BMW i3 A Country EV?

4 Y BY TOM 11

If you listen to BMW marketing, they’ll have you convinced that the only place to really experience the full benefits of the i3 is to drive it in a city environment. Pretty much every description they offer for the i3 includes how it’s a car made for the Megacities of the world.

Take this from the BMW i website for instance: “Electric and electrifying – the BMW i3 redefines mobililty(sic): with its visionary design and innovative BMW eDrive transmission it’s the sustainably designed vehicle for everyday urban use.”

I’m definitely not saying the i3 isn’t perfectly capable of negotiating the urban jungle on a daily basis. In fact, city driving is where the i3 is most efficient. Driving streetlight to streetlight, using the regenerative braking to recapture much of the energy used, since you rarely drive for long without needing to slow down, is the type of driving that will allow for better overall range. Aside from this efficiency advantage and the fact that you usually don’t need drive so far (making the limited range less of a concern) and perhaps the ease of parking the i3′s tiny frame on city streets, there isn’t any other advantage to driving it in the city.

I’ve now been driving electric for over five years and have piled up about 150,000 electric miles on my MINI-E, ActiveE and i3. The crazy thing is, I live in a very rural part of New Jersey where cows and horses are part of everyday life and the bright lights of New York City are over 50 miles away. Like my previous EVs, my i3 has adjusted well to life in the country, even if this isn’t the life BMW had envisioned for its carbon fiber halo car.

My Mini E Loved the Country Too

My Mini E Loved the Country Too

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

However I’m not satisfied just saying it can do fine in the country and suburbs. I believe it is indeed better suited for a life outside the city limits, so please allow me to defend that statement.

For starters, the vast majority of people who live in the suburbs and in rural areas live in private residences and the exact opposite is true for those who live in cities. Living in a private residence gives you control over your electrical supply and parking arrangements, which as you know is pretty important if you drive an electric car. You simply hang a 240v EVSE in your garage or carport and your refueling issues are mostly solved. The vast majority of electric vehicle charging occurs at home, and having the ability to install a home based EVSE where you live really simplifies things.

Conversely if you live in an apartment or condo in the city, establishing a location to park and charge your car can be an enormous challenge. I have had dozens of people who live in New York City reach out to me through this blog asking for help in securing a charging location because they wanted to buy an EV. It’s not impossible, but it requires a lot of work and in many cases a lot of money and persistence. Some parking garages have allowed customers to install a private EVSE and separate meter so they can pay for the electric it uses. This usually costs a couple thousand dollars and requires a lot of legwork. Other garages have allowed the person to plug into an existing 120v outlet and pay a small monthly fee for the energy which is the best solution if 120v charging will offer enough energy for the persons driving needs. In any case, it’s a lot harder to recharge your car if you live in the city.

BMW i3 Out In The Country

BMW i3 Out In The Country

Then there is the driving experience. Of course the car drives the same in any environment, however I contend you simply cannot possibly enjoy the full benefits of an electric car while driving it in the city. I can still remember a few years ago when I was driving my MINI-E home from work one night. I own a restaurant so some nights I drive home late at night after closing and the roads by my house are desolate. This particular summer night I had the windows open and the radio was not turned up too loud. I remember hearing a squeaking sound and thinking there was a problem with the radio so I lowered it a bit but when I did the noise got louder. It was then that I realized the noise was crickets. The car was so quiet, I could hear crickets as I drove along at night as clearly as if they were sitting inside the car with me. I promptly turned the radio completely off and finished my drive home to the chorus of crickets.

Five years later I still roll down the windows and turn off the radio on some summer nights, and allow the crickets to serenade me on my way home. It’s about as peaceful and relaxing as anything I can imagine, and I arrive home calm, relaxed and ready for bed. Open the windows of your car in New York City at any time, day or night and you’ll hear horns beeping, people yelling, sirens blaring and car engines racing. You simply cannot appreciate the quietness of an electric car in the city as much as you can in the country because there are so many other loud noises occurring constantly around you that are overwhelming your peaceful retreat to silence. In the country, crickets are about as loud as it gets.

BMW i3 Visits Some Hay

BMW i3 Visits Some Hay

Finally there’s the energy savings. City dwellers don’t drive much because everything is close so they won’t realize the fuel savings as much as those who need to drive farther. I said above that I have driven 150,000 miles in the past five years with my EVs. If I had done that with a car that averaged 30 miles per gallon (which is much more efficient than the average car), I would have spent around $18,500 for gasoline. Instead my electric cars used only about $8,000 in electricity so I’ve pocketed about $10,500 in fuel savings. A typical person who lives in the city would have driven much less than I have and their energy savings would also be much less accordingly. In fact, most people I know who live in the city don’t even own a car, as it is too expensive and just not necessary because of the extensive public transportation system.

