Chevy Volt Lessee Says BMW i3 Has Lots of Flaws, But He’s Still Buying One to Replace Volt


Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Tom Moloughney’s “The Electric BMW i3″ blog.

The intro paragraph below was written by Tom M.  The rest of the text was written by Georgia’s first Chevy Volt owner Chris Campbell.

Tom Moloughney:  Chris Campbell has been following my blogs for a while now, and has commented on many posts. He’s an avid electric car supporter and is a member of the BMW i3 Facebook group. Chris has been following the BMW i3 for a while now and he’s been really anxious to test drive one. As you’ll read below, the driving experience is really important to him – as it is for me. Chris finally has his chance to test drive the i3 (twice actually) and shortly after declared on a post in the Facebook group “I did test drive #2 this morning. That’s it, I’m in.”. I know Chris knows a lot about EV’s, and I know he had his doubts about whether the i3 would be the right EV for him, after all he really loves his Volt. So when I read his declaration, I asked him if he would like to do a guest post here, to offer his story of how he came to the conclusion the i3 would be the EV that would replace his Volt. He accepted the invitation, and sent me the post below:


Chris Campbell (Georgia’s first Chevy Volt owner/lessee):

There Are Countless Other Owners Out There Who, Like Chris, Firmly Believe That the Chevy Volt is the BEST Electric Car Available Today

There Are Countless Other Owners Out There Who, Like Chris, Firmly Believe That the Chevy Volt is the BEST Electric Car Available Today

I am an electric vehicle enthusiast. The wave of EVs in the late 1990s piqued my interested, but it was a lucky chance at a long test drive of a Tesla Roadster in April 2009 that gave me the EV religion. By 2010 I was ready for a new car and the market was finally ready to give me an EV. In my case the Chevy Volt was good choice because I have a short commute, well within the electric range of the Volt, but also wanted the ability to take the car anywhere at any time and not have to worry about range. Note that there was virtually ZERO public charging infrastructure in 2010 when I got the Volt.

Fast forward three years and I’m now at the end of my three year Volt lease, and looking for my next car. The Volt has been great, and in fact I still believe it is the BEST car on the market, especially for anyone new to EVs. After three years of tweaks, and this year’s dramatic price drop, the Volt is even more compelling than when I took my somewhat risky plunge in 2010. But, for me personally, as my Volt lease ends I’m now looking to move on to the next thing.

I’ve been following BMW’s EV developments closely for a few years now, and after a second test drive this past Friday, I’ve decided that the BMW i3 is going to be my next car. I’ll explain why, but I’m also going to take a sober look at the car, probably unlike any other i3 review you’ve seen.

EVs are an absolute thrill to drive, and there was no doubt that my next car would be another EV. While the environmental and geopolitical reasons for getting an EV are important to me, what really draws me is the sheer power (well, torque) of the electric drivetrain. Once you experience that “stealth V8” power you just can’t live without it.

So, for me, the very top issue in selecting the next car was POWER. How fast was it? The Volt (and Leaf, even) are deceptively powerful, and a blast to drive, but I consider them to have only the MINIMUM required power. More is better! And early reports on the BMW i3 indicated that it was going to be more powerful than anything on the market short of the (sadly unattainable) Tesla models, so I’ve been following it very closely for over a year now.

The 120,000-Plus Mile Chevy Volt

Erick Belmer’s 120,000-Plus Mile Chevy Volt

There are lots of features that I like about the i3. The carbon fiber structure is certainly cool. I’m tall, and the long coupe-style front doors place the pseudo B-pillars (and seatbelt anchors) nicely back and out of my peripheral vision. The i3 will have an available DC fast charging option, and I decided earlier this year that my next car simply had to have DCFC capability. The drive train is well engineered, following four years of careful testing in BMW’s MINI-E and ActiveE programs. It’s a BMW, so you’re going to get a driver’s car.

All these things are great, but certainly the car isn’t perfect. No car is perfect. And in fact, that’s how it usually works, right? You fall in love with a car, then you find out something about the car that you DON’T like, and then you have to decide whether you can get over it. Do the pros outweigh the cons?

