Video Review: BMW with Range Extender A Big Step Forward, But Not “Five Stars”

NOV 26 2013 BY JAY COLE 88

One of the first reviews is in on the BMW i3 with range extender, and while the reviewer seemed to really love most things about the car, he was unsettled about the “range extended” part of his drive.

Chris Knapman who pens the written portion of the review for The Telegraph states the following:

The Telegraph Reviews BMW i3 And Really Likes It - Mostly

The Telegraph Reviews BMW i3 And Really Likes It – Mostly

“It’s not a limp-home mode as such,” a BMW spokesman later told me, “but once  the charge runs down to five or six per cent and the range extender cuts in,  if you keep driving at 75-80mph it can’t maintain the charge.” Rather than  damage the battery by running it completely flat, the i3 had restricted our  performance.

The reviewer undertook a roundtrip of about 70 highway miles and found that the i3 could not complete the first leg of the journey on just electricity, coming up 5 miles short.  It is worth noting he appears to have been booting along around 70 mph and we don’t know the incline, but 65 miles is not a heck of a long way.

BMW Brought Dozens Of i3s For Test Drives At The LA Auto Show - All Without The REx Option

BMW Brought Dozens Of i3s For Test Drives At The LA Auto Show – All Without The REx Option

For the journey back, driving on the extended range abilities of the i3, he noted that he would once again not be able to make it the full 70 miles, and estimated maybe only 50 miles or so would be achieved at highway speed.

Looking back on the drive with only the range extender engaged, The Telegraph reviewer stated:

“I’d just come through a heavy but localised rain storm on the M20 when the i3  started to slow. It was a gradual process, from motorway cruising speed all  the way down to 44mph. By this time I was travelling up a slight incline and  had effectively become a slow-moving obstacle. Lorries were catching me with  quite frankly terrifying closing speeds. It was three or four minutes –  which was long enough to make me consider pulling over – before the i3   recovered; just as slowly as it had lost speed, so it crept up.”

The reviewer basically comes to the conclusion that with 30% or so remaining battery power, and the knowledge you have much further to go than can be achieved on electricity, you should proactively engage the range extender.  Doing this will ensure you have a more enjoyable drive.

Overall, The Telegraph has good things to say, but still comes away with the conclusion that the BMW i3 is not a “five star” car.

“How could it be when, user error or not, it can’t guarantee it’ll be able to maintain a safe motorway cruise  even when it’s got a full tank of fuel?”

“No, what this i3 Range Extender represents is a big step forward for electric  cars, and an extremely desirable urban runabout. If it suits your lifestyle and you like the design, then you’ll almost certainly love the i3. But even in this Range Extender guise, it is not the panacea some are suggesting.”

Check out the whole review at The Telegraph here.

Categories: BMW, Test Drives, Videos

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

88 Comments on "Video Review: BMW with Range Extender A Big Step Forward, But Not “Five Stars”"

newest oldest most voted

pretty sweet exterior and interior color combo

Looks like confirmation of what many of us have been saying — the i3 has no better freeway range than a LEAF. Possibly slightly worse, since it has a 10% lower capacity battery.

Yes, very likely. Although the EPA range is not available yet, the i3 scored 5% less than the 2013 LEAF on the European NDEC cycle. While the LEAF should have comparable energy efficiency, it’s possible that the i3 is slightly better due to the lower weight, more aerodynamic tires and other tweaks. This could then compensate for lower battery capacity.

The British are funny. Using words like ‘smashing’ to describe a car. At least BMW didn’t name it ‘Impact’ like GM’s EV1!

Yet doesn’t all this make the Volt look brilliant,
as the Brits would say?

And at $26,000-34,000 without BMW parts and
maintenance….bloody freakin’ brilliant, I’d say!

No this makes the Volt look as bad as it is.

Don’t trust this ******, no more than you should trust the impression Jeremy Clarkson produced on the Roadster. Or Broder for that matter.

If I do a Google search on Dan Frederiksen, will I find he works
for an oil company, or might he be a retired lobbyist?

