A Chevrolet Volt Owner’s Take On The BMW i3 REx

APR 7 2015 BY JAY COLE 46

While watching Tested.com’s review of the i3 a couple weeks back, I noticed their test car had stickers on it that mentioned an “Extended Test Drive”. After a little Googling, I found out that you can fill out a form on BMW’s site, and your local BMW will hand you an i3 for a few days. How could I say no? I filled out the form in the afternoon, and heard from BMW Peabody that night. I picked up the i3 REx (range extended version) a few days later. Awesome!

Editor’s Note:  Special thanks to InsideEVs’ community member (and Chevy Volt owner) Sean for taking the time to review the BMW i3

Rather than go into a lot of detail about both cars, I want to do a quick comparison of the two cars, and which car (in my opinion) “wins” in certain categories.

BMW i3 REx – “Wins”

– Much, much faster than the Volt. The i3 is an absolute riot to drive, and reminds me a lot of the VW GTi in terms of acceleration and general fun-factor.

– Much, much more responsive than the Volt in steering, braking, and acceleration (even the Volt in sport mode isn’t as responsive). Has the typical “BMW feel”, which is great.

– The cabin feels a lot more open than the Volt, much more glass to look through. Like the Volt though, there are some blind spots. You also sit higher than in the Volt, and can see over some smaller sedans.<

+1 To BMW's Interior

+1 To BMW’s Interior Seating Position

– Tons of places to store stuff in the cabin. I wish GM would ditch the traditional tunnel-mounted shifter. That space could be better utilized.

BMW i3 Charging Abilities Get The Nod Over The Chevrolet Volt

BMW i3 Charging Abilities Get The Nod Over The Chevrolet Volt

– The i3′s onboard charger is so much faster than the Volt’s (7.4 kW vs 3.3 kW)

– The brake regen is MUCH stronger than the Volt in L mode. And the fact that the i3 doesn’t “creep” like a traditional automatic, you can truly one-foot-drive the i3. I rarely had to use the friction brakes at all.

– The rear doors make the back seat slightly easier to get a child seat into. Much more rear-seat headroom too.

– You have to drive like a hoon to get the i3′s battery to drain quickly. This one is sort of a “duh” since the battery is far larger than the Volt, but still.

– The Level 1 120v charger that comes with the i3 is TINY compared to the bulky one the Volt comes with.

– The charge ports are lit!!

– The i3 will actually remember your charge level settings (the Volt always goes back to 8 amps when you shut the car off). You also have more choice when it comes to the amperage the i3 can pull from both level 1 and level 2 chargers.

The Current Gen Chevrolet Volt - Seen Here In Its Last Featured" Appearance At The LA Auto Show Before The 2016's Arrival In January

The Current Gen Chevrolet Volt – Seen Here In Its Last Featured” Appearance At The LA Auto Show Before The 2016’s Arrival In January

Volt – “Wins”

– The Volt’s seats are more comfortable

Road Feel Goes To The Chevrolet Volt

Road Feel Goes To The Chevrolet Volt

– The Volt is quieter on-road than the i3. Even with snow tires!

– The Volt feels a bit more surefooted around corners and on the highway. I’m chalking this up to the fact that the Volt uses tires with some actual width to them. The i3 has comically narrow wheels/tires. The Volt is also a lot heavier than the i3, which both hurts and helps it.

– The Volt’s user interface is a lot clearer and easier to read than the i3. Though the Volt’s awful “washing machine panel” buttons are much worse than the i3′s traditional buttons.

– I also prefer the layout of the Volt’s menus to the i3. BMW menus go far too deep, and often require the iDrive “option” button.

– The Volt has a lot more cargo space in the hatch area.

– The range extender in the Volt is quieter than the i3′s REx motor.

– Volt has a larger gas tank (i3 is just 1.9 gallons in the US, 2.4 gallons elsewhere). Kind of moot since I never use gas, but worth mentioning.