The Nissan Leaf is ugly, has a spartan interior, and has a cheaper battery technology that makes it susceptible to weather extremes. The Chevy Volt is a bit pricey and can’t seat more than two people in the back (and the EV purists turn their noses up at it). The Ford models have that hulking battery pack messing up the trunk, signifying the worst of “conversion car” engineering. And so forth — you can always find something wrong with a car. Even the vaunted Tesla Model S has problems, most prominently its stratospheric price tag, but upon closer examination there are plenty of other problems.

So, I’ve got problems with the BMW i3. Can I get over it?

I’m an engineer, and I can’t help but try to analyze this decision soberly and methodically. Anticipating that I’d be back in the market for a new EV after the Volt lease, a year ago I started assembling my checklist for the perfect electric vehicle. This long document is a collection of every feature in every EV on the market, and serves as a way to honestly evaluate the cars on the market. No car is perfect, not even the Tesla Model S, and my list serves to remind me that there are tradeoffs in any car.

With that, I will now itemize the top things that I do NOT like about the BMW i3. See, I told you this would be unlike any review you’d read! Again, I’ve said above that I AM going to buy an i3, in fact I will be happy to be the first in my home state, as I was with the Chevy Volt three years ago, and probably will be as big a cheerleader as anyone about the car (well, except for Tom M…). But I’m doing this with a clear-eyed view of the pros AND the cons of the car.

In essence, this is a list of the things that I had to “get over” in order to commit to the i3.

BMW i3

BMW i3


While the i3 has some sexy angles, it has some real stinkers too. Look at it straight on from the front, or straight at the rear. In both of those angles the weird design is jarring, and the skinny tires jump out at you. I know, I know, 19-20 inch tires, contact patch size blah blah blah — it just LOOKS bad. But it’s a thrill to drive! So I’ll get over the looks, or least tolerate the snide remarks. At least I shouldn’t have to worry about those kinds of comments from Nissan Leaf owners, right? That has got to be the ugliest car on the market, from ALL angles! Ha!


Chevy Volt Key

Chevy Volt Key

You’re not going to believe this, but this feature is THE most important feature to me in an EV, putting aside the headline features of the drivetrain, battery and charging technology. The same way you get addicted to the instantaneous torque of an EV drivetrain, I have become addicted to that little button ON THE KEYFOB of my Chevy Volt that starts up the climate control. I use it every … single … time … I get into my car (so at least twice daily), from inside the house as I’m getting ready to leave in the morning, and then on the way home as I’m approaching the car at my workplace. Yeah yeah, sure, I can use the smartphone app — wanna race? It takes me 3 seconds (and minimal cognitive engagement) to get the car warming up, and I can do it blind with the keyfob in my pocket. Try THAT with your smartphone. Scheduling the prestart doesn’t solve this for me because I don’t get in the car at the same time every day.


Smart Phone App

There is a “diamond” button on the i3 keyfob that acts as a panic button, but I’ve heard a rumor that it is actually *configurable*, and that climate prestart may be one of the configurable options. If so, congratulations BMW on a brilliant solution, and scratch this off the cons list! But I haven’t seen confirmation, so it remains on my short list of problems with the i3. Trust me, once you have this feature, you can’t live without it.


You will plug and unplug the car EVERY DAY. That’s at least two trips to the charge port location, and therefore it should be as close as possible to the driver’s door. BMW stuck it in the right rear corner, just about the worst possible place. I’m sure they have their reasons, but from a usability perspective it’s just all wrong. I have seen some factory photos of the CFRP passenger cell that have shown that the interior structure of the car has cutouts on BOTH sides, so it’s possible that they may relocate the port to the rear left side in the future, but for now — it’s in the wrong spot and will annoy me twice a day for my entire life with the car.

Charge Port on Wrong Side?

Charge Port on Wrong Side?