He certainly stops in here daily to neg electric cars at every

And the volt is an electric car? Don’t think so, just another hybrid advertised as an EV. Nissan and tesla have true Ev’s.

Christ Dan!! manners pls… you don’t even like the the i3. You have at every single opportunity given, slagged the i3 – told all of us you could have done better – and now along comes a journo who basically thinks its a good car with some drawbacks and you call him a d…che – you really are a D..k Head! go back to your inflatable papermashe, pedal assisted dreamcars and leave this forum for people who are genuiely interested in electric automotive propulsion and who lives in this century

Haha, yeah, you must be right Dan. You are a ‘genius’ right? Haha. I average around 500 mpg from my Volt. Apparently that stinks. Curious….what would you find not to be a ‘bad’ mpg average? What percentage of cars on the road get better than 500 mpg’s? What a (genius) troll. Well, at least I’ve had a good chuckle tonight.

Yes the Volt is awesome. Plenty of power with 100s of miles on the highway. It’s unfortunate that in order for the i3 to be Bevx rated by the USA CARB, I doubt you’ll be able to turn on the range extender at 30%, probably just automatic at 6% or so, limiting power.

Unfortunate, but that may limit sales in the USA.

The US version appears to not be able to manually engage the range extender. So, slow down … enjoy the ride.

That won’t fly in Texas, where speed limits are merely guidelines. I regularly get passed when I’m doing 75 MPH in a 60 MPH zone.

Agreed, but it doesn’t really strike me as a car for Texas, more for East and West Coast cities. The i3 would make a great runabout around the Seattle or Portland area. Traffic is slow during the commute hours, and the 60mph zones are heavily enforced to about 65mph during midday. I think it’s major flaw would be the weekend trip to Portland or Seattle. Not being able to do this journey at a constant 63-67mph combined with the inability to use the local network of CHAdeMO chargers, will be a serious deterrent to purchasing for most of the affluent suburban types, who would buy the i3 around here.

I still haven’t seen a photo of where you put the gasoline in a REX version.

Gas goes up front…Here’s a pic:

The tiny gas tank is basically above the passenger front wheel, but tucked into the vehicle a few inches to protect it. So, like base of windshield, but a few inches lower

Seriously? That seems like a strange place for a gas tank. If you get in a front end collision, can you expect to be drenched in gas?

Very odd indeed. Though its only 2.3 gallons you’ll be covered in

It’s location negates ever adding a bigger gas tank. It’s really wedged in there. Tomorrow I’ll see if I can find the image again

Or tonight…works never ends for us. Here’s the fuel tank image:

So, it’s lower than I had stated earlier…Got a bit confused I guess

Thanks for posting the photo! I was going to butt in, but now I don’t have to 🙂

This was enginered on purpose to bar any tank extension that would make the Rex practical. This is a clear exemple of internal sabotage, just like the doors and the non standard backseat.

Point taken, and not that I’m recommending this, but I believe that one could fit an additional fuel reservoir into the frunk above. Given that it would sit higher, the force of gravity would neatly supply the fuel to the OEM gas tank below. This additional tank could be filled by opening the hood, much like we saw in VW Beetle.It would have to use robust materials as well. The tank positioning in the i3 is due to crash safety, I believe. It sits well-protected behind a crumple zone.

Weird, weird, weider.
This “car” is just rubbish. Start over 99% and come back with a well done i5 instead of a sum of errors not to do like in this i3.

Kind of a disappointing review, but I’m not surprised. At constant fast speeds (where DRAG takes a lot more energy to overcome) there is a point a little gas motor wouldn’t be able to keep up. It seems to me BMW could have made the car a bit more aerodynamic so that higher speeds wouldn’t suck wind out of your range.

The comment about “Lorries were catching me with quite frankly terrifying closing speeds” is not the kind of situation a BMW owner will be shelling out oodles of cash to experience. In comparison it makes the Volt look like a real winner … if you need to have regular use of a range extender. If you don’t, get a Leaf. If you’re freaked out by the prospect of running out of charge or very rarely have to go 100 miles (give or take 20 miles), perhaps the i3 would work. But, it is nice to have some options out there for sure …

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

Indeed, it’s a shame that BMW gimps the European i3 with California’s BEVx restrictions, when they could likely squeeze a perfectly adequate 50+ kW out of a motorcycle engine that size, especially with a turbo. Maintaining highway speeds is quite doable at 50kW, assuming you’re not climbing a mountain.

