How Does BMW i3 Perform In Snowy Winter?

NOV 23 2014 BY STAFF 16

The new BMW i3 made its U.S. debut this past Spring, therefore many i3 owners are wondering how the electric-vehicle will handle in the snowy winters of the Midwest or Northeast. Since European customers received their first i3 models this past winter, we set to look for a report that outlines the winter experience aboard the BMW i3.

Meet this i3 owner from Sweden who spent a few months of heavy winters with his BMW electric car. He begins to outline his experience by starting with some of the i3 features that makes it an acceptable winter car, such as the built-in heat pump, insulated heated batteries and functionality to set heating preset times or start it immediately through an app. He also mentions the good traction control system.

BMW i3 has a heat pump as standard for all cars sold in Sweden but it’s available only the BEV model – fully electric. The REx models do no have a place for the heat pump due to that space being used by the fuel tank and the little combustion engine.

BMW i3 Prototype In The Snow

BMW i3 Prototype In The Snow

*Editor’s Note: This post appears on BMWBLOG.  Check it out here.

Heat Pump

A heat pump reduces energy about 30% and since the display says that the interior heating consumes about 12 km during a charge cycle the heat pump should be able to increase the range 5-10 km.

Insulated Battery

To protect the battery from the extreme cold temperatures, sometimes seen in the Midwest or Northeast, BMW has insulated batteries on the i3 and heats them to get the optimal energy. The insulation also helps in the summer when it cools down the batteries.

But despite all the insulation, temperatures affect the range of electric cars. Low temperatures require cabin heating which requires more energy spent and therefore a lower driving range. The Nordic i3 owner says with the car in comfort mode, heat on and a normal driving you can expect in winter time 80 – 100 km drive on a single charge (20 – 25 kWh / 100 km).

“But BMW says that one should be able to go 130-160 km on single charge – is that not true?,” says the owner. “Well, my experience is that if you turn off the heat and drive really carefully you can without difficulty drive at 12 kWh / 100km. But then it is neither convenient nor fun.”

Traction in the snow

With an impressive 1000 km of winter driving, the i3 owners came out to be impressed with the i3’s handling and traction.

“A rear wheel drive with tremendous torque should be difficult to drive but it is not. The traction control system works well. It slips a little bit in the back at times but never so that it is unpleasant.”

But he encountered some issues strong crosswinds which are noticeable in the car, we suspect due to the fairly low weight of the i3.

In the next few months, we will learn more from the U.S. i3 owners about the winter driving, as well as from our own BMW i3.

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16 Comments on "How Does BMW i3 Perform In Snowy Winter?"

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I’m extremely interested in this topic. I would have bought an i3 except for the RWD. For years we northerners have been told by BMW that traction control and snow tires will work for the harsh winters. Then we tried to drive the car in the first snowstorm, and returned the BMW for an Audi Can you make do with rearwheel drive? Of Course. However overall it’s just not very fun. And before people get confused, it’s not about going on the highway or handling on curvy roads. it’s all about going 0 to 5 mph on a snowy or icy Street. All-wheel-drive dominates in northern climates for a reason. So I’m excited for people to start posting videos of the i3 during a blizzard with 12 to 18 inches of snow standing on the street, or on ice, instead of all the videos you currently see where it’s nicely plowed roads. Even Bjorn has failed to produce a blizzard video for his Tesla, and this after years of driving all over. Always nicely plowed roads. Lastly, I know that these electric cars will perform differently in winter compared to an internal combustion engine car. Due to the low center… Read more »

Agree, the water-exposed frunk of the i3 seems useless, why not put a front wheel drive motor in there, it would not need much power.

However, remember the i3 is a city car and most cities do plow, salt, and sand their roads. And if you are stranded in the middle of the city you can walk to safety. The RWD Model S is a greater concern, basically requiring snow tires in the snow belt.

I live in Minneapolis and almost never drive out of the metro area. I don’t have the luxury of staying home or being late to work.

For $45,000 I don’t want to walk home in a blizzard. Or sit stranded in my car. Ever. Especially not when other AWD cars just trudge (slowly) through the snow! AAA takes 2-4 hours (or more) to get to you in a storm.

Think Atlanta last year. We get several of those storms per year. It takes 2 days to clear each storm. It works here because unlike Atlanta, Minnesotans avoid RWD like the plague.

In fairness to Atlanta (and other cities like it), they have a fleet of millions of vehicles w/out winter tires, and they have WAY less plows and salt trucks than Minneapolis/St.Paul.

I’ve been working on a project with a team from Minneapolis, and we are chatting on a messenger service each workday. I was a little surprised how many worked from home Nov 11-12. Since it was the first winter storm of the year, many didn’t have snow tires on yet and/or didn’t want to deal with the folks who’s winter driving skills were rusty.

