Comprehensive Test Drive Review: 800 Miles In A 2018 BMW i3S REx

APR 9 2018 BY DAVID LARDNER 22

If you’re considering a 2018 BMW i3 Sport, this extensive test drive review is a must read.

As the driver of a 2017 BMW i3 BEV, I’ve been hoping to get a little seat time in the new for 2018 BMW i3S. That wish came true last week when one showed up for a week’s worth of testing. And, it came equipped with the optional range extender – something that I have had very little exposure to – so that sweetened the pot.

Coincidentally, the car showed up just as I needed to make an 800-mile trip – a trip that isn’t reasonable in my BMW i3 because of a CCS charger gap along one section of the journey that would result in a stop at a level 2 charger of about 2.5 – 3 hours. So, that range extender would come in handy.

Check This Out: BMW i3 Sport One-Month Review

What’s new on the outside?

The i3S arrived in gorgeous Melbourne Red Metallic paint and shod with black 20-inch wheels that have some width to them. Both the front and rear end get a mild refresh. Other minor changes include a bright strip across the hatch, fender flares, refreshed front lighting that now integrates LED high and low beams into the upper lights, and the obligatory badges that come with the S variant. Overall, the changes benefit what is already a unique design.

Save Money: Get A BMW i3 Super Cheap

What’s new on the inside?

The test car came with the Giga World interior that sports handsome new cloth upholstery and the S is available with perhaps the bluest seatbelts ever installed on any car. They’re a little visually jarring at first, but they’re all part of the blue color scheme that goes with BMW i series cars and they work as a statement very well but do add $300 to the bottom line. And, the seats that those belts hold you in are supremely comfortable and remain so hour after hour.

The new 10.25-inch center screen in the Tech Package equipped car is beautifully clear, easy to figure out and incorporates Apple CarPlay. Speaking of that screen, BMW deserves praise for sticking with iDrive and refining it continually over the years. What started off as a clunky application that was the scorn of many has seen iterative changes that have resulted in an easy to understand and, more importantly, easy to use suite of tools. Kudos to the team that has refined iDrive. It’s among the best interfaces out there.

Driving the i3S

Where does this car differ from previous model years? For one, the steering feels more heavily weighted largely due to the wider and stickier tires. That tire width makes a substantial difference in the way the car handles. Potholes and road irregularities that tend to disrupt the earlier i3 models are far less noticeable in the S. These new tires make a big difference, and that’s communicated very well through the steering wheel. Drivers experienced with the i3 will notice the difference.

It feels fast, particularly past 40 where the older models tend to slow their gains. The more powerful motor feels better all the way around. Again, like the tire enhancement, this change is something that experienced i3 drivers will notice right away.

The ride height is lower by 8mm and, while not immediately apparent from a side-by-side outside comparison, it’s clear that the driver is a little lower to the ground. Ingress and egress are a touch more composed a maneuver as a result.

Regen is more consistent staying strong into corners where previous models cut out as you entered turns. This new setup is far superior and results in fewer stabs of the brakes in cornering.

Range matters more than ever

No discussion of an EV is complete without mentioning range. Around town, the 33 kWh (94 ah) battery is just about the perfect size. In an urban setting, it’s tough to use a full charge in a single day of driving. However, when traveling, the battery is just small enough to require stops that feel too frequent. And, in areas of the country that have voids in charging networks, reliance on the range extender becomes unavoidable. An extra 20 kWh of battery capacity would make all the difference in the world. However, it appears i3 fans will have to make do with the rumored forthcoming 42 kWh (120 ah) battery. That being said, the range extender works as advertised and barely makes its presence known. In fact, at highways speeds, it’s almost imperceptible.

