What Do I Drive is a series where the editors and writers of InsideEVs share with readers the cars we personally drive. These are the cars we bought with our own money and drive in our daily lives. As such, we've got a lot to say about them.
On June 13th, 2019, I passed my ten-year anniversary of driving electric vehicles. That's because on June 13th 2009, I picked up my first EV, a MINI-E, and have been driving electric ever since.
I've driven about 310,000 electric miles over the past decade, and during that time have had the opportunity to drive just about every production EV made. It's amazing to look back and see how far we've come since my MINI-E days when there wasn't a single public EV charging station in the entire state of New Jersey. Heck, the J1772 connector (or Type 2 for Europe) wasn't even a thing yet, and every EV maker had their own proprietary plug to use for daily charging.
Just last month I became the owner of a long-range, all-wheel drive Tesla Model 3, which now sits in the garage next to my 2018 BMW i3s, and also sips the electrons from my home solar array.
Why a Tesla Model 3 and a BMW i3s?
Let me start with the BMW i3s. Many of the readers here know I've been driving BMW-made EVs since the MINI-E days in 2009. The MINI-E was a pilot program by BMW, designed to put 450 electric cars into the hands of customers and learn about consumer behavior with EVs, as well as range and charging needs. After that program ended in 2012, BMW started their 2nd pilot EV program and converted 750 1-Series coupes into all-electric cars called the ActiveE.
I also participated in that program and actually received the very first ActiveE in a ceremony at BMW headquarters in January of 2012. In doing so, I became the very first customer in history to take possession of an all-electric BMW, something that earned me a spot in BMW's world-known Museum in Munich, the BMW Welt.
When the ActiveE program ended in 2014, it was natural for me to transition into an i3, as I had been in BMW's EV pilot program for 5 years, and I, as well as many of the other MINI-E and ActiveE drivers, felt that the i3 was a product of our work in the programs. While I wasn't initially in love with its design, it did check all of the boxes that I wanted in an EV, like comfort, nice interior, fun to drive. It was also a small hatchback, the kind of car that I prefer as my daily driver.
So, I bought an i3 with the range extender in 2014, and drove it until June of 2017, when a nice lady decided to look at her radio instead of the red traffic light and T-boned me, sending the 2014 i3 REx to a premature grave. At that time, BMW had just announced that the 2018 i3 was going to be offered in a sport model, the i3s, so I waited a few months and actually got the very first one that was delivered to the US. The 2018 i3s has a bigger battery (33 kWh vs 21 kWh) than my 2014 did, so with well over 100 miles of range, I no longer needed to get the range extender, and got a BEV instead.
That brings us to my recent purchase, the Tesla Model 3. I was actually one of the original reservation holders back on March 31st, 2016, but in 2018 when my turn to configure came up, I canceled and got a refund. That was basically because the timing wasn't right, and I also had concerns about the quality of the early Model 3 builds.
The Model 3 is a perfect foil to my i3s. It can go two and a half times as far on a single charge, it's a sedan as opposed a hatchback, it can comfortably seat five adults, has normal rear doors, and is all-wheel drive, which will be better for me in the snow.
I don't think I need to go on too much more about why I chose to get a Tesla. Tesla is clearly the market leader in electric vehicles, offering an unparalleled range, charging options, user experience and in my opinion, electric pizzazz, that the legacy OEMs are struggling to capture. But why a Model 3? I chose the Model 3 because the Model S and Model X are a little too big for me, and quite honestly a little out of my price range.
What vehicles did my current EVs replace?
As I mentioned above, my 2018 BMW i3s BEV replaced the 2014 BMW i3 REx that I had for 3 years. I had 72,000 miles on it when it was totaled in the accident. My Tesla Model 3 has now replaced my 1986 Mazda RX7 GXL. This car had been my father-in-laws since 1988, when he decided to give it to us because he was no longer driving it. It had only 62,000 miles on it, and my wife was using it as her daily driver.
However, a 33-year-old car can become expensive to maintain, and we decided to sell it a few months ago, prompting the need for another vehicle. We did find a great home for it though, and the person who bought it from us had been looking for the right 2nd generation RX7 for many months before finding ours.
I had considered getting a Kia Niro EV or a Hyundai Kona Electric, but after driving both extensively, I just couldn't pick either over a Model 3. So as the end of Q2 2019 was approaching, I pulled the trigger on the Model 3. I made sure I had enough time to comfortable take delivery before July 1st to avoid losing $1,875 of the federal tax credit.
Is range ever an issue?
As I mentioned above, I've been driving ~100 mile EVs for a decade now, and range really hasn't been a big issue. Sure, there have been times where I needed to take my gas car for a long trip, but that only happened maybe 9 or 10 times a year.
While I had the i3 REx I could take it anywhere, and did. I drove it on 500-mile round trips a few times, and never had any concern taking it anywhere I needed to go. Early on with my MINI-E and ActiveE range was a concern because there were simply no public charging stations, and once they started to show up in 2012 they were all level 2, which really doesn't help long-distance travel all that much.
My current i3s can go about 125 miles per charge in the summer and 90-95 miles in the winter. There are enough DC fast charge stations near me to allow me to take it pretty much anywhere I want to go. However, it only charges at 50 kW, so it's an hour-long stop if I want to fully charge, and about 45 minutes if I'm Ok with 80% charged.