BMW i3 Out In The Country

BMW i3 Out In The Country

So all that’s left to discuss is the range. I suppose the main reason BMW and other manufacturers have pointed to EVs as being better suited for urban environments is because they have limited range and require longer refueling time than their internal combustion counterparts. This is a valid point and one that will prevent many people who live in rural areas where destinations tend to be farther apart from considering an EV.

I’m certainly not saying that everybody today is ready to go electric or that the current electric offerings would suit the needs of everybody, but I do believe the vast majority of people could definitely integrate one into their life if they want to. The “if they wanted to” is the operative term here because going electric does require some degree of planning and range awareness. You can’t just hop in the car and drive without knowing roughly how far you’ll be going and the location of possible charge points just in case you need them. That is, unless you have an EV with an extraordinary range (ala Model S) or one with a range extender like my i3 REx has.

By setting up charging stations in various locations along the routes that I frequently drive, I’ve effectively built out my own private network, but I understand the average person will not be willing or able to do that. Having the range extender there “just in case” has completely removed any concern about whether or not I can make any destination and offers that secondary level of support that many considering an electric vehicle are seeking. My previous electric cars were definitely fine for me and my life in the country. The range extender on the i3 only makes it that much better and will allow others in rural areas who may not have been as “adventurous” as I was to go electric.

With long range pure EVs like the Tesla Model S, and range-extended, shorter range options like the i3 REx, the electric “Country Car” has definitely arrived.

Category: BMW


11 responses to "BMW i3 A Country EV?"
  1. ffbj says:

    Nicely written article that makes a lot of sense, especially when you juxtapose NY city with the surrounding countryside. Probably mostly true of any megalopolis regarding availability of charging. Though I think this will continue to improve.
    As you move away from older established cities on the coasts here in the U.S though, more space is available. For instance in my area, Twin Cities, all my friends own homes, and even a lot of renters are in houses. I rented a house with friends for a decade, as it was preferable, and cheaper than an apartment.

  2. no comment says:

    first of all, i think that this article really makes the case for the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). in a PHEV, you don’t have oversize the battery to accommodate worst case scenarios and seasonal variations; you only need to size the battery to accommodate the great majority of your typical driving scenarios and then you have the range extender to handle the other cases.

    among PHEV’s, i would say that the Chevrolet Volt is the best of that category. 50 miles from NYC is still metro area and so the BMW i3 REx is in its element in that environment. the BMW i3 REx is also a practical vehicle during the winter when the EV range is reduced. as a commuter vehicle, the BMW i3 would also be practical year round because you only need enough range for a 1-way trip since you can recharge the vehicle while you are at work. however, if you only have access to a level 1 EVSE at work, you will probably only get about 25 or 30 miles of range while recharging at work during the colder months.

    one other comment that i would make is that i think that this article oversells the case for the quietness attribute of EVs. a well-balanced, well-maintained ICE is actually quite quiet when cruising; it’s not that the engine is dead silent, but the road noise tends to exceed the engine noise. where the ICE does become more noisy is when accelerating. when you are driving an EV, you still have the road noise component.

    to me, the big difference between the ICE and the EV is when you are coming off the line from a dead stop, where an EV is decidedly more quiet. furthermore, the EV is much more smooth in its operation; you get torque from the dead stop so you don’t have to deal with the jerkiness of a multilink transmission that you need in ICE vehicles. in general, i think that the EV offers a very premium driving character that you expect in high end ICE vehicles.

  3. Disappointed says:

    One could be lulled into this picture of silently passing through the countryside’s verdant tranquility,,,,,,,,,,,,,,that is until the i3’s REX fires up sounding like a gasoline lawn mower. There is no evidence of animal life in these pictures,,,only the driver is forced to remain to endure the motor scooter’s droning cacophony!

    1. MTN Ranger says:

      It’s not that loud. Get over yourself.

  4. Ocean Railroader says:

    Well with BMW releasing that new $6000 to $7000 charger I could see a lot of rural and suburban shopping centers put something like that in. In that spending $7000 new is a lot more better then spending $15,000.

    In fact if BMW put in about 50 of those chargers along all the major primary roads and interstates in Virginia it would really open the state up to EV’s.