We have been through this exercise before. Just because we hear “motorcycle engine”, it does not automatically translate to subpar performance. First of all, BMW has derated the engine from about 50 hp to 30 hp for REx use. Secondly, about 25 kW should be enough to propel the i3 at 75 mph on flat terrain. This is based on real-world data from the LEAF, which should have comparable energy efficiency. As I noted in a discussion elsewhere, the problem Chris faced was that the let the battery run down to 5%, consistently drove over 70 mph on the freeway the entire time, and then hit a hill, where the vehicle then had to slow down to account for higher instantaneous power demand and near zero energy reserves in the battery.

But BEVx destination forces the battery to be down to 5% before the REx kicks in.

And the issue that most people FAILED to understand is that fact that if a car requires about 25KW in power to sustain the 70mph, then its REx should have at least 50% more “peak” power for small hills or other power consumption if the “hold/mountain” mode is NOT available. Plus, at elevation, the peak power of the REx will easily drop another 20%-30%. So, margins are important.

This just confirms that it is a city car without “hold mode”.

If I am BMW, I will just work with CARB to certify the i3 as BEV and i3 with REx as PHEV and allow hold and mountain mode.

“you should proactively engage the range extender”

How do you do this in the US if there’s no Hold Mode?

If somebody hasn’t hacked their CAN bus within the first six months, I’d be shocked.

Seems like something a BMW Tuning outfit would love to sell for a pretty penny.

Then BMW can void the warranty for that too?

If enough of them around, CARB will just revoke BMW’s BEVx status…

Hmmmm….I think I’ll go out and give my Volt a big hug:) He laughs at inclines when in extended range mode!

And what makes you think the i3 is any different?

Never mind. I hadn’t seen the idiot’s writing.
This is a Broder review. the anti EV sentiment is oozing out of him.
Negative words all the time when not necessary. Moronic comments like the windshield viper matters to the range. He is scum and I would trust him as much as I’d trust Clarkson on EVs. Or Broder.

5% battery buffer.

Obviously the reviewer might have put the i3 REX through a worst case scenario for the range extender, but reviewers love to do this sort of thing. I suspect that this won’t be the last review that describes a dangerous slow-down on the freeway. It’s no wonder that BMW has mostly been giving out the non REX i3 to reviewers.

Wait ’til Broder drives it, LOL.

Keep it FAR away from him!

Hey Tom M or Jay,
What’s this business about no hold mode or mountain mode in the US Versions??
So we can’t engage the RE until the battery is down to 5%??

Yes, we can thank CARB for that. The BEVx rule BMW chose to follow dictates that the battery must be depleted first, and before the REx can be engaged. One common assumption in the recent past was that the REx will come on at about 20% battery SOC, just like what we saw with the Volt. It’s worth noting that the BEVx regulation did not exist when the Volt was designed. The benefit of following this rule is that the vehicle will be recognized as a full electric car, even though it carries a range extender onboard.

OK thx for the reply.

Yes, what GeorgeB said, (=


Welcome! 😀

Reminds me of the Volt discussions we had 4 years ago….. Remember that? Can’t they just offer an electric i3 as a pure electric car and an i3 model as only a plug-in hybrid? That way they get around the limping disaster waiting to happen in the states with the Rex version.


That’s a good point! It’s unfortunate that European customers are now stuck with the same limitations like their US cousins, even though CARB regulation does not apply there. That said, I don’t share the view that the i3 is a limping disaster waiting to happen. Chris purposefully tried to broder the car, and he came out OK. It slowed down on a hill because it had nothing left in the battery, but then recovered. Had he driven 60 or 65 in REx mode instead of constantly pushing the limits on the motorway, I’m pretty sure that this would not have happened.