– The Volt has a better factory stereo. The i3’s base speaker package is only two speakers up front, and they are pretty bad. Like, surprisingly bad. A $47k car should never come with speakers that sound that bad. I’ve heard the $800 HK system sounds nice. As it should for $800…

Upcoming 2016 Chevrolet Volt Should Improve Many Areas The Current Volt Is Deficient In (Photo: InsideEVs/Tom Moloughney @ NYAIS - April 2015)

Upcoming 2016 Chevrolet Volt Should Improve Many Areas The Current Volt Is Deficient In (Photo: InsideEVs/Tom Moloughney @ NYAIS – April 2015)

2016 Chevrolet Volt - Now With Illuminated Chargeport

2016 Chevrolet Volt – Now With Illuminated Chargeport

Now, it sounds like the upcoming 2016 Volt is going to “fix” a lot of the areas the i3 currently “wins”. Sadly the 2016 Volt is still going to be too damn heavy, and still doesn’t get enough pure electric range. Oh well.

In closing, had I know how cheap the current lease deals are on the i3, I probably would have leased one instead of the Volt.

If anyone has any specific questions please feel free to ask. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention things.

Tested Review, BMW Extended Test Drive page

Categories: BMW, Chevrolet


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46 Comments on "A Chevrolet Volt Owner’s Take On The BMW i3 REx"

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I’d like to hear a comparison of the winter heating of the two. The Volt can use ICE heat, but not so much w/the i3 correct? I don’t use heating in the winter much, even though I live in Michigan, but I know it’s important to others.

Please elaborate on how “cheap” the i3 leases are. Especially for the Rex. I looked into a few weeks ago and was un-impressed. The Volt was way more affordable for me, so that is what I went with. Although, I would have preferred an i3 Rex.

You got your Volt? So is the Leaf returned?

Nope.. We have a Volt and a Leaf. The Volt just went off Lease, and I bought another (used) Volt.

Ah ok. So bought a Volt now instead of leasing?

I’d like to know about the performance degredation of the heater on high when running the engine. I’m guessing 30%, but then what is the size of the heat pump/resistance heater in the I3 (and does the heat pump shut off and revert to resistance heat when it is really cold outside)?

I’d also like to know if the plug on the L1 charger brick has parallel prongs (nema 5-15 Which would be strange if running 16 amps) or the more proper but harder to find 5-20 with perpendicular prongs.

(If parallel it is posible to overload an existing garage outlet without tripping the circuit breaker or blowing the fuse, and this would possibly start a fire which would open up BMW to a lawsuit).

But then Nema 5-20’s are almost never found in a house unless deliberately wired that way. So if perpendicular there are few places to normally plug-in.

Or is there an adapter so that you can use parallel recepticles at 8 and 12 amps and perpendicular ones at 16?

Thermo pump only come with the i3 BEV. The i3 REX only have resistance heat.

Where did you read 16A?

Its the 20 questions answered video. Of course, when looking at the BMW website, they call the ‘occassional use charger’ is 1400 watts which would imply only 12 amps, but this guy says it will go 16 and there was another place I saw that also but not sure where. Of course BMW has also had confusing / contradictory information on their website, they themselves being confused since the SINGLEPHASE US 7.4 kw wallbox is not to be confused with the 10 amp, 7 kw 3-phase euro wallbox, and the respectively different cars in the 2 places.

So I don’t know what to believe since I don’t own one.


The level 1 charger with the i3 had the standard 15 amp plug in it (parallel). I wish you could put a 20 amp adapter on it and pull 18-20 amps.

I have always thought of the Volt as a “infrastructure” car. By this I mean that if you live where charging stations are few and far between, the Volt is your best option (other than a Tesla, but that is way outside of my pay grade). An i3 will get you where you are going, but the REx can result in pretty compromised performance.

Where this really becomes an issue is in mountainous areas. It’s about 130 miles from my house to the nearest ski area, in addition to having to climb over a 10,000 ft pass. Even with temperatures of 10 below zero, this isn’t an issues with the Volt.

I tried to sign up for an extended test drive, but got “Unfortunately, we were unable to find any participating dealers in your area.” Booooo.

“had I know how cheap the current lease deals are on the i3, I probably would have leased one instead of the Volt.” I am scheduled to take the BMW i3 Rex home for three days. Like David Murray, I am interested in the cheap lease deals you mentioned?

I am a Volt owner, and I also did the i3 REx extended test drive last fall (review is here for those interested: http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?141322-Reflections-of-my-i3-test-drive-%28and-why-I-ll-never-buy-an-BEV-with-lt-150-miles-range).

My views are pretty similar to the author’s report. One thing I came to realize long after my test drive is when I saw an i3 on the highway from behind. It looked plain UGLY. I thought the i3’s appearance was ‘quirky’ at first, but after seeing it on the road, I cannot defend its looks.

