|Delivery day: May 21st, 2014|
Well that went by fast. After waiting patiently for years for BMW to bring the "Megacity" car, their first production electric vehicle to market, my first year of ownership really flew by quickly. On May 21st of last year I was the first i3 REx delivery in the US. My one year review is about a month late, but that has only given me some more time to gather my thoughts about it.
About a month into ownership last year, I authored two posts dedicated to my initial likes and dislikes. Many of those initial thoughts still hold true, but I've also had some changes of opinion as well as discovering new annoyances and new attributes which I appreciate.
|One of the few pictures I have of my car in its real color; Laurel Grey. I wrapped it red the first week I had it.|
Overall I'm very happy with my i3 and there isn't another car I'd prefer to have. It really suits my needs while offering the perfect balance of performance, utility, comfort and efficiency that I desire. I managed to pile up a little over 25,000 miles by my first year anniversary (I'm up to about 27k now) with 23,700 miles on battery alone and 1,300 miles with the REx engine running. That equates to about 95% all electric miles. I'm sure some will question whether I needed the range extender option at all since I only used it for about 5% of my driving and that's a valid question. I guess I didn't really need it, but I definitely don't regret spending the additional $3,850 for it and I'll explain why.
First and foremost, the range extender allowed me to take the car every day without even thinking twice about whether I had enough range or whether or not I would have the opportunity to plug in during the day. Back when I did my initial likes and dislikes, the first thing I pointed out was that I think BMW missed an opportunity to separate themselves a bit from the pack of "80 mile EVs" out there. The 81 mile EPA range rating for the BEV i3 was just a little too low for me so I went for the REx. As it turns out, there weren't too many days which I needed the REx, but having it there allowed me to take the car on days I may not have because I wasn't sure how far I might need to drive that day. So in reality, the range extender allowed me to drive more electric miles than if I didn't have it. I'd say I probably only needed the REx about two or three times a month on average, and even then it was usually for less than twenty miles. There were a couple long road trips which accounted for the majority of miles, and a few times I needed it for 30 to 50 additional miles. When I first got the car I took it to get wrapped and the shop was about 130 miles from my house. The drive back was nearly all on the range extender. I took a couple 150 to 200 mile round trips, my wife took the car on a business trip to Pennsylvania and I also made a 462 mile round trip to Vermont. It's true I could have managed without the REx, but having it there increased the utility of the vehicle immensely and if I had it to do all over, I would definitely get the REx again. However, if BMW had optioned it with a 28-29kWh battery pack (33% larger), I would definitely choose that over the REx.
The car is holding up well and there are no squeaks or rattles to report. My interior still looks brand new, even with heavy use and high mileage for one year. I'm pointing that out because I have heard a few i3 owners report their leather seats showed premature wear, and even a couple people say the eucalyptus wood dash panels developing cracks (which BMW replaced under warranty). I have nothing negative or unusual to report on this though. Since I wrapped the car shortly after getting it, I can't really comment on how the exterior painted surfaces are fairing. Since this is the first BMW with all plastic body panels, and since BMW developed an entirely new way of painting the panels which uses 70 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than painting systems employed for their steel body panels, I think it's fair to wonder how well the painted panels will hold up over time. I have had a few people ask me how the wrap is doing and I can say that after a year of driving in New Jersey (including a harsh winter with a lot of snow and ice) the wrap is beginning to show signs of wear and even peeling on some of the corners. You really have to be looking at it hard to find the problem spots, but small issues are surfacing which I'm sure will only get worse. I really only intended to keep it wrapped for a year or so, so I'm not concerned. I figured this would happen after about a year. Just keep this in mind if you are planning to do a vehicle wrap.
|The wrap is bubbling a bit on the side mirrors|
|Wheel well beginning to peel|
|The redesigned fuel sensor|
|My battery pack dropped from the car. The heating element is inside, below the battery modules|
I also had a flaky voltage regulator for the battery heating element which was occasionally sending an error message. I don't think BMW was sure if the sensor was bad or if the regulator was bad so they just replaced both. That required removing my entire pack to replace the regulator. I was surprised that this major service was accomplished by my dealer in less than two days. The only other issues I had were flat tires; four of them to be exact. It's difficult for me to really assess blame on this, since flat tires are usually the fault of the driver for running over debris or adverse road conditions, but four flats in one year is a little troublesome. Could it be related to the rubber compound Bridgestone used to make these unique tires, or related to how tall and thin they are? The two main problems I have with this are the fact that since the i3 doesn't have a spare, you are left stranded unless the mobility kit (an air compressor and tire sealant) can temporarily seal the hole and allow you to drive home or to a repair shop. Secondly, the tall thin tires are unique to the i3, so they aren't always in stock at the dealer. One time I had to wait four days for the dealer to get one.