Americans will find that speed unacceptable, especially in some states…. I thought in the European i3 Rex you can manually turn the engine on sooner but the guy in the video didn’t and that in the states you won’t have this option?

Yes, Chris did not turn on the REx manually. Remember, this was a stress test for him. Much like Mr. Broder, he wanted to show what happens when you drive the car like a gasser, without making any adjustments in behavior, except for getting gas early to counter the small tank size. Luckily, he did not end up on a tow truck or under the wheels of a lorry because he drove slower than them for a period of time. That said, it’s not just Americans, autobahn drivers will want to go more than 130 km/h in REx mode. Luckily for them, all it takes is pushing a button to start the REx while battery SOC is still high enough. Personally, I did not expect the 5% SOC limitation coming. The design is pretty clever and the price is right otherwise. Depending on how customers respond, BMW might find it necessary to boost REx power output from 25 kW to about 30 kW to account for this. That said, things are going to be fine, so long the driver is content going 75 mph on flat terrain. Throw hills and 5% SOC into the mix, and it won’t look as… Read more »

OK, so a work around in the states could be to boost the engine power… that way they still keep the 5% battery buffer…


> …user error or not…

Hmmm, this might be the source of the trouble.

Failure to operate any equipment, especially a motor vehicle, in ways that were not intended, or counter to user documentation, is begging for a failure.

The article is a hatchet job.

I agree. Backhanded compliments and lies throughout.

The i3 has several design mistakes for the price.

1. It should offer at least 160 pure EV miles.

2. It should offer at least 200 hybrid miles when the gasoline engine kicks on. Instead of ‘burning’ gasoline to make electricity, with a tiny 74hp engine that gets less than 30mpg when running, while at the same time using electricity for propulsion.

For comparison:
1. The Volt gets 37mpg while in hybrid mode with a more powerful engine.
2. The Volt gets over 340 miles in hybrid mode and 40 EV range

Looking at the inefficiency of the tiny motor in the i3, by comparison, the gasoline only Ford Fiesta 1.0L EcoBoost gets 45mpg highway/37 combined while offering 125hp.

The i3 comes up short on both the EV range and ‘range extending’ side.

The Leaf, Focus Electric are better EVs, and the Volt or Fusion/C-Max Energi are better plug-in hybrids.

I agree, the generator is not efficient. Should have been an atkinson cycle engine. A Volt weighs about 1,000 pounds more than the BMW i3 ‘rex, yet probably can’t get better long range MPG than the Volt (gas only). Though strangely enough, I think the Volt has the same camshaft as the Cruze engine, and it has the same engine block as the Cruze, so no Atkinson cycle there either.
I’m pretty sure the i3 ‘rex will be about 120MPGe combined EPA MPGe versust the 98MPGe of the Volt.

As already noted, the i3 is expected to have slightly better fuel economy in range-extended mode than the Volt. I would take all the discussions here and elsewhere with a grain of salt. The next-gen Volt is expected to have a smaller and lighter engine. It’s also worth noting that BMW hired away Frank Weber from GM. He was on the Volt team, and can be seen next to Bob Lutz in the movie Revenge of the Electric Car.

Since we’re getting our British friend’s impressions of this car first – we have to colour ( like how I used the Euro spelling? ) our opinions based upon Euro tastes and their specific auto environment – right? So everyone should knock off all the comments re: this guy “Brodering” the i3. It’s gonna get worse, fellas, believe me. BMW did a nice job in making i3 look LEAF-esque, or in the words of Monty Python – “And now for something totally different!” Different is good – since Prius showed us that people who are early adopters want a car that looks the part – not an EV version of an ICE model that looks exactly the same. Everybody has to notice by now, even over here, those cars don’t sell very well. Euros love little boxy cars. Interesting that he keeps calling i3 a “Super Mini”. They have mini cars buzzing around all over, from Japan, Korea, Italy, France and Germany. So this car fits right in with what they’re used to- only a slightly “space-age” rendition. Here? Yanks aren’t so hip on little boxy Super Minis – FOR $50,000. I can’t wait until us Yanks who’ve been saying… Read more »
A Volt in Europe is so much more expensive than it is here. Not only that, but “Yank” cars have a bad rep over there – and mainly for good reason. GM built a lot of garbage for 20 years or so. It takes a generation or so to lose much of that bad feeling. To Euros the Volt is a BIG CAR! To us – it’s a Prius-sized compact. For us, we are so used to freedom. Freedom to go when and where we want. If you live in the ‘burbs as I do, I can’t see i3 being an only car, and not much of a 2nd car. We have people hauling duties and oft cover 30-40 miles just to get into town! Not only this – but we travel at faster speeds out on the open road, and nearly at their interstate speeds on local byways. Our needs are different and a Chevy Volt, or a Tesla ( once the Super- charger network fills out ) are built for American tastes and duties. As I’ve said, the LEAF drivers ( and they are legion ) in my area always have 2, 3 or more other cars at… Read more »

