First Ever BMW i3 REx Road Trip Review – 1,100 Miles

APR 4 2014 BY STAFF 28

Back in February we featured Steven from The Netherlands as a Born Electric guest blogger. At the time he mentioned to me that he was planning a road trip with his i3 REx that would take him on a fantastic journey from The Netherlands through Germany and France to the final destination of Switzerland. The funny thing is, I almost was able to meet him along the trip because I was actually in Switzerland the week before he arrived and my wife and I even spent an afternoon at the same lake in Zurich you see pictured below! In any event, once I heard Steven was about to engage upon this 1,100 mile road trip I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing the details here once he returns and he was kind enough to do so. I get a lot of questions about the range extender, and many people want to know if it is possible to take it on a long trip. This post doesn’t answer every question, but it does give some insight into how the car will perform on sure an extended road trip. I haven’t read any story of an i3 doing a road trip over 1,100 miles yet, so this may be the first account of such a journey.

— Tom Moloughney

*Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Tom Moloughney’s “The Electric BMW i3” blog.  Check it out by clicking here.

*The words below are those of BMW i3 owner Steven from the Netherlands.

Travelcompanion: i3

OK, so we have this i3. It was, and still is, marketed as a city slicker. The question arises: is BMW underestimating itself ?

To begin with the conclusion: yes and no. It will go outside the city and beyond, with quite an aplomb at that, but its driver needs some commitment and perseverance to get there. As stated by Tom elsewhere: it is not a go anywhere, do anything car. With a normal to brisk driving style, it excels on local trips with perhaps a charge or two along the way. But when taking it easy, tourist style, it can haul you much further than your cities limits.

01 IMG_7180 ed1_1280 copy

Once you get used to its unconventional lines the design grows on you. Our i3 in the Appenzeller mountains.

The commitment starts with a careful planning. Call me a nerd, but I rather like planning a trip in detail, time allowing. However, the limited electric range did cause a little frustration. Frustration about not being able to reach the higher alpine passes in the six days we reserved for this trip. When pushed, we certainly could have done it, but in the end we opted to make the journey itself the goal.

The first hurdle is Europe not being the United States of Europe. Different plugs, different chargecards, you name it. Totally unfunny. Luckily, one of Hollands energy suppliers is owned by RWE, a large German energy supplier, so we could apply for a German charge-ID. You’ll need an app on your iPhone to start the charger, but that’s ok. For France and Switzerland, we’re out of luck. A lot of local/regional initiatives, so charging possibilities are limited to free chargers or, in Switzerland, chargers mounted in parking garages where charging is complementary or at a cost, payable at the checkout machines. And these have to match our Mennekes plug as well.

As you’ll understand, planning took a while, especially while I was not only looking for locations to charge, but also for roads worth driving and places worth visiting while charging. Not much fun to be stuck on an industrial estate for three hours… In the end, I planned our trip so that it would take us three days to reach Switzerland, leaving much of the motorway behind after crossing the Dutch border. Slow tourism, like our parents did with their 2cv, before Europe was shrunk by the proliferation of the Autobahn.

Departure

Smoothly gliding away, to not disturb our neighbours, is uneventful in itself. EcoPro is on, but so is the heat, for it was freezing during the night. Damn, we’ll need those electrons! Well, not entirely, to be truthful, for our first stop is at a 50 KW fast charger. The residual charge doesn’t seem to matter much at the fast chargers’; it’ll charge to 90% in 30 minutes anyway. But there seems to be a catch. We left the charger with ~94%, but the charge dropped right down to 86% in a matter of minutes. Something we have observed more than once after a fast charge. A pity in this case, because the next station should have been reachable with a margin. A margin worth having, for we were able to reach our designated charger with only 5 km (3 mi) on the clock. But hey, it was supposed to be an adventure !

This is the point where I have to admit we are driving the i3 ‘chicken version’, with the little REx in the boot. The upside: unlimited mobility. The downside: REx wakes at 5-6 km, no matter what. So we were at the threshold of failure to do the E-thing, and that only two hours into our journey! But we made it. We had lunch, walked the totally unremarkable town, takin’ it easy as promised, until the car was charged enough to reach our next goal. The ability to use your smartphone to monitor the car is invaluable.

The next goal: Monschau. A quaint little town, picture book stuff. Flocking with tourists of a more advanced age when in season, it is actually very nice when not. Coffee, apfelstrudel, you’ll get my drift how we passed the time.