|With no spare tire onboard, a flat means you're getting towed|
|At least with a sidewall bubble you can drive to the dealer, but you still need to buy a new tire and hope it's in stock|
|91 miles on a charge is my personal best to date|
As for the range, in warm weather (over 65 degrees) I can usually beat the EPA rated range of 72 miles per charge. In fact, I average about 78 miles per charge in these favorable conditions. The cold weather takes its toll and the worst range I ever got was 48 miles on a full charge before the REx turned on. This happened back in January when the temperature was below zero with ice covered roads and I didn't precondition the cabin or battery. I actually wanted to see just how bad the range could be in those conditions. However most of the winter when temperatures were under 30 degrees I averaged about 58 to 60 miles per charge. The furthest I ever drove before the REx kicked in was 91 miles, which I did shortly after taking delivery.
I'll now list the top ten things I either find annoying, would like to see corrected or added features to future i3s.
1) Configurable regenerative braking. I'd like to select how aggressive or weak the regenerative braking is. Other manufacturers offer this and the owners I've spoken with appreciate having control over their regen. The i3's regen does increase in strength when in Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ modes, but I'd prefer the ability to manually adjust it.
2) The car needs an extension flaps on the sun visors. There is a huge gap between the visors and early morning drives can be difficult when heading East.
3) The charging connector needs to unlock from the vehicle when the charging session ends. BMW had said this would be part of the March 2015 software update (which I have) but it still doesn't work.
|The large gap between the visors allows the blinding sun to get through. Visor extension flaps would be appreciated.|
4) The front storage compartment (frunk) should be waterproof. If that is problematic then install a snap-on or hinged cover to keep dirt and water spray out.
|The current configuration allows leaves, water and dirt to get into the frunk storage compartment. Anything stored up there gets dirty and wet. A cover would solve the issue.|
5) Remove the annoying disclaimers and seat belt gong every time you turn the car on. The seat belt warning should give you ten or twenty seconds to buckle up before it sounds the alarm. I might code my car just to remove these.
6) Fix the windshield wiper. It currently pulls water back into the drivers view when it changes direction. During heavy rains there is a significant obstruction to the drivers view of the left side of the windshield.
|The wiper leaves a line of water on the windshield, and actually pulls it back into the drivers line of vision when it changes direction.|
7) Add a battery temperature readout. BMW can bury it in iDrive if they don't want it on the main display screen, but put it somewhere. Many experienced electric vehicle drivers want to see their battery temperature.
8) Add a heated steering wheel. In my opinion heated seats and steering wheel should be standard on all EVs, especially ones from premium brands. I would have really appreciated it last winter.
9) Include an AM radio. Other EV manufacturers have figured out how to reduce the interference and offer it in their vehicles. I'm sure BMW can figure this out too, even if the reception isn't perfect.
|When the ACC disengages, you get this warning. The problem is by then it's already disengaged and the car is applying the regenerative braking.|
10) Fix the Adaptive Cruise Control and Parking Assistant. These are really great features, and this kind of technology is expected in a car like the i3. The problem is the ACC disengages suddenly and doesn't recognize certain vehicles because of their tail light configuration. The car will drive right into the rear of a Dodge Charger for instance, because the Charger's taillights (which extend across the entire rear of the vehicle) for some reason confuse the ACC. Direct sunlight and sometimes overpasses also cause the system to shut off without warning. I dedicated a post to this issue a few months ago. The Parking Assistant is an automated parking feature which does an incredible job of parking the i3 in very tiny parking spots. It only needs an opening which is 22 inches longer than the car to park it. The problem is, I've had numerous people report to me that the car rubbed the curb during the automated parking, scratching the rims. I've had enough people tell me this happened to believe it wasn't just a couple cars malfunctioning. I believe there is an inherent flaw in this feature which needs to be fixed, so for now I recommend not using the Parking Assistant until we get word that the issue had been corrected.
OK, so by now you must be thinking I must really hate the i3, considering all these things I've pointed out that I don't like. That wouldn't be correct. I actually love the car and wouldn't trade it for anything, but nothing's perfect, and BMW can definitely make adjustments which would improve the i3 in my opinion. Now I'll dive into my top ten i3 likes.
1) Spacious interior. For a car that is only 13 feel long, it has a lot of interior room. It actually has nearly the same interior volume as a 3-Series which is more than two feet longer than the i3.
|Spacious, comfortable and well laid out. The i3's interior is definitely one of its strong points|
2) Beautiful interior. In my opinion the i3's interior is stunning and laid out perfectly. The seats are very comfortable and the outward vision is excellent.