Can you see the i3 on the Autobahn, or the Autostrada?

Come on! lol

does this mean you don’t like the i3 🙂

Love it. Very first I3 review words are a guy Broder’ing the I3. Brainless enough not to use the rex, too.

The Leaf will never be this practical. Volts go to rex, at the hood latch-stop. A wire to that limit switch, and I bet pre-hold mode users are all set. No CAN bus required. The I3 will indeed need a fast-patch for this in the states. I hate to say it, but we Yanks are about to prove how stupid we can be, with our auto press, and how to best miss-use things for purposes they weren’t intended.

I disagree. What the reviews shows matches EXACTLY what the US version of i3 with REx will be.

CARB rules requires the REx to be accessory, NOT primary power source.

BMW should offer the i3 with REx as PHEV instead.

CARB rules were meant to be broken, so people can go to rex sooner, go further w/o slowing down, avoid their expensive gas cars and save what CARB was established to protect.

I am not sure it will allow you in drive mode but now I’ve got to try the hood latch-stop in motion.

This review is very informative and very positive on the i3. This also confirms all the suspicion on the REx.

Volt without hold or mountain mode will slow down to 45mph as well after about 1 hr climb on I-80 around the Donner’s Pass at 9,000 ft. But it comes with Hold and Mountain mode.

The problem is the BMW tries to “cheat” the BEVx rules with REx so it can’t have those modes.

That is why BMW keep saying it is a city car and “weekend loaners” are available. But I still think the REx is a great option. It WILL get rid of all range anxiety.

But I am more puzzled about the 65miles range. Maybe b/c it is so good in performance, the drivers foot just became very heavy…

Yes, that’s a valid concern, I believe. Trips to Tahoe won’t be possible from the Bay Area without quick charging at least once.

So, 65 to 70 miles out of the 2.8 gallon tank? That is only 25 mpg. Disappointing.

But I guess since you would rarely use it, it doesn’t matter.

That is the penality of the gas MPG, the longer EV range you have, the lower the extended range MPG….

I would be careful with those projections. The EPA rating should be out soon enough. BMW has mentioned that they expect energy economy in low 40s in REx mode; very similar and perhaps slightly better than the Volt.

We can do some math, shall we?

By BEVx rules, the gas range can’t be higher than the EV range. Battery has about 5% reserves.

In order to do 40mpg, the 2.8 gallon would have to have 112 miles in range. That can NOT be higher than its EV range. At 112 miles, that is an efficiency about 5.6miles per KWh. With MORE drag than the Volt, I seriously doubt that is possible on the hwy even with the lower weight.

Low 40s is a wishful thinking…. Do you have any estimate that would back it up beside what “BMW Marketing team” has claimed?

Yes, I can do math too, thank you. All I said was to be careful with such projections before official EPA figures are out. The projected mpg is based on information from reliable sources. You can take my comment for what it is or not. I have already wasted enough time debunking the nonsense people cone up with today.

Note that the tank is 9 liters, which is 2.377 gallons, and not 2.8 gallons as you have stated. That’s an error of about 18% and would translate a 41 mpg into 35 mpg. I take your comment that I’m only capable of parroting information from BMW marketing personally BTW. That’s completely uncalled for, and if you keep that level of hostility up, I won’t respond to any of your future questions.