No Power seats Available Here

No Power seats Available Here

Power seats aren’t even available as an option. It takes me forever to get the seat adjusted just right, and thus I really want the memory function of the power seats so I can put it back the way I like it after someone else has driven the car (spouse, mechanic, etc.). A car that approaches $50,000 when loaded with options should offer power seats as one of those options. And don’t try to tell me that it’s left out for energy saving reasons, that’s simply nonsense. I’ll buy the weight savings argument, but still, this should be an option.


There are many things that other people have complained about that are NOT a problem for me:

– It’s a four seater. You can’t put three people in the back seat, even three kids, as there’s a console in the middle and no third set of seatbelts. That’s fine with me.

– There is no SOC percentage showing the exact state of the battery charge. I know the other i3 fans are screaming about this, but I could not care less. I’ll trust the indication of mileage remaining, and will eventually learn how to correct for challenging driving ahead.

– Range: 80-100 is plenty for me. In fact, using the data from my last three years of Volt driving, I recently found that 80-100 is perfect for me. Give me the DCFC interface and even just a hint of a future charging network and I’ve got all I need.

Like the Volt, the BMW i3 Only Seats 4

Like the Volt, the BMW i3 Only Seats 4


And here we are. I’ve listed some big problems I have with the i3, and I’ve listed even more on the full EV checklist on (now updated with i3 data). And yet … the drive is intoxicating. It’s got more power (more more more gimme) and can carve through turns like it’s on rails. Check out Chris Neff’s recent report on his day with an i3 as a professional race car driver flung it around a racetrack for 10 hours!

It’s got good range. It has a sunroof option, and I love the doors. It offers HD Radio and RDS, which are radio tuner features that I really wish all cars had. I even love the underdog factor of having the SAE Combo DC fast charging interface that all the Nissan and Tesla partisans are howling at. Game on, let’s go.

And so I got over it. Take my money, BMW, the sooner the better. Can I be first in Georgia again?

Chris Campbell

Categories: BMW, Chevrolet


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40 Comments on "Chevy Volt Lessee Says BMW i3 Has Lots of Flaws, But He’s Still Buying One to Replace Volt"

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Great for you Chris! Most of your arguments resonate well.

For someone that takes often spontaneous 300+ mile mostly highway trips to places that have barely heard of electricity, let alone electric cars or charging, unfortunately the city-oriented I3 does not quite cut it for me. The Volt still does.

Thanks for sharing this nice detailed review. Two comments: 1. With all due respect to “pure auto joy” enthusiasts (you are appreciated for your early-adopter role!), I am beginning to lose my patience with reviews that place the environmental aspect on the back burner. Here’s why: the government of the USA and the state of Georgia are together giving Mr. Campbell at least $12,500 car towards getting his EV. They are *not* doing it so that he can rave for 3 pages about how it can speed through race-track turns “like on rails”. I get it. Joy and fun are important. But stop treating environmental aspects as if they are annoying minutiae. They are the main story here, and the main reason you are getting the chance to experience all this joy and fun. Speaking of which, has anyone done the math on the i3’s manufacturing footprint? Did they manage to make carbon-fiber tech not just cheaper but also less environmentally costly? does BMW have a roadmap to further reduce it? In all the zillions of i3 articles I have seen nary a mention of it. 2. Like the site editors, I am of the opinion that all plug-in vehicles… Read more »
The question about the manufacturing footprint is very astute. BMW has published the numbers in Germany, and they estimate that the CO2 footprint requited to build an i3 is about 50 to 80% lower when compared to a conventional vehicle. I don’t have the source document on hand, but they went to great lengths. The raw carbon fiber in manufactured in Washington state using hydro energy. The Leipzig factory is powered by wind mills, which were specifically erected nearby. And I have to agree, that remark about the LEAF being the ugliest car on the market from all angles was as unfortunate as it was unnecessary. I can accept it as a personal opinion, but it’s not going to win any brownie points from LEAF owners. Good job otherwise, I know Chris from his posts elsewhere; he is very articulate and well-informed. It might have been enough if Chris said that he liked the i3 better than the LEAF. There is no need to declare it ugliest on the market. I still remember the looks the Prius was getting around here. It’s the new norm now in many respects. I defended the Volt on the LEAF forum against excessive criticism,… Read more »

Yeah, sorry about the Leaf jab. I’m really just having a little fun with it. It’s a weird looking car, and I know that lots of people have come to like it.