The Model 3 is a game changer. I haven't taken it on any long trips yet, but the combination of the 300-mile range and the Supercharger network make driving the Model 3 on long distances nearly as convenient as driving any gas car. I'd feel comfortable driving this car anywhere I wanted to go in the US.
What makes the Model 3 and the i3s stand out among other best selling plug-ins?
The Model 3 really checks most of the boxes for me. Ideally, I would have probably preferred a hatchback, and it seems like as good as the Model 3 is, the Model Y might be a little better. But that's not available yet, so for me, the Model 3 is as close to perfection as there is at this time.
Tesla's user interface is second to none and much better than BMW's iDrive. Tesla's Supercharger network is also such an advantage that its significance cannot be glossed over. I don't think I'll need it that often because I charge at home daily, but it's good to know it's there when the need arises.
I didn't even realize how many Supercharger locations there are in my area until I got my Tesla, and now I see that they're basically everywhere I drive. Electrify America and the other DC fast charge networks may one day offer as many charging locations as Tesla does, but for now, it's simply not even close.
As for my i3s, I still love driving it. The i3 really is a pleasure to drive, and I don't find the driving experience "inferior" to the Model 3. It's different, but not less enjoyable. I like the high seating position of the i3 better than the low, sports-sedan seating of the Model 3. It's smaller and easier to drive and park in urban environments, so when I drive to New York City, I still take the i3.
Another thing I really like about the BMW i3 is how BMW really reinvented the car manufacturing process for the i3 & i8. They really made every effort they could to make the manufacturing process more sustainable. Even the painting process for the i3 & i8 is different than it is for all of their other cars and uses 70% less water than conventional painting processes. Other things like the leather is tanned from olive extract instead of harsh chemicals, and the wood trim is open-pore eucalyptus that's sustainably-harvested from a local forest in Germany. BMW also converted the Leipzig manufacturing plant, where the i3 & i8 are made to run 100% on wind power.
I understand many people might not consider these aspects of the i3 in their decision making, but there are people who do. BMW has sold over 150,000 i3s so far, so there is demand for it even though it doesn't have the driving range of some of the newer EVs. In fact, every year the i3 has been available, it has sold more than the previous year (worldwide sales). So, demand for the little electric hatchback from Munich hasn't waned, in fact, it's increasing.
Anything you wish you could change on the cars?
Yes, absolutely. There's isn't a car on the road that I wouldn't want to tweak in one way or another.
As for the i3s, I'd have given it proper rear doors. The coach doors are troublesome for my parents to get in and out of, and I'm sure they aren't easy for parents with young children and child seats. BMW recognized this was an unforced error, and I've been assured by multiple BMW product managers that they will not be making a car with coach doors anytime soon. I also wish it was a 5-seater. I don't personally need the 5th seat, but I know many people who wanted to get an i3, but the lack of a 5th seat was a deal breaker.
Then there's the range. As I've said above, the i3's range does suit my needs, and BMW has been continuously improving its range since the initial launch. However, even though the current i3 has a 153-mile electric range, which is nearly double that of the original i3, it still falls way short of the competition, and is more expensive. With a starting MSRP of $45,000, it costs more than the Model 3, Chevy Bolt, Kia Niro EV, Hyundai Kona Electric and Nissan LEAF e-Plus, all of which have over 200 miles of driving range. Finally, I'd give it some real tires. The tires on the i3s are at least a little wider than the base i3's, but they are still way too skinny and look more like they belong on a motorcycle than a car.
The Model 3 doesn't get away without criticism either. I don't know how this car doesn't ship with a wireless charging pad for cell phones; that's a little mind-boggling to me. Also, the glass roof is awesome, but also awesomely hot! I already purchased a removable sunscreen for my car, and it makes a huge difference. I wish Tesla had a retractable sunscreen built in, so it can roll in and out as needed, as my i3 has for the moonroof. One last niggle is I really wish Tesla would get around to integrating text messaging. My 2016 Toyota Tacoma has it; a 2019 Tesla Model 3 should.
TeslaCam and Sentry mode are very nice features, I just wish they could be viewed on the center screen. That would be a nice upgrade and hope Tesla considers adding it in the future. Finally, I'd like to see the addition of regen paddles like the Chevy Bolt, Hyundai Kona EV and Kia Niro have. The regenerative braking on the Model 3 is very good, but I do wish that I had the added control of the paddles to increase the regen force and slow the car down even faster in some situations.
Any other vehicles I'd like to buy?
Yes, I definitely want an electric pick-up truck. In addition to our two EVs, we have a Toyota Tacoma pick-up that I use to plow my driveway, and the parking lot of a commercial property that I own. We don't drive it regularly, but I could see us having an electric pick up and the Model 3 in the future as our two vehicles. My i3s' lease is up in January, so hopefully, by then we'll have some clarity on when Rivian, or perhaps Tesla will be making volume deliveries for their electric truck options.
No regrets at all for the BMW i3s. Between my two i3s, I've been driving them for five years and have driven 100,000 miles in the two cars. I really like these cars, and the sport version adds more power, better handling and sportier looks. I'm still very happy with it.
As for the Model 3, I occasionally wonder if I should have spent the extra dough and got the performance version. I know it's not necessary, and the long range, AWD version that I have is already more than fast enough. But every now and then I ask myself is anything really "more than fast enough?"