This is a unique “review,” as a car doesn’t really fall under the category of typical consumer tech. However, in this case, since this is a car packed with bleeding-edge technology under the hood, I wanted to share my impressions of the i3 after nearly two weeks of driving it, primarily in bumper-to-bumper traffic to and from Santa Monica.
To be more specific, my wife and I decided to lease a very slightly used (a little over 300 on the odometer) 2017 BMW i3 Rex (shorthand for Range Extender) as a second vehicle for our household. I have a personal preference for BMW, so this is our second such car (the other being a 2017 X1 that my wife is currently driving). I owned a second-gen Prius back in the day, but this is my first time driving and owning an all-electric vehicle – the experience is definitely different. It has an official electric range of about 114 miles. In reality, it could be less or more depending upon a variety of driving conditions and factors. For example, I could get about 150 miles or more on just the battery alone if I strictly commute to and from work. It does have the added safety of a two-cylinder gasoline engine; its sole purpose is to generate electricity to recharge the battery when it reaches a particular threshold (around 5% of battery life left). I’ve had to tap that reserve once so far, but more on that later.
It is a fun car to drive. It’s not typical BMW styling (interior or exterior), but it drives like one. It is rear-wheel drive, giving it a sportier drive. Even more amazing is that it is fast. When driving on “comfort” mode, you certainly feel the power and acceleration even though it’s rated at a modest 170 HP. Despite the form and narrow tires, it is surprisingly stable and corners very well. Don’t expect miracles – it does not drive like your typical sedan or SAV. Come with the right expectations and it’s a very pleasant driving experience. I haven’t tried other EVs to compare (even though I flirted with the idea of getting the Chevy Bolt), but I really, really like this one.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a standard gasoline engine built-in, dubbed the range extender, which adds an additional 70 miles of range or so. You’re looking at close to 200+ miles of range with a fully-charged battery and full gas tank. The purpose of the gas tank is to continually provide power to the battery when it’s critically low; it doesn’t attempt to fully recharge the battery as it goes idle at a full stop. It’s designed to mainly give you a lifeline to get to the nearest charging station. My salesperson told me that most i3 buyers get the range extender version. Until charging stations are more prevalent and plentiful it’s a no-brainer to have that peace of mind. This will change in, I say, in five years.
Speaking of charging stations, since we live in an apartment, we don’t have at-home charging (we can probably request it, but the increased cost of rent and our electric bill will nullify any savings). Rather, we get a complementary free year of charging at various stations (I heard from a co-worker that Tesla does a similar incentive with multiple years or the life of the car even). There is a “DC Fast” charging station nearby that almost fully charges the battery in 30 minutes. Doing so for free (for a year), that’s a big plus.
My family and I really enjoy the i3. Those looking for an EV (other than a hard-to-get Tesla Model 3) at a mainstream price can’t go wrong. The Chevy Bolt is another viable option, but it feels like more of a traditional hatchback with an electric drivetrain. I would say the biggest setback for getting an EV is the relative lack of charging stations. Having to wait at least 30 minutes (and sometimes 4-5 hours) isn’t practical for a lot of people. I’ve managed to figure out my “charging strategy,” but many don’t want to think too much about fueling their car. Do NOT get an EV without thinking about the trade-offs compared to a hybrid or traditional gas car. You might end up regretting the purchase. Thankfully, it worked out for us.