Even at 41mpg, the 2.377 gallon would be 97 miles. Unlikely for a car that has worse Cd and drag than a Volt.

Now, all car maker exaggerate their numbers before launch. My point is just from all indication (math) that it is unlikely to do what the BMW team claims.

Now, remember that GM claimed 237mpg on the Volt and Nissan claimed over 100 miles EV range? Those are all found to be untrue…

Now I know why BMW has been avoiding providing the performance in engine extender mode. It appears the power loss is pretty bad. I no longer want to hear that it can maintain highway speeds with a 5% battery buffer. The Rex version should come with a permanent buffer of more than 5% like the Volt. BMW is risking negative headlines, “I3 gas version limps home” etc…. this would give all plug-ins a negative rap.


With all due respect, I would hate for these debates to start again. It’s been known all along that the REx can sustain 75 mph on flat terrain. If the battery is depleted, the i3 will have to slow down on inclines. I believe that I calculated about 45 mph on 6% grades. Not great but not disastrous. The new aspect here is that the i3 will run down the battery to 5% SOC. Was it allowed to engage the REx at about 20%, then the car could continue at 75 mph and traverse about 4,000 feet of elevation. This will unfortunately not be possible in the US version. It looks like the owner should quick charge before going to the mountains. In the UK, the driver should engage the REx manually, as Chris was advised as well. It’s worth noting that Chris essentially bordered the i3. He ran it into the ground on purpose, and it’s been assumed from the video footage that he went over the legal speed limit to do it. I would not be surprised if he had read up on prior discussions, and knew that if he drove the i3 close to 75 mph all… Read more »

What you said is true. But that makes the US version a difficult choice for someone who looks to have i3 with REx as a long range car like the Volt…

Yes, indeed. This is a serious limitation, which plays in the favor of the Volt. The next generation, due in couple of years, according to what I’ve heard, should be an even more serious i3 competitor.

With more EV range, the mpg in the extended range is less and less an issue. But the lack of hold mode is really an issue in my opinion.

I believe i3 by itself is more than sufficient to meet the ZEV requirement in CA. i3 with REx wouldn’t need to meet that requirement. Plus, there are still plenty of “Green HOV stickers” left for the i3 REx if that is what BMW worries…

Agreed, they could have done a serial hybrid instead of the BEVx, which the i3 represents. I’m not 100% sure what drove this decision. Personally, I would like to see an i3 with more EV range. For the weight and price penalty of the REx, the battery could have been 28 or 30 kWh instead of 21.6 kWh. Plenty of prospects are ordering the BEV version, and one has to wonder how many of them would upgrade tons larger battery. The REx is a unique, but also very iffy proposition.

Or offering a REx version as option or additional battery as option. i3 with 22KWh or 33KWh or with REx.

I think the BEVx is important to BMW b/c BMW thinks the HOV sticker is crucial in its sales in CA or BEVx would count more towards ZEV requirement than EREV or PHEV would…

“The reviewer basically comes to the conclusion that with 30% or so remaining battery power, and the knowledge you have much further to go than can be achieved on electricity, you should proactively engage the range extender. Doing this will ensure you have a more enjoyable drive.”

I doubt that feature will be available in the USA version, since BMW wants the car to be Bevx rated by the CARB. Probably can only have the computer turn on the range extender at 5-6% battery available SOC left, so you’ll have limited power until you can charge up the battery significantly. Maybe someone will hack the firmware (or figure out how to manually trigger the generator with a OBD2 scanner) and bring back the feature to USA drivers who want it. That would be good.

I still don’t think this is a bad idea.
It is a good idea.
You add EV miles and you take away RE capability.

That is true. But without a hack, it is NO longer a long range car….

Plus, even with the 2.8gallon tank, you would have to stop every 1.5 hours to fill up the gas….

Or buy a really big gas can 😉

And stand on the side of hwy and filling it? 🙂

No, Thanks….

That’s right. It is what it is. Buy a Volt then.