained how he drives 70-75 mph for extended periods on the highway and the REx has no problem maintaining the SOC. He even showed a picture he took of the speedometer at like 80 mph( I don’t remember the exact speed) because someone asked him if the REx will be limited to 65 mph (It’s not you can drive as fast as you’d like). He also concurred with Jacob Harb saying you could drive it for hundreds of miles simply by refilling the gas tank if you would like to and it won’t run out of charge. He actually laughed when someone mentioned “limp mode” saying BMW wouldn’t even consider something like that and that the driver will hardly even notice the difference in performance when the REx is on.

          1. MrEnergyCzar says:

            The Volt is slightly faster with the engine running, the ELR is proportionally faster with the engine running vs the Volt. If you asked them what is the performance difference, won’t they give you an answer? Basic 0-60 with battery and 0-60 in Rex mode?

            So why would they discourage or determine that someone with a 120 mile daily drive wouldn’t want an I3? I don’t get that part. Do they say the same thing to their BMW motorcycle owners, assuming a small gas tank… They should be touting it, not discouraging it.


            1. MTN Ranger says:

              BMW is probably still refining the REx software/hardware. Final details will be available when it launches in the U.S. next Spring.

              Tom, has BMW announced if the REx will be available in Europe?

              1. Tom Moloughney says:

                Yes it will be available wherever the i3 is sold. they are already accepting orders for it but the range extender option won’t be available till after the new year so those customers in Europe who ordered it will have to wait longer than those that ordered an i3 without it.

      2. ModernMarvelFan says:

        Well, a popular route in the SF Bay Area is from SF to Lake Tahoe.

        That is about 240 miles, with the last 50 miles climbing up to 9,000 ft moutain pass.

        If the i3 can cruise at 70mph with 22KWh battery (5% reserve) for about 70 mile range with heat on. That is a consumption rate of 3.34 miles per KWh or 20.9 KW rate. That basically says cruising at 70mph takes about 20KW. And 20KW is about 26HP. If I remember correctly, the engine is about 38HP or 28KW. So, there is at least 7-8KW margin (from the max output). But if you include the generator loss of 5%, then that 28KW becomes 26.6KW or 5-6 KW margin.

        So, if you start a drive from SF to Lake Tahoe, you would run out of charge half way and then depending on gas engine for the rest of the way, but it is all UPHILL from there. That 5-6KW margin plus another 1-2KWh might NOT be enough to go up the 9,000 ft without performance degradation. Also, the two cylinder engine will lose power at elevation as well. By the 3,000-4,000 ft, it will could lose up to 20% of its power out….

        Anyway, BMW probably isn’t worrying about that case. But I would like to see if BMW has at least tested that case. Volt has been tested for that case. Without Mountain mode, the Volt will starting to lose performance just before it gets to top of the Donner’s Pass (without using hold or mountain mode).

  15. MrEnergyCzar says:

    Sounds like they are hiding the performance with the engine running. I’m suspecting a big performance drop. They are going to 5% state of charge before the motorcycle engine comes on, this sounds fishy now. I hope I’m wrong.


  16. Warren says:

    My dealer said we would be able to order, here in Virginia, in January. So can we assume the EPA range ratings will be out by then?

    1. Jerry says:

      Not necessarily. It won’t be available for delivery until April or May so my guess is the rating won’t come out till March or April

      1. George B says:

        According to BMW sources, the EPA figures could be available a lot sooner than March.

        1. Jerry says:

          I test drove it at the show and chatted with one of the managers there. He said the EPA figures definitely won’t be announced until spring, shortly before the car is available in the US.

  17. Priusmaniac says:

    I got in a BMW i3 this morning and it is really worse that what I expected. The doors that can’t close independently, the back seats with only place for two and even that is not comfortable because of the tight foot space. It is a full total mess, I don’t even have to test drive it, it is just completely weird and it would even be for a prototype.

    If they wanted to sabotate the EV with Rex concept, they couldn’t do a better job. It is really shameful to dare do something like that.

    1. Volt says:

      It has plenty of foot space, what the hell are you talking about? No one listen to this guy.