02 Monschau ed1 IMG_6940_1280

Chargetourism: Monschau

With enough inside us and in the i3, off to the next charger. A short charging session of 32 minutes at 32 amps in Daun was all it took to take us to our hotel in Bernkastel-Kues. Again a picturesque village, this time with a larger river (the Mosel) and an ancient castle on the adjoining mountain. And the best news: we have entered the wine region, so the i3 was not the only one being replenished.

At this hotel, we had the first experience of the friendly cooperation we would encounter along the way. We were fully prepared to have to drive the car to a charging station nearby and to walk back, but the hotel owner promptly offered us a spot in his yard where we were able to plug in under the carport. Sweet.

France

Day two took us through Germany to France. Our second hurdle: the designated electrospots in Saarbrücken were occupied by gas-burners! A Zoe was already double parked and charging, but i3’s cable is not long enough to do this. Damn. Now what? Time for friendly cooperation example #2: the receptionist of the adjoining offices came out to ask us if everything was ok, noticing of course it wasn’t because of me standing there with a large blue cable in my hands, looking lost. The solution was easy: one of the owners of the damned vehicles didn’t mind to take a hike, so we could charge, albeit with a little delay. The upside: the German owner of the double parked Zoe turned up, so we had an opportunity for a nice conversation about the future of the world.

Charged and fed, off to France we went. One possibility to charge with no alternatives. Gold or bust! Golden it was. Free of charge as well. Very good of the Cora supermarket to lure crazy dutch electrotourists to their store 🙂 With enough cheese and charge, we took off through the Alsace, an area we always quite enjoy for a lot of reasons.

One of the reasons is that it has some nice drivers’ roads with not to much other people on them. We already enjoyed some nice, but not too quick, driving in the German Eifel yesterday, and the Alsace didn’t disappoint. Nor did the i3, so it is time for some car stuff, for this is supposed to be a car blog last time I checked….

Like!

Like!

I like to start with some downsides here, so I can end the paragraph on a positive note. And I will lift a tip of the vail: it is a very positive note. But first: the grind. Although visibility all around isn’t exactly bad, the car is difficult to oversee, so it takes more practice than I’m accustomed to, to position the car in exactly the spot on the road you want it to be when driving spiritedly. It is growing on me, of course, but it is still not an intuitive process. I guess it has to do something with not seeing any of the nose or any other external part and the overview you miss in tight left hand bends because of the drivers side A pillar. I am still not used to have to look through the side windows to oversee that tight left-hander. Then there is the steering. Once accustomed, it is excellent and precise, but so direct that you’ll have to handle it smoothly if you want to impress your co-driver with your cornering style. And the last grump, which is really a very small niggle: close the rear doors firmly before doin’ the bends, for the warning signal for these is on a hair-trigger. (Tom’s note: I have had other i3 owners tell me this also. If you don’t close the rear door firmly, the “door ajar” light can light up while you are driving. It’s in no danger of opening, it’s just an oversensitive trigger than needs to be fully depressed).

Now for the gold: Do we enjoy it when it is going where no i3 has gone before? Oh yes! Yes! It is fast and nimble, which is good in itself, but it is the smooth as cream comfort that is the hammer. The suspension is firm, you already know that, so that is not the unique selling point comfort-wise. It is the easy, creamy-smooth instant power, the effortless recuperation, the relaxed one pedal driving that makes it so enjoyable to drive on your winding Alsacien roads! Take it out, that i3, if you have it, I’ll think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do !

With plenty charge left, we arrived in the quaint Alsacien winemakers’ town to fill up us and the i3 again at the B&B, a winemakers establishment. My advice: go there, drive the roads, drink the wine. Just do it in that order!

Ahh...The Beatuy!!!

Behold The Beauty!!!

Switzerland

Not much to tell about day three, this being a car blog. Only that the leg to Basel was 106 km, mainly motorway, so we kept it between 90-100 (55-60) in the right lane to reach our destination with some electrons to spare, for alternative usable charging stations are sparse around there. With plenty of charge to get us to our next B&B we left sunny Basel and the river Rhine. 40% charge was a luxury I could enjoy for the 10 km (6 mi) drive to and fro from the B&B to the evenings’ restaurant later. This little drive was, besides enjoyable, also a good reminder for me to keep driving carefully during the day to make the most of our E-range, for the battery had only 16% remaining when plugging back in at our B&B at night. Do the math if you like. In our defence, we had the heat on on the way back…

04 Zurich ed1 IMG_7128_1280

Goal #1: Make it to Zurich using only electric power

Being already very pleased we reached our goal of getting to Zürich fully electric the next day, we set a new goal of reaching at least 1000 km (621 mi) of uninterrupted E-use. After a very enjoyable day in Zürich and at our friends there, totally uninteresting for you i3 enthusiasts, we started drifting in the ‘back’ direction on Saturday afternoon. With one final Swiss charge in St Gallen remaining, we took the i3 through Appenzell. Some mountain roads, not the most spectacular passes, but still sporting brisk climbs once more affirmed our belief that the i3 is a very nice car indeed. It’s hard to keep your foot off that throttle.