Assaf, I’m completely onboard with you on the environmental and geopolitical reasons for driving an EVs. I won’t be in one if it wasn’t for that. Because EVs are so powerful, and fun to drive, I kind of see them as guilt-free muscle cars.

For three years, my Volt had a (custom made) sticker on it that read:


(hat tip to Woody Guthrie)

Thanks Chris, and sorry for coming on too strong. It’s probably the Seattle Grays getting on to me 😉

And George, thanks for the added manufacturing-footprint info. It’s good they have this on their priorities.

Assaf, Chris can’t help that he is getting free money from the government. They don’t ask about your rationale for getting the car. So if he only buys the car for quick spins on a racing track, he can’t help the american government throwing money at him. It would be foolish to refuse it..

It’s not free money. It is a reduction in the amount of tax one pays. In Chris’s case he probably pays plenty of taxes since he has a good job.

Same difference.

It helps reduce his cost of leasing/owning of the car.

So, it is either the money goes to the government or the money goes to the car….

Yes. I am sure he pays enough taxes for that.

But the questions is would he have done the same if the $5K incentive is NOT there.

If delcaring oil a “national security interest” can itemize a significant chunk of the half TRILLION defense budget, “would [gas car buyers] have done the same if the..incentive is NOT there”?

It’s not the same difference. In order to get the tax break you have to make enough money to deduct it. That is different then just giving people free money. Personally, I would say paying taxes should be a prerequisite to being able to vote. No worky, no voty.

The credit is exactly that, a credit, it comes directly off of the bottom line amount you owe in taxes. It is not a deduction, you do not deduct it from your income. So in fact it is free money, nobody that can afford to buy a car like this is going to owe less than $7500 in income tax. It may in fact result in a fat refund if you do not owe anything at the end of the year.

I don’t view the Federal and State tax credits as free money. The tax code contains various tax credits and tax deductions. These credits and deductions have different social purposes. For example, the home mortgage and real estate tax deductions foster home ownership. The available EV related tax credits are just another example of using the tax law to promote conduct by taxpayers that will help society.

An absolutely correct and accurate statement, thank you Peter.

Wow. It is Chris C in the flesh. Funny how you build a picture of how someone looks after reading his comments for years. You look good Chris C.!! Every time I use an apostrophe’ I am very conscious about whether I am using it right (thanks to you).

Hey George, good to hear from you! Glad to hear that my grammatical bitching (uh, gentle corrections) had an effect 🙂

Are you enjoying your Volt? I don’t recall if you leased or bought. Have you done any hacking of the drivetrain? The last few weeks I’ve been having fun looking at the OBD2 data when the Volt is in CS mode, using the methods documented in the GM-Volt forum.

As I tried to make clear in the article, if someone is new to EVs I still think the Volt is a great car. I’m just moving on.

I’m leasing and still have 1.5 years left. I still like my Volt. In fact I like it more as time goes by, but I’m like you in that I would like a better accel time and more EV range. I’m not sure what I will do when my lease runs out. Hopefully Volt gen 2 will be available then….and so it and the Tesla Model E will be on my shopping list. I was pretty interested in the i3 also but have cooled off on it somewhat. The future will tell. We live in interesting times. For all that don’t know I was active in the GM-Volt forum in the early GM-Volt Lyle Dennis days and that is where I met Chris—on the forum even before he got his Volt. I still remember his post about driving the car all the way back to Georgia after buying it out of state. If I may digress. I had somewhat of a similar experience as Chris after buying. It was a hot summer day in Phx when I bot my Volt. The dumb dealer forgot to charge it so I drove it straight up hill for 100 miles in cs mode.… Read more »

It’s nice to read about an EV owner that actually weighs the pros and cons, and makes decisions based on objective analysis as opposed to some kind of techno-cult worship.

Thx for the article Chris. Where are the RE comments?. How come no MM isn’t on the complaint list?? Are you getting the RE??