Last month I saw some two year leases at $2500 drove off and barely $200 month for a 24 month lease on a $50000 BEV.

What were your thoughts on the charge port location at the rear passenger side? Rear seat leg room? Motor noise level?

I only drove an i3 for a short test drive. I personally didn’t like the harsh feel of the drive. I guess some people like that sporty feel, though. I didn’t find the rear seat legroom any better than the Volt’s. I was annoyed by the motor whine.

Very interesting car, though. I don’t hate the looks as much as I used to. A white one I’ve seen around town looks OK to me. EV range isn’t quite there for me personally, and I don’t like the power limits on the rex, lack of hold mode and small gas tank.

I also prefer the charge port location on the Volt over the i3 (thanks for the reminder!). The placement of my level 2 charger at home forced me to run the cord behind the car to get to the charge door in the i3, which was a bummer.

To answer all the “how cheap is cheap” i3 lease questions. Supposedly there is a dealer in our area offering an i3 for $99/mo with $3k down, 24 month, 20,000 mile lease. I’m guessing that is a lie to get you in the door, but that means they can be had for $300/mo or less.

I wish I was able to test the i3 in the cold. I too was very curious how well it heats the cabin (and the range loss) in winter. The Volt does reasonably well on super cold days, but it automatically turns on the gas motor to help on ultra-cold days (13 degrees or less). We had a brutally cold winter this year, and the Volt barely used a gallon or so of gas to help on cold days. Again, the Volt automatically ran the gas engine those days, I had no control over it.

So – Rent an i3, or buy and own a Chevy Volt? Í really can never force myself to lease a car and then say, “I own it”. Do we own our rental apartments?! This is one strange -ism in the EV world. People who lease them and say they own them. Gen1 Volts can now be gotten for such great deals, it seems a no-brainer to own one rather than go i3, which truly is a town/city car even in ReX guise. The humongous difference besides price between these two cars is that GM had a choice – should Volt be limited to the cord, or should it be a tool of transportation that could be a household’s only car? I have yet to meet someone who owns i3 as their only car. People who force city EVs out on the highways and byways and then write long stories for websites about their adventures traversing mountain passes and crossing countries slay me. I’ve said I can ride a bicycle to Hawaii if I so wish to prove some sort of point that it is possible. Would I ever? Of course not! BMW’s little 4 seat minivan is a very… Read more »

EVs are currently bleeding-edge technology and I daresay the objectively smarter option (until the federal tax credits run out) is lease over buy. If you bought a Leaf in 2011, you are holding on to an asset that has depreciated at blinding speed, and will only lose more value when the Leaf 2.0 comes out. The same goes for the Volt.

I know there’s a strong ownership culture in America; the Volt was the first car I’ve ever leased. And even with everything I just said, I’m still probably going to buy a Volt 2.0. But I definitely can’t fault anyone for leasing an EV. It’s empirically the superior move, financially.

BMW has the most miles per kWh.
So, it is benefitting you, especially if you’re looking to buy two and go solar.

Purely financially speaking, how long will it take for that small benefit to pay the $18,000-$22,000 premium you pay for your i3?

The ownership nor driving experience can’t make up for that.

James, are you trying to protect us naive EV buyers from the evils of BMW’s i3 marketing? Or do you just have a grudge against the i3 or BMW? You repeatedly trash the i3 in any forum that you can access which is becoming tiring. We get it: you don’t like the i3. So don’t buy one because it’s obviously not for you. But that doesn’t mean that the i3 doesn’t have value to others like me. I want the lightest, most efficient, most compact 4-seater BEV available. My first EV was an i-MiEV which has a lot of interior space relative to its very compact exterior. It is also rear wheel drive which I prefer. But it’s light because of its smallish battery pack and spartan interior. After a move, our i-MiEV had insufficient driving range for us, and our public charging infrastructure has not kept up with the rapid growth in EV numbers here making recharging en route uncertain. So what BEV that’s sold here has greater range in addition to meeting our EV requirements? Only the i3, so I bought, not leased one. It’s about a foot longer than the i-MiEV, but all other dimensions are similar… Read more »
Art, I understand you are saying you have money and you don’t mind paying BMW high dollars to support their extensive efforts at developing lightweight materials. More power to you, buddy – but an 80 mile AER BEV that seats 4 for $50,000 U.S. with a Taiwanese Kymco ( econo scooter company ) 2 cylinder engine with tiny gas tank just isn’t going to bring EVs into the mass market. You do have options. Try a P70 Tesla, for instance. With the Tesla, all your commuting needs are met and then some in a much more versatile vehicle that frankly looks as premium as it’s cost. You call my assertions “ludicrous”, but my statements are fact-based. AutoExpress UK took the i3 around the track and came up with those results I shared. 8 seconds slower than a $14,000 ICE subcompact shows i3 is not “high performance” by any metric. This is only amplified by professional testers who honestly concluded the nimbleness they first felt they experienced with the skinny-tired i3 really was, in fact twitchiness off-center and that does not equal a comfortable highway car that is relaxing to cruise. Name-call all you want. I have no beef with BMW… Read more »