06 Stats 1000km ed1 IMG_7201_1280

Goal #: 1,000 km all electric

Then we reached the dreaded point that was looming in the planning all along. It was not the Swiss border which we passed without ado, it was the point at which the beast in the back had to be awoken. Time for a little car talk intermezzo.

REx

I can understand that a lot of people question the execution of BMW’s REx solution. On the risk of repeating myself: I think they did a wonderful job, for it feels nearly sinful to start the REx after driving on electrons. So smooth. So quiet. So soothing for the conscience. You really get the feeling of doing the wrong thing when firing up ye olde’ ICE. And this is how it should be. It is an electric vehicle extended, mind you! Besides from this, the little bugger does its best to keep you mobile. We here in Europe have it easy, sorry about that American brethren, for we can engage REx at will, so we don’t have to motor through towns and countryside, but we can plan our REx extension to happen anywhere along the way. The added bonus is of course that you can keep a nice safety cushion in the battery to get it up that Autobahn-slope, although it has to be said I was quite taken with the ability if the REx to keep up the battery when doing 120 (75) on the cruise with A/C to boot. On those not to steep but long slopes (climbing ~250 meters in ~35 km (~820 ft/~22 mi)), the battery level drops a little bit, of course, but I would say that a cushion of around 5% could just about, or just about not, suffice for most journeys. One thing I have noticed is that is seems that the car allows for a bigger battery-drift if you engage the REx earlier. One advantage of this is that it doesn’t have to run at top revs all the time to keep the state of charge on the small marker on your dash-display. Once the state of charge is low, it works very hard to maintain the 5% and prevent very low charge. To end this intermezzo about the REx something on fuel consumption. Exactly economical it is not. Doing 120 (75mph) on cruise gives you something of 15-16 km per litre (35-38 mpg us). Not too bad, not great. Taking 10 km (6 mi/hr) off the speed does wonders to this consumption however, but we kept it at 120 (75) where allowed.

07 Autobahn ed1 IMG_0849 1280

Driving on the Autobahn: Speed kills – consumption rate that is!

A relatively uneventful 628 km (390 mi) later: home. We made a little touristic detour along the Rhine, which we used to recharge a bit during lunch, so we could cruise the 50 km (31 mi) of Rhine-borders in tranquility, and we recharged again at our nearby fast charger to make the last stretch on electricity before parking the car at its homespot with a feeling of well done planner, well done driver, well done little car. It is not perfect, but it is loveable all the way. And it’ll go further if you dare it…

08 Stats end ed1 IMG_7258_1280

Final stats of the journey

09 Map

Map of journey

1,780 km (1,104 mi), plugging in 16 times during the trip
Approximation of route traveled (source: Google)

*Disclaimer – We have undertaken this trip and I have written this article on a strictly personal basis. I am not affiliated to BMW or anyones business mentioned in this story. Please mind that everything you’ve read here are my/our personal experiences and opinions and should be treated as such. Also, bear in mind that the English language is not my native one, so be patient if I’ve made some mistakes or used clumsy language. Any offence is unintentional.

Regards, Steven

10 16x opladen_sml2-2

A postcard from Steven to summarize his charging efforts along the way!

Categories: BMW, Test Drives

Tags:

Leave a Reply

28 Comments on "First Ever BMW i3 REx Road Trip Review – 1,100 Miles"

newest oldest most voted

Way too short electric driving range and how is it with the EuroNCAP result?

Its unlimited driving range for me

I like the European version of the Rex where you can engage the REx anytime.

Does the Euro version also have a larger gas tank??

No George it doesn’t. Believe it or not, the gas tank’s size isn’t simply for US regulation and to get the BEVx designation. Yes, getting the BEVx designation was part of it, but definitely not the whole reason. If that was the case, they could have easily made the European i3’s with larger gas tanks for virtually no extra cost. They didn’t because they have been clear from the start about the i3, and that the range extender is not meant to be driven hundreds of miles at a time without recharging. It’s technically possible to do so, but that is not what BMW intended it’s use to be. The way I interpret the tiny gas tank is BMW telling you if you think refilling the small tank is a problem for you then the car is a problem for you, and you should consider other options because you are using it wrong if you need an 8 gallon fuel tank. The range extender is really just there to get you to your next charging station, and occasionally a little more.