Good spot, George. I realized this morning (as I was using Mountain Mode to force the gas engine on during an abnormally long day) that I forgot to include that issue in the article, because it is indeed a very important one. I’ll write up a paragraph about it and post it here tonight. Gotta get back to work so I can afford this expensive hobby!

“Even the vaunted Tesla Model S has problems, most prominently its stratospheric price tag, but upon closer examination there are plenty of other problems.”

Please list these problems. I would like to know.

Chris needs to drive an i-MiEV. Then he will appreciate the i3. All these extra “features”, such as power seats, add weight to the car. Weight = less range. The i-MiEV is a bare-bones stripper, but its weight reflects that. At 2579 pounds, it is 1207 pounds lighter than the Volt. That one reason why the i-MiEV goes 62 (EPA) miles on a 16kWh battery pack and the Volt goes 40.

I think Vampire loads are pretty high. Vampire loads are essentially zero on the Volt. I can leave it unplugged for days and it won’t drain the battery.

The Volt uses only 10.4 kwh of its 16 kwh battery. iMiev probably uses a much higher percentage than the Volt’s 65%.

But the Volt only uses 10.7kWh out of the 16.5Kwh battery to go 40 miles. What percentage of the 16kWh battery does the iMiEV use?

My problems with the Tesla are inventoried on my EV checklist page ( ). They’re all pretty minor, but the point is even the beloved Tesla isn’t perfect. More serious problems, for me, are that the Model S is just too big, and of course too expensive. I don’t doubt that future models will address both of those.

“The Volt has been great, and in fact I still believe it is the BEST car on the market, especially for anyone new to EVs.”

I can’t argue with him there. 😉

Great read.

The more I think about it, the optional range extender on top of a medium range battery is a good move. (An 80 mile battery is really the bare minimum for good EV-only horsepower and battery longevity–larger pack means fewer cycles per mile.) Get the customer in the door. If they think they’ll need the extra range, sell them the Rex.

Having now driven the i3 myself I must say it is indeed a very fine car with some shortcomings. Just as most other EVs. I will not be getting one myself though. I will be getting a Zoe.
The i3 has one big benefit over the Zoe: acceleration. All other differences things are minor things in my book. Some of them are better in the i3 (2 piece back row), some are better in the Zoe (looks, boot space). I just can’t get myself to pay the premium for the BMW badge simply to accelerate faster.

I was surprised by the amount of options you have to add to get stuff that is standard on the Zoe: fast charging, cruise control, cellphone connectivity, heat pump, nice sound system…

But again: it’s a fine car!

@Surya, not being able to charge with a granny cable / household plug on the Zoe diminishes the usability of the car for me. If they change the efficiency of the onboard charger with low amps, it would be my choice as well.

That is indeed an annoying point. Such a cable supposedly exists. I’ve been in contact with Renault about that cable, but it might be hard to get hold of it. I have asked the dealer where I will probably buy the Zoe to look into the matter, he’s willing to stick out his head for me in this matter 🙂

I think Chris missed another big reason.

As an engineer, I am sure missing $5K in the equation is huge.

In GA, i3 would qualify for additional $5K state income credits that Volt doesn’t get. So, in effect, the price of the i3 will be only $2k higher than the Volt but with significantly more performance upgrade.

Not to mention the “cool factor” as the first BMW i3 in the state.

In this case, I would call that a no brainer based on his location, cost and performance requirement.

Once you start, you always want more AER.
Next thing you know, in 2017 Chris will buy a Tesla 🙂

Chevy Volt: (noun) Gateway drug to EVs

You got it, kdawg!

My original strategy in 2010 was to lease the Volt for three years, and then buy a Tesla. Even back in 2010, we knew the Model S was coming, and at the time I figured that by now it would be out in volume and the bugs would be worked out, and pretty much exactly that has happened.

But what also happened was A) Tesla went even further upmarket with the car, dropping the low priced entry model, B) they optioned out a lot of features, effectively raising the price further, and C) I got to see and drive the Model S in person, and it’s just way too big. I don’t really like compact cars, but I don’t want a giant sled either.

