Chevy Volt Lessee Says BMW i3 Has Lots of Flaws, But He’s Still Buying One to Replace Volt
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:
GETTING OVER IT AND CHOOSING THE BMW I3
Chris Campbell (Georgia’s first Chevy Volt owner/lessee):
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.
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.
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!
NO CLIMATE PRESTART ON KEYFOB
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.
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.
CHARGE PORT ON WRONG SIDE OF CAR
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.
NO POWER SEATS
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.
WHAT’S NOT ON THIS LIST
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 VoltStats.net 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.
I GOT OVER IT
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 www.ElectrifyAtlanta.com (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?