  5. James says:

    EVs with 80 mile ranges, or $56,000 ReX and 70 miles of range are early-adopter’s machines. Yes, you can climb a mountain in a LEAF – if you set aside much time for inconvenience and are willing to deal with contingencies up the yang. Like what? Like chargers that are out of service. Chargers that are currently being used by others. Even some chargers that surprise you along your trip by asking similar prices to a gallon of gasoline for a chargeup! Yes – BEVs and limited-use PHEVs like ReX i3 can be used by anyone – literally ANYWHERE if said person is willing to deal with the hassles that would entail.

    Otherwise, your machine is a project – a STATEMENT against oil, or against climate change. It’s a project, a work in progress, so-to-speak. It’s nonsense to call today’s EVs “country cars” or long-distance cruisers, unless it’s a 265-mile-range P-85 Tesla. And even that remarkable, American-made gem is limited to Supercharger routes as we speak. Based on future hopes, and based on each new Supercharger that gets installed – that Tesla makes more and more sense as a pure ICE-car’s total replacement…No rental ICE needed for ANY trip ANYwhere…But that day is years off.

    For 70-100 mile cars with a plug….You really want a gasoline backup…and at that,
    one that bests i3’s puny setup. You cannot go very far without sacrifice in those cars — and to deny that — even for us EV fans — is dillusional. Asking mainstream auto buyers to make those sacrifices is unreasonable. To expect Joe Blow to buy an EV for a “country car” is pure fantasy!!!

    I mean – we look ahead to that very fine future, and hope 2017 200 milers from Tesla, and perhaps GM make that day arrive sooner…But, ICEs will be needed for true long-distance travel. And I believe long-distance travel wherever/whenever a driver wants is the standard 100 years of ICE driving has set.

    1. Alonso Perez says:

      Eh, I don’t think owning an EV is a mere statement. It’s very real when you never go to a gas station again (or rarely, Volt and REx drivers).

      It has as much economic and environmental impact as a single driver can make. A statement is a bumper sticker. EV’s are way more than that.

      Is it early days? Yes. Somebody has to start. But on the other hand it is far more mature than just three years ago, the era of the first gen Leaf. A lot has happened since then. You were definitely a pioneer getting a Leaf or a Volt in 2011, or even a Model S in 2012. Today not so much.

      Long distance capability might be the ICE standard, but a lot of us have rarely used it. It does not really matter what a century-old standard is. If an EV fits your driving pattern, then that’s the only standard you should care about.

      1. James says:

        For you and other EV pioneers, you are MAKING IT WORK for you. And I applaud that wholeheartedly. You are champions for good.
        In that – though, you are making a statement of will whether that is your intent or not.

        EV arguers here suggest I’m all washed up, and oft tell of their usage of their LEAF or other 60-80 mile BEV as their only source of transportation. Here! Here! WAY TO GO! But understand I am speaking about the general public here. As in: How does a manufacturer sell 100,000 or 500,000 of these per year.

        For electric transport to change the world – the cars have to sell more than .1% of every car and truck sold in the U.S. or any country, for that matter. I wish we were the Netherlands in that respect…but we’re not.

        You guys see the world from your garage, you need to expand your vision to include what NON EARLY-ADOPTERS are willing to purchase for a vehicle that they see will meet ALL THEIR NEEDS. Today, the limitations of your BEV do not meet those expectations.

        That is my point.

  6. Brian says:

    Well written, thanks Tom. I do have to disagree with you, however, in your assertion that your part of NJ is “rural”. Yes, there are farms and ranches around, but you rarely have to travel far to get something you need (e.g. shopping, dining or entertainment). The mere fact that you are 50 miles from NYC supports this. A truly rural owner would possibly face a 20-30 mile trip to the nearest grocery store, let alone clothes shopping or a movie theatre.

    That said, I think most of your arguments support the idea of an EV as a perfect suburban car. Most suburbanites have a garage and longer commute than those living within the cities.

    1. Certainly, Tom and I have differing ideas of rural, but the pics are pretty!

      I grew up in western Montana where the fourth physically largest state in the union has only one town over 100,000 people.

      Going to McDonalds (there were two of them when I was a kid) was a 120 mile round trip. Driving that without thinking about your gasoline quantity, particularly on weekends or evenings when the few gasoline stations tended to close, would give you real “range anxiety”.

      1. Totally agree guys, there are degrees of rural! Where I live is about as rural as NJ gets. There are farms all around me and many of my neighbors have horses and livestock. Most people don’t think of that when they think of New Jersey though.

        I’m just poking fun at BMW’s “Megacity Car” moniker a bit. 🙂