WFH is no big deal in our business, but since that is not an option for you and if you want to drive in 12-18 inches of snow it sounds like you need some ground clearance besides just AWD. I don’t think my Volt would be what you want even if it was awd. It is so low, it would be a small snow plow for you. Audi, Mercedes and BMW have PHEV SUV’s in the works for you if Mitsubishi doesn’t come through. Hope they do though.

I think your concerns are a bit overblown….

In some ways AWD creates problems because a huge number of people with no winter driving skills believe that AWD stands for “I Can Do Anything With Impunity” and end up getting into much more trouble.

Not saying RWD is better, but northerners have managed with RWD for decades because they used to rely on better driving skills and did more to avoid getting into trouble.

Regardless, I do believe AWD is better in electric vehicles because there is no efficiency loss compared to energy wasteful ICE AWD and it can better utilize electronic aids like traction/skid control than ICE AWD.

Finally, let’s not forget than the biggest problem is ice where no combination of driving wheels or electronic aids will help, except spiked tires which are no longer allowed. You can only rely on your skills in such cases.

I generally agree, but for JRMW’s situation in Minneapolis and not having the option to stay home in inclement weather, I think an awd vehicle with decent clearance is a reasonable thing. There will be days he’d need to go out before things are plowed well.

I drove rwd in Montana for years, but in Montana its more fun because with so little traffic there is a much larger margin for error. Still, it is easier and more fun to control over-steer than under steer..

>>It reminds me of recent arguments stating that RWD is superior to AWD for a performance sedan. And then Tesla’s all wheel drive version smashed the 0-60 records of the rear will drive version.

Motorsports are dominated by RWD not AWD. 0-60 is an overblown interpretation of performance stat.

Yes, it seems to me that with Tesla’s adoption of all wheel drive for all their vehicles that they have seen the future. Protests to the contrary, real world experience trumps all.

IMHO that is a matter of cost. The i3 is already quite expensive. The telsa D option of awd adds $4000. Perhaps bmw should also add the option, but in most sold in the US, people would rather pay less.

55 winter BEV miles, in winter comfort, mean the REx could be worse than 45 as it doesn’t have a heat pump and is about 10 miles AER behind the BEV. Worse than I would have guessed. (80-90km=~55miles)

It’s a no-brainer for BMW to offer a gasoline-fueled heater in the i3 REx which has no heat pump. Why no EV manufacturers offer a gasoline, diesel, or alcohol heater is beyond me. Several i-MiEV owners have retrofitted these heaters which has made driving an EV in cold weather comfortable with minimal range loss.

Well it’s certainly a proven method. VW has used them in Beetles for decades, and they are often found in trucks and boats.

But I’m guessing that burning oil to keep warm in an ecologically focused EV doesn’t look good in the eyes of the product marketers, so it’s not happening. It would work well in the really cold climates, and plenty of room under the hood to locate them in most EVs.

An i3 REx already burns gasoline when in range-extender mode, so burning gasoline to keep warm doesn’t hurt its eco cred as much as doing so in a pure EV. If freezing one’s butt discourages people from buying an EV, that’s worse than burning a tiny bit of gasoline during a portion of each year.

I might be beating a dead horse at this point, but I feel obligated to mention this for anybody considering buying an i3 for winter driving. The only snow tires currently available for the i3 are for the 19″ wheels. The only way to put snow tires on an i3 that has the 20-inch optional wheels, is to buy a full set of 19-inch wheels and snow tires. There are no 20″ snow tires available. Also, there are two different width’s of 19″ wheels, with 2 different offsets. The BEV version is a 5-inch wheel with one offset, and the rear REx wheels are five and a half inches ( 5.5″ ) wide and has a different offset. (Front REx wheels are still 5″ like the BEV.) I don’t know what will mix and match and fit on what. In theory for snow one would want the narrowest tires, that would be the 19″ X 5″ wheel with 155/70 R19 tires for all 4 wheels. I think Tom might be doing this? In theory this might slightly reduce the max load capacity for the REx when they have the narrower tires, because the 155/70’s have a max load capacity of… Read more »

Actually, only the Mega trim BEV has the same 5″ wide rear wheels and 155 tires on all 4 wheels. Giga and Tera trim BEV’s have the same wider wheels and tires as the REx models for some reason. When I test drove a Mega BEV, I was happy that I could do a proper tire rotation, but when I bought a Giga BEV, I was disappointed to discover that the rear wheels and tires are wider than those on the front.

Interesting. I looked at a number of i3’s on cars.com, and I found most of the Giga and Tera trims had the staggered wheels like yours. But some of the Giga’s listed just 5.0 as the wheel size. I wonder is there are really 2 different ways they built them, or if the ads aren’t accurate.