Tom, If you had to guess, do you see an aftermarket developing for an auxiliary fuel bladder?

No I don’t. Really for safety reasons IMO. Personally I wouldn’t add an axillary gas tank to any car. I have to admit, I am a little surprised some people make an issue out of this. Unless you drive in areas that are really desolate, how difficult is it to stop at a gas station if you really need to add some gas. Yes, on a long journey (over 200 miles) it could be a little cumbersome stopping every hour or so for gas, but it will only take 2 minutes to fill up that tiny tank and you’re on your way. I’m going to be using mine for a 225 mile trip about once a month and I’ll likely stop twice to fill up on the way (maybe three times in the winter months) but I don’t mind because it’s such a quick detour and there are plenty of gas stations to hit up when I need to. I do understand the concern if you live in really rural areas with few gas stations though and would likely say it isn’t a good choice for you if you do frequently drive long distances in those conditions. However what I… Read more »

You have the right perspective I hope others share. Safely doing a fuel bladder may sound more risky than it is, for the right shop.

If I went i3, I wouldn’t do a bladder for the reasons you cite. Still, I can see a temptation to carry along a 5gal container, a couple times a year.

The i3 is the best PHEV formula hands down, IMO.

You can use a separate container filled with 10 gallons instead of stopping at gas stations every hour. Isn’t that possible?

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

Between that and the horrible economy of the range extender, it really is a city car. I certainly hope they offer an extended battery as an additional option, since I would rather have more EV range for that vehicle.

An i5 midsized EREV would need a properly efficient genset though, perhaps a Miller cycle de-stroked 1.2l motorcycle I6? A genset with a 3-handle is kinda lame, I’d expect high-4s at worst. (and yes, I include the off-the-shelf iron lump in the Volt in the ‘lame’ category).

@Tom M.
Thx for the input. Interesting that the small tank wasn’t a CARB compromise. Maybe the hack to get hold mode won’t be very tough. Gen 2 Prii were easily hacked for a switch to force the engine not to start….simply cuz the Euro version had it.

So replace the 2cyl. ICE with a bit more battery pack. Perhaps an auxiliary power pack. Tom’s right in that you cannot make i3 more than what it is. It’s a city car. It’s not your only car, unless you’re European or live inside an urban environment wherein space makes owning 2-3 cars impossible. Yet – many cities like mine have built out their light rail, streetcar and/or subway systems. There’s heavy passenger commuter rail here in Seattle for those longer trips. Getting off of a train and onto a bus or lighter rail gets you there. Here in Seattle we have several pay-to-go lender car options as well. These are all competitors for a metrosexual Euro apartment on wheels. i3 still makes zero sense for Americans IMHO. Taking Tom’s assessments into mind, the car really isn’t meant to be a range-extender as much as the ReX is a life-preserver or anxiety reducer. A trip outside city lines soon becomes very impractical if you don’t plan on stopping overnight in 180 miles or so. For a car to have true Swiss Army Knife practicality, it has to have Volt-like options to keep on going along your longer trip – or… Read more »

Well done! And thanks for the great writeup!

Excellent write up, thank you.

The i3 is a neat car. I look forward to reading more about it and taking a test drive soon.

Great write up! Since the ReX no longer meets the California standards to get the “White HOV” sticker, which as I understand it is the only reason the i3 was made with such a small gas tank, why wouldn’t BMW allow the U.S.-spec i3 to have a ReX Hold-Mode or Mountain Mode? Does anyone know the answer to this? The Chevy Volt has these modes, and it would make sense to have them in the i3.

Yes, given that the i3’s engine isn’t nearly as powerful as the Volt’s, it would make sense to have a Volt-like Mountain Mode.

The mode would probably be used much more often on the i3 than is necessary for the Volt. All the more reason to have it.

Hi Jim, I know it’s been written as though it was fact on many websites, but the restrictions on the i3’s range extender was never about white stickers. BMW never believed the i3 REx would get the white sticker and they will not be surprised when CARB’s determination comes out that it doesn’t qualify for it. No gasoline burning car qualifies for a white sticker and BMW never expected the REx to. They would gladly take it if CARB gave it the designation, but they don’t believe it will. The restrictions on the i3 REX were in fact to achieve the BEVx designation, which it will in fact achieve. There are other perks to that like BMW getting the maximum CARB credits and customers being sales tax exempt in some states (like us in New Jersey). There will indeed not be a hold mode because the vehicle would then not qualify as a BEVx. That would cost you and me about $3,700 on a new i3 REx. I’ll gladly trade a hold mode for $3,700. If you drive it properly it can easily take you to any destination that isn’t the most challenging long mountainous climbs (none of which are… Read more »

Remember, the Volt didn’t get hold mode until the third year. I bet next years model i3 REx will have it.