It should be noted that my trip was between Atlanta, Georgia and St. Augustine, Florida. Georgia Power and ChargePoint have teamed up to create a well planned and robust network of chargers between Atlanta and west of Savannah. However, at this time, there isn’t a functional CCS charger in Savannah, nor are there any on or near the I-95 corridor until the northern reaches of Jacksonville, Florida where EVgo has a substantial presence. That’s far enough of a distance to make range extender use mandatory. And, for EV purists, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. Hopefully, between those two providers, this wasteland will be populated with one or two CCS chargers soon. Those who rely on CHAdeMO have options and Kingsland, Georgia has a Tesla Supercharger, so it’s interesting that CCS hasn’t been addressed in this area.

The takeaways

So, what’s the verdict? These design changes have done a bit to keep the i3 viable. And, as a city car, it’s among the best EVs available. Its tiny size makes it simple to park. Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent – on par with many smaller SUVs. The carrying capacity, while not SUV like, is admirable and the overall build quality is exceptionally good. However, if one truly wants to eschew petroleum and travel a long distance, it’s a tough sell. Yes, the range extender works brilliantly and allows travel to places that aren’t populated by chargers yet. But, it adds a layer of complexity to EVs that some (including this EV driver) just aren’t going to accept. However, this 800-mile round trip, even with the gap in CCS chargers, only required 4 gallons of gasoline. So, that’s counted as a big win.

Then, there’s the price. At $58,695 as tested, it’s significantly higher priced than cars that go a lot further on electricity alone, such as the Chevy Bolt or the new LEAF. But, the i3 and i3S are not marketed towards the same customers. Plus, the available range extender gives the car a level of flexibility that those cars don’t enjoy. So, what that means is that the i3S REx will be purchased by people who want the car and want the flexibility that the range extender gives them. And, there’s a very high likelihood that those buyers will be satisfied with their purchase. It’s hard not to love the i3S – range extended or not. It’s that good.

Check out two more of our BMW i3s test drive reviews below:

First U.S. 2018 BMW i3s Delivered: InsideEVs Exclusive First Look

2018 BMW i3s First Drive

BMW i3

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22 Comments on "Comprehensive Test Drive Review: 800 Miles In A 2018 BMW i3S REx"

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Kirk Nason
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Kirk Nason

Must have been painful, no @Tesla SuperCharger network!

You can use my Tesla referral link for free Supercharging on Model S or X and and a $500 credit toward service or accessories . You can also get a 5-year extended warranty on solar panels. https://t.co/alylZB0X7F

dan
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dan

Spam, spam spam, spam, spam

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_eYSuPKP3Y

Prsnep
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Prsnep

Did you read the article? It was apparently not painful at all.

Tony Marco
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Tony Marco

Luv my 2014 i3 Rex – the no compromise EV !

Never need to wait for charge if busy or Broken / Out of service charger – just continue with range extender until the next available and functioning charger.

That’s why i3 Rex and the Volt are the best options!

mx
Guest
mx

Exactly. It depends on what state you live in.
High speed chargers are Sparse in Pennsylvania.
The REX is ideal no rural chargers anywhere states.

And really one of the most fun rides not just in EV land, but compared to all cars on the road. The i3 is an Exceptional Product.

The REX solution is Genius.

jelloslug
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jelloslug

This is why I bought a Tesla after I had my i3 lease.

Warren
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I plan on getting an i3s by the end of this year. Will go with the BEV because of its lighter weight and greater performance. I have achieved almost 150 miles on a charge in my current 2017 I3 BEV (on a highway trip). So my range is fine without the irex. Phenomenal efficiency too. While driving from Woodland Hllls to 5680ft Mt Wilson observatory and back towards Oxnard yielded 150MPGe on my 130 mile trip. You have to understand, BMW underrates their vehicles. For example, the new 600HP M5 sedan is reportedly making close to 700HP at the crank. By the same token, the 2017 i3 will easily beat it’s EPA range, and 0-60- times. The EVs with the most powerful motors usually have the biggest batteries for the quickest acceleration. The i3 is a standout. It will absolutely dominate many EVs with the same (20-30 kWh size) batteries such as the LEAF, 500e, eGolf, Ioniq, in acceleration. And even though the Bolt has a battery almost 2x as big, 200HP, and huge torque and is supposed to be faster, I never felt the BOLT was quicker than the conservatively rated i3. I was waiting to do an acceleration… Read more »
menorman
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menorman

Agree, and I think that the 42kWh version will hit a sweet spot for a lot of people, especially if BMW also is able to lower the price a little. That size battery would yield ranges in the 150 mile territory, which is plenty, especially with REx.