Some claim i3/Volt is a good comparison to make due to the availability of an i3 ReX model. Do they know to gain ZEV credits and compliance in California, the i3 ReX has an absolutely ridiculously tiny gas tank? Add the weight of the Taiwanese-made Kymco scooter 2-cylinder engine and you pay thousands more for basically the same city car with less EV range and a small cushion of insurance to get back home to the plug if you’re not too far away from home. Even BMW said it’s purpose was more of an anxiety-reliever than a true PHEV. Add up all the evidence and i3 is a really puzzling little EV proposition. It doesn’t do what it set out to do. Be dazzled by it’s lightweight plastic sandwich with one sheet of carbon fiber glued within…Yet marvel from afar because BMW charges you, the consumer as if it were solid carbon fiber! Where is the benefit of paying $50,000 for a 4 seat, no cargo 80 mile BEV? I believe I have countered every claim and challenge I have received in here about efficiency claims and performance. Zippy in a straight line does not a good EV make. It… Read more »

Sean didn’t hit one very important factoid about the Volt. GM overbuilt and over-engineered the battery pack to great lengths. It’s what makes it such a great deal to purchase. There have been articles here about owners who have gone past 200,000 miles and still have plenty of battery. GM has even eked away at the buffers at each end of the pack to give it a bit more capacity. Still – the robustness of the pack, motor and power electronics have never been challenged.

Many have written articles asking just how much GM has lost in cost per unit vs. sales price. This means you get a screamin’ great deal on the Volt you buy. Volt stands for value. Nobody knows how robust the i3 is. At any rate, it’s pack is small vs. it’s numerious 80 mile EV rivals.

And that explains the low charge rate/speed.
GM is babying that battery.

AS the average new car is now held for 11 years, you’ve got your reason why. But, also many GM buyers keep their cars for 15-20 years.

the Volt is not a BEV so high recharge rate is not essential. half of all Volt owners recharge from a 120V outlet, anyway. recharge rate is an issue primarily among EV enthusiasts, but the hard core EV enthusiast would buy BEV which offers more EV range instead of buying a Volt.

While the Volt was over engineered, that engineering was done a long time ago (tech wise). The i3 is a lot newer in that sense. I have no doubt BMW put the same over engineering into the i3 and its battery pack. I have heard that, like the Volt, the i3 never fully drains or charges the battery pack, which will hopefully deliver that extra long life.

Time will tell!

Disclaimer: I own an i3. You can either pin me as fanboy or someone that can comments based on real life use.

So James, what EV are you driving again? I can’t seem to remember.

You are jumping to conclusion very quicly, of the 22kWh pack, the i3 use 18kWh. As for the Volt, BMW did design a buffer, not as over engineer but then again, recent study based on EV on the market show the battery capacity tend to stabilised and not decrease as much over time. So stop being over drammatic about it.

As for the gas tank, yup it could be bigger. But I didn’t use a drop of gas in 3 month until this weekend where I did a long drive, where I did over 330Km 100% EV (using DCQC, something the Volt can’t do) and 170Km with the REX (2 fill up).

We know you don’t like the compromise BMW did, the car isn’t meant for you. Then again, no current EV seem to be since you don’t drive one.

Presently I am without my Volt. My current dilemma is whether I should buy a 2015 Volt now for a great price, buy an off-lease Volt or fleet Volt which is nearly brand-new pack-wise, or wait for the 2016 Volt. I’m old-school, so I don’t like buying the first year of anything. Volt2 could be the exception.

All in, I am treading water until the Model III. Heck – at that point in history I may be in the market for a used Model S.


Are you stalking me?

You are hard to miss… you are always saying the same things regarding the i3 and like today, you are pretty much filling one post with your retoric. I would like to not see you or your post… but I can’t.