Thanks for the clarification for the reason BMW went with no Hold/Mountain mode and small tank. The Rex i3 would definitely work for us in flat South Jersey. While we often do 110 mile days to visit relatives (where we plug in my Volt), most days I do less than 40 miles. I’ll definitely take a look at the i3 when my Volt lease is up.

dont do it

Methinks you want me to get a Tesla. 🙂 I’m actually on my second Volt lease. I made it a 39-month lease, so I won’t be looking until May, 2017 with the hopes of that the Tesla “Model E” (or whatever it will be called) will be available by then.

I test drove the Plug-in Prius and Ford C-Max Energi before deciding again on the Volt. Only the Volt meets my needs in my price range. Here’s the sad story: I had a few hundred shares of TSLA stock that I picked up under $30. As TSLA hit the upper $30s last year, I sold 95% of my stock and was happy that I had my remaining shares ‘on the house’s money’. I could have bought a Model S with my TSLA profit had I held on. 🙁

Congrats on your SECOND Volt lease.
My lease is up in one year. We will see if GM does something better on Gen2. If they switch to a turbo’d 3 with better MPG and go to a more stylish design it will definitely perk my interest.

I was hoping for more information on the REx capability in climbing the hills… I guess it is ONLY used as BMW intended (“limp” to the next charging station). And I use the word “limp” loosely only to illustrate the fact that REx mode is NOT the same performance capability as the EV only mode in long hill climbs.

Contrary to the caption writer, i3’s looks haven’t grown on me at all. It’s small, it’s narrow and it’s tall and boxy. It doesn’t evoke any BMW emotions in me – not performance nor sleekness. It’s a little box with some mean-looking headlights, ridiculous, frustratingly impractical rear doors and styling touches to give it some futuristic flavor that go “thud” in my book.

The interior is refreshingly modern and new. I like the Euro-apartment feel – the materials and mostly the lightweight seats.

Noteworthy that even though it is the rex model and it’s a long trip he wanted to do it without using fuel. Take note BMW and rue the decisions you made on i8. Electric has to be the primary, anything else just wont fly.
A small backup generator is legit, at least for now as long as the fast charge infrastructure is as poor as it is.
And as always, low weight and good aerodynamics is key to getting the most out of the battery money.

Hi guys, thanks for reading and commenting on our little roadtrip-story. Sorry it doesn’t answer all the questions about the i3 or the REx, for we were using the car as we have planned it to use, eg. real-life use, to see if it is a viable companion on a trip like this. With more time, we would have taken it higher in the Alps, gathering more data, but that has to happen at a later date due to time constraints. And I’m sure it will happen at a latter date, because this trip rendered (us) a very positive feeling about i3/Rex’s capabilities.
And don’t forget that charging 16 times sound worse than it really is, for this coincided mainly with overnight stays (for a complete recharge) and coffee/lunch/cityvisit breaks (usually much shorter charge-stints just adding some charge).
One thing I would like to add, in answer to Giza’s spot-on observation, we are driving the i3 to drive as much km on electricity as possible, given the time constraints of course. REx is, for us, an enabler to use i3’s E-drive as much as possible.

Happy E-motoring in any form/brand/way ! Steven

Hi Steven.
Wien you drove the car to Switzerland, did you use the 300 km total range to fine recharging spots or only the 150 km battery range?
You write that you wanted to use it electrically first and foremost, but you don’t really make it clear.
I’m asking because I guess, using the 300 km range would maybe make your trip easier.

I’m thinking of buying the car, but my boyfriend is concerned that we can’t be able to drive to Italy and back (from Copenhagen) in the car.

Nice article by the way.

Awesome! I’d like to see someone do this in America. Maybe even cross country. 3000mi /4900km.

I don’t think this would be a very fun trip. It could work one day when the country is built out with DC fast chargers, but right now driving through Texas, the south or midwest, or the rocky mountains, would be a stressful nightmare. I imagine it is possible by running on constant REX, carefully, but I would hate to do it. Plus, you only get 40 miles per gallon on the REX, defeating the purpose of the EV. I say this as someone who loves the i3 and is in the process of buying one. But for my trips to West Texas i will be taking my wife’s Audi Diesel (600 miles on one tank).