3) It's incredibly fun to drive. The instant torque, combined with the light weight make the i3 the most fun to drive electric vehicle this side of a Tesla P85D. The low end acceleration (under 60mph) is fantastic and it's actually
4) Futuristic, sustainable construction. I love the fact that I'm driving the only volume production to ever be constructed with a passenger compartment primarily made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, an all aluminum frame and thermoplastic body panels. There is absolutely nothing else like it on the road today. Plus, every stage of manufacturing and assembly was developed with sustainability in mind.100% of the electricity used in the Leipzig assembly plant is derived from the wind farm BMW installed on the site. It actually generates so much excess electricity that BMW sells the excess to the Volkswagen AG. Even the carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake, Washington where the CF is made is powered 100% by renewable hydro-power.
|BMW's Leipzig plant where the i3 is made. The on site wind turbines produce more energy than the plant uses.|
6) The efficiency. According to the EPA, the i3 is currently the most efficient car sold in America. Over the entire year I averaged 3.9 miles per kWh. In the warmer weather I'm usually around 4.5 mi/kWh and in the winter I was averaging about 3.5 mi/kWh. I should note that I don't drive the car softly, and I'm certain many other i3 owners see much better consumption figures. It's way too much fun to drive it like it was a Prius. Averaging 4 mi/kWh the i3 would cost the average American about $400 per year to drive 15,000 electric miles.
7) The range extender. I know above I said I'd prefer a larger battery over the REx, but that just isn't an option at this time. As far as range extenders go, I like how BMW set this one up. It's truly an auxiliary power unit, one that has no physical connection with the wheels and cannot drive the wheels under any condition. It's sole purpose is to maintain the battery state of charge and allow the driver to continue along until they have the opportunity to plug in. You'd never buy an i3 REx and not charge it, simply driving on gas all the time. It's not meant to drive just as well on gas as it is on electric and I like that. It's an electric car with a secondary power source meant for occasional use, and in that vein it works perfectly - well for me at least. In all of my REx-ing, I never had the vehicle go into reduced power mode which can happen if you are using more energy than the 650cc engine can deliver. This can happen under long sustained hill climbing at highway speeds. BMW is currently working on a solution which will allow for more robust range extender use. This feature will be called Hill Climb Assist and will be available in the Fall. All current REx cars will get the update. There is another option which some owners have done, and that's coding the car to allow REx-on-demand. I have not done that to my car because the range extender has been able to do anything I've called for it to do so far, and I've found that as long as I set the cruise control for 70 mph or lower, I can drive indefinitely, provided I keep refueling every 60 miles or so. Probably the best thing I can say about the range extender is it's allowed me to never even think about my range anymore, I just get in the car everyday and drive.
|Resting at home. You can see the winter tire/wheel combo on the rack above the car. The Bridgestone Blizzak tires were excellent in the snow. I suspect this was an instance where the tall, thin tires actually improved the traction.|
9) Battery management system & preconditioning. The i3 has a sophisticated thermal management system which works with the preconditioning feature to keep the batteries within the optimum operating temperatures. Which, for the Samsung cells used by BMW is 67 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. When the batteries are much cooler than 67 degrees, you begin to lose range and when the battery temperature is above 104 degrees the cells degrade and begin to lose capacity. Excessive heat can be one of the biggest enemies for prolonging lithium ion battery life so a good thermal management system will help extend the battery's life. The i3 uses R134a refrigerant which not only works very well, but also is extremely safe in the event of an accident. Liquid based thermal management systems have an elevated risk of fire in the event of a battery module rupture. In many of these systems it's possible for the liquid to act as an accelerant, and intensify the fire. R134a is an inert gas and simply dissipates in the event of a ruptured pack or fire. It's actually the same refrigerant used in most car air conditioning systems. I'm not saying I think liquid thermal management systems aren't safe, because that's not the case. I just believe using an inert gas is better, and the i3 is the only EV to employ this technology so it's worth noting. It's just another aspect of the car which demonstrates how far outside the box BMW went when engineering the i3, and a perfect example of why the i3 has been called "The most advanced vehicle on the planet".
|The i3's navigation "spider map" offers a pretty accurate visual display on the cars current range in the different driving modes.|
|The "Secret Service Menu" shows I have 19.1 kWh available when fully charged|
|I have an 8.8kW solar array on my home in Chester, NJ. It generates most of the electricity I use for the house and charging needs.|
|By toggling through the OBC options, you can see the SOC of 47% in the upper left hand corner of the drivers display screen.|