Tom
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Tom

I don’t care what people think. The i3 is a cool looking car and the slight refresh really improved it. Looks much more like an expensive vehicle now, which is nice since it’s an expensive vehicle.

Mark.ca
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Mark.ca

Oh, please….if this was an ice you would have never touched it.

WARREN
Guest

If it could get 150mpg, beat a Bolt, and was fun to drive, I would still own it.

Warren
Guest

Oh by the way, here is the 2017 i3 Vs. the Bolt from 0-60mph Chevy claims 6.4 sec Vs. 7.2 for the BMW. So the Bolt is supposed to walk away from the BMW. But I just don’t see it happening. FYI…the BMW can pull a 6.4 sec 0-60MPH on the Vbox, and C/D tested 6.5 seconds in their compare. So again, BMW is an overachiever in acceleration and range. There is no other mainstream EV in the 20-35 kWh battery range that is even close to the BMW in acceleration. The Bolt has nearly double the capacity and around 80ft LB more of torque and still has trouble keeping pace with the BMW

https://youtu.be/nvDcQDMj0Zw

Viking79
Guest

I call your BS, I drove a Juke before I bought a used i3 REx. The fact it is electric is part of the package though. I like the looks and didn’t settle. The interior (Tera World with dark leather not sport suit looking one) is stunning and simply so much better than other EVs I have looked at, so nicely made.

Mark.ca
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Mark.ca

” I drove a Juke before I bought a used i3 ”
Wow….congrats on your upgrade. Definitely, the Juke is uglier.

Pjwood1
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Pjwood1

I look at the opening photo, with wheel turned out. There’s the 155, or is it 165 in the S version? Crazy narrow, either way, but good for efficiency I suppose.

Why doesn’t BMW do this to its other cars? Can I get a 3 series with the rear window feature and ease of exit that the rear of i3 offers?

menorman
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menorman

Then, there’s the price. At $58,695 as tested, it’s significantly higher priced than cars that go a lot further on electricity alone, such as the Chevy Bolt or the new LEAF.

Isn’t the Costco/PGE/??? $10k rebate still going on?

William
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William

The Costco $10k additional rebate might have ended on 4/1/18, maybe it goes through 5/1/18.

mx
Guest
mx

If you go thru a buying service, you often find a BMW dealer willing to give you a good discount off of List Price, plus the Fed. Tax Credit.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Thanks. The Costco plan was limited in geography. I just checked USAA though and there’s a $10,000 incentive. S with Rex is about $53,000. If you whack off $10,000 for incentive that’s $43,000 then whack off another $7500 in federal tax then we’re right at about $35,000. That’s a price I can deal with. My commute is 90 miles round trip so right at the edge of the battery range. Rex the way to go. I was trying to order a Kia Niro PHEV but my Kia dealer just isn’t getting back to me. Disadvantages of living in the middle of nowhere. You are always on an EV island. Rex required.

Cab
Guest
Cab

David – how wsd the ride quality on the i3s range extender vs. Your 2017 Bev? Ride quality has never been a strong point on these short wheelbase cars, but I think it got a bit better when the larger battery was introduced in 2017, but the i3s has a sport suspension so that may have offset any improvements.

David Lardner
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David Lardner

The ride quality is improved – largely, I suspect, a result of the better tires and the additional weight from the range extender. I’ve always been of the opinion that the ride quality of the i3, while taught, is quite good. But, my 2017 BEV is clearly a little less composed than the 2018 S.

Phteven
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Phteven

Too bad the rear windows don’t roll down. My dog does not approve.