Are you able to refute my facts? Is it like Jack Nicholson famously said in An Officer And A Gentleman, “You can’t handle the truth?!”

I state many of the same facts over and over here because this site echos BMW.Blog in heralding the i3. Every single day there is some new article hailing the car. I only offer an alternative view to all the rah rahs displayed here every day.

You don’t like it – move on. Touch screen or scroll wheel – doesn’t matter just pass me by. My take is – I piss you off because you either A) work for BMW; B) Are a big BMW fan and hate people speaking unfavorably about the brand.

Thanks for the nice comparative review.

Don’t disappoint yourselves with the Gen 2 Volt’s range yet. Let’s wait for the EPA judgment. I won’t be surprised to see it land north of 55 miles.

I have no doubt that the 2nd gen Volt will surpass the rated range. With that being said, I seriously doubt it will come anywhere near what the i3 can do, range wise.

Thanks for the nice review. +1 for using “hoon”… If we are going to get past the passion of the early adopters, we need more messages like “have some pizza and beer,” fewer messages of “you have to eat your vegetables.”

The bottom line is that both the Volt and i3 are fantastic cars. Their respective companies invested billions of $ in them (or euros).

The worst thing a buyer can do is get the wrong type of PEV. As someone mentioned above, the Volt is probably the better choice for the one car household or for someone who lives without much workplace or public charging infrastructure. The i3 (BEV or REX) is probably better for an urban area with a built-out infrastructure. The engine will help get you home if need be.

Great points Dan!

has no clothes and the public sees it for what it is And what it is Not!
Long live the believers who have loaned their money.
But before you put Your Good Name behind a recommendation, ask yourself why BMW has found it necessary to do the following:
Quote from Inside EV’s March sales report,

“•BMW spend more money on advertising the i3 in February than pretty much the entire industry did all year.”

Both cars are very nice and have their own advantages. I love these comparison articles because they help people who are cross-shopping to identify the particular issues that may be most important to their decision.

Here’s an odd thing about this comparo. Volt seating comes much closer to rivaling Porsche/BMW, for how low both your entire body is, and how low your butt can go relative to the car’s floor (great for long legs). My i3 test drive surprised, for its utility bench seat height, and the reduced feeling of security that comes from sitting that much higher above the battery, rather than next to it. I felt my head that much higher off the ground, and, consequently, body roll felt worse. That’s separate from the biggest, most fixable, weak link = tires. If I’m forced to sit higher than I want to, rear passengers get more room. This is true for the Tesla, and got worse with the ride height of the “next gen” seats. Volt rear leg-room is so bad, in part, because its so darn comfortable up front. If Cadillac ELR works for your utility, its price is the same as the i3. That was the car I back-to-backed. Comfort is no contest. Tires are 245 vs. 155, and with the Watts Link rear axle (that the Volt does not have) you’d be surprised how stable it feels. I lapped a rotary,… Read more »

True true. I knocked ELR when they entered the market for $80,000. But today you can pick one up for the price of an i3 ReX.

True only in the US

Here is my own review of the i3 rex (note: I am 30 months into my Volt lease now) after a three day extended test drive (on Volt forum): http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?148809-BMW-i3-3-day-test-drive-review….the-good-the-bad-and-the-rest My summary from that page: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the i3 is a HOT HATCH Play from BMW. It is the VW GTI of the EV world right now (ironically, probably moreso than either the e-Golf or GTE will actually be from VW). It is FUN to drive. Like hot hatches, however, the ride quality can a bit tough and get “old” in day-to-day driving. Unlike other hot hatches it could have more room in the hatch area, but it sits more upright and you have a nice view of the road. Will we get one? Hmmm, the prices have definitely come down (i.e. discounts) and lease deals are much better (not “EV deal” better, but better). Indeed, this dealer was advertising $4500 off all i3s which put this one down to $45K w/o negotiating. Add in the $7500 Federal and $2500 Texas rebate and $35K seems reasonable (of course the latter applies to all EVs). Still, that ride quality is a concern as is… Read more »

Autocar UK drove i3 around a track and then a $14,000 real “hot hatch”, a Suzuki Swift Sport.

How can you call i3 a $45,000 hot hatch when a $14,000 ICE subcompact beat it by 8 seconds?

i3 is about perception not reality.

umm… small gas tank is the least if the i3 REX deficiencies