So my plan to get into a Tesla in 2013 was scuttled, and I’m going with the i3 because it’s the best for me at this time. Come 2017 I may very well indeed be looking at a Tesla, especially if the next gen car is out by then.

That’s where I am at too. The Model S & X are too big (and expensive for me). 2017 will be an interesting year. Personally, it will be a battle between (a) Volt Gen 2 (b) Tesla Gen 3 (c) GM 200 mile BEV (d) A newcomer w/a 200 mile range, or (e) Just staying with my Volt.

I paid cash for my Volt and only drive ~10k miles/year, so I wont need a new car in 2017, but I also have that “more AER” itch.

There is one big “con” that I realized yesterday that I’d left out. InsideEVs, feel free to edit this into the article if you want, if so then it would be best placed just above the “what’s not on this list” section. NO HOLD MODE This only applies to the i3 with the gas generator range extender option, aka REx. In general, a Volt-style car’s range extender mode will automatically kick in at some defined threshold of battery charge, e.g. 20% charged (80% discharged). When you command a “hold mode” in such a car, you are telling the gas engine to come on NOW, before you’ve drained the battery all the way down to the automatic threshold. This then allows you, for example, to keep some battery charge for the end of a long roadtrip. You drive pure electric in the beginning, command hold mode on which starts the gas engine electric generator for the long haul (e.g. hundreds of miles), and then as you approach your destination you turn the hold mode off, returning to pure electric mode. This also becomes useful in short city stops in the middle of a long roadtrip — you turn off the hold… Read more »
Sorry REx gets complicated, both on state incentives and the loss of ‘Hold’. Since its a ~70+ AER car, and that’s a whole lot better than 38, a ton of daily ‘Hold’ mode gamesmenship won’t even be necessary for most. The trick will probably be which gas station to stop at, for those with REx, over the course of the limited tank size (~two highway exits?). Nice job, Chris. Great to see folks come forward, no matter the priori. A couple comments: RE: Volt vs. i3 Much of the “POWER” came by virtue of the 1,000lb CF diet. I’m curious about the touring car merits of the i3 vs Volt, because this is where the Volt should excel, IMO? I also wonder if the i3’s seating position isn’t as low? You’re tall, maybe it came up? Power Seats: I’m checking, etc, with an eye on retrofitting ELR seats. I bet its a complicated DIN plug, but if the airbags are the same, getting 12V to the DC motors shouldn’t be a problem;) Assaf, EV’s and the environment are better off if we’re not “one team, one goal”. It’s a sign the market is maturing. And that’s a good thing.

wow your taking the plunge. Now you will be “pure”. Looks like your MPG will be “infinity”. and you will benefit w/ a lower wt and therefore quicker accel times. I’m really curious about what the Tesla E will be. Also, what does GM have up their sleeve? As much as I wish they do have a 200 mile EV up their sleeve and a new improved Gen 2 Volt I think it is more likely that the reason they are not announcing much is that there isn’t anything to announce.

The i3 brochure has this feature listed under comfort and convenience as a standard feature:

“Advanced Vehicle & Key Memory – includes climate-control temperature and air-distribution settings, exterior mirror and power seat settings, audio tone settings and radio presets, central-locking preferences, and lighting preferences”

Excellent points all. I don’t agree about the i3 being ugly. It was repulsive and confusing to me when I first saw pictures but in person it absolutely won me over (personal opinion). Especially the skinny tires.

The climate prestart missing from the key fob seems like an issue. Although ultimately we are showing our age by admitting that, the “smartphone generation” would probably rather control the car from their phone, they rather do everything from their phone including text someone sitting within earshot of a real conversation.

Charge port on the wrong side of the car – problem, big problem. I am going to want to shoot myself every time I have to walk around to the other side of the car to charge.

No power seats – see my previous post

I was excited to see you weren’t bothered by the lack of SOC. But you did make this statement “and will eventually learn how to correct for challenging driving ahead” – Range Assistant will do all of that correction for you with more information and more accuracy than anyone will ever be able to.

Thanks for the write-up.