The opinions of people on the BMW i3 seem to be very divided. They either love the car or simply hate it. It is either good or bad. Black or white. Is that accurate though? Can it be placed in a box like that or is there more to this little EV?
I think there is a lot more to this car than meets the eye. The i3 seems to be the only car over a long period of time where BMW actually took a risk and thought outside of the box. BMW went all out and built a car that was entirely new from the ground up. And when I say new, I don’t mean new, like the new 5 series is new. No, I mean new as in using a new approach with new materials, based on a new design and with a new way of propulsion, i.e. electric.
BMW thought way outside of the box and built a very efficient and lightweight electric vehicle. I lease an electric-only i3 from 2015, and over the last so many months I have put more than 10,000 miles on it, driving it all over the NY metro area. I drove it during warm summer days, during torrential downpours and during the Stella snowstorm. By now, I think, I have enough miles under my belt to know (and share) what it is like to daily-drive the BMW i3. The last twelve months have changed the way I see this car and it is anything but simply black or white. Some features, I love and some others I don’t. Read on and find out what it’s like to drive in, and live with, the BMW i3.
Reasons why people don’t like the BMW i3
This is fairly straightforward, most people do not like the exterior design and that’s probably an understatement. Especially from the front, the car looks weird. A mix between aggressively styled headlights and a sort of “high hat” design. From the back, things don’t look much better. Narrow tires and an aerodynamic design that makes the car look impossibly small. There is no way you’d comfortably fit four people inside or at least that is what many people think (our Dutch family of four tall people fits very well). Apart from the design, the limited range of the i3 is another major reason for people not to consider this car at all when they are shopping for a new vehicle. I think that is a shame because once you get inside an i3 and actually drive it, this little car may quickly change your mind. More after these photos.
What I don’t like about the BMW i3
- Exterior design: the design has grown on me somewhat and from certain angles, I think the car almost looks cool. However the look of the front and back of the car, I cannot get used to. I just don’t like it. Also, when I see another i3 driving on the U.S. roads, among much larger cars and SUV’s, the i3 looks ridiculously small.
- Limited range: this is probably the biggest downside of my version of the i3. The range is just too limited. Luckily there are quite a few good DC fast charge locations on my main routes so that I can get by, but another 40 or 50 miles of range would make a big difference. The newer version of the i3 would work much better, even though for many people that would still be too limited.
- Battery performance: the range that the batteries provide is very sensitive to your driving style, use of the heater, A/C, and the outside temperature. In perfect conditions, I can get close to 100 miles out of my fully charged i3, but I have to drive slowly without any enthusiastic sprints from traffic lights and not turn on any heating or cooling. On hot summers days or on blistering cold winter days, your actual range on the i3 may drop to about 60 miles. Of course, this makes the car a lot less practical for day-to-day usage.
- Suspension: given the sporty nature of this car, the suspension seems to be a little too soft. It is comfortable enough but there is too much body roll in the turns. The short wheelbase can make the car feel unstable on bad roads and especially in turns. However, this is more of a feeling, because the car doesn’t really get upset. The weight of the battery pack, positioned low in the car, helps a long way in keeping the car sure-footed.
- Narrow tires: the almost bike-like tires on the i3 reduce the rolling resistance and therefore increase the range, but they also limit the braking performance of the car. Under hard braking, you can feel that slightly wider tires would probably greatly reduce the distance to come to a full stop.
- Pricing: the car is priced too high to be very competitive with some of the other cars out there such as the Nissan Leaf or Chevy’s Bolt. However there have been really good promotions on the i3 in the past and if you are able to get one of those deals (I did), this car can become a financially very attractive option.
What do I love about this car?
- Pricing: last year BMW ran a promotion on the 2015 i3 and I was able to pick one (electric only, 60 A-h, Giga world package) up for $196,50 per month for 36 months, 12,000 miles per year with no money out of pocket. This car was going to be our 2nd car next to our Honda Pilot. However, I ended up liking this car so much that it became my primary car. Driving the i3 instead of the Pilot saves me quite a bit of money on gas, but this was offset somewhat by our now higher electric bill. I am able to charge the car for free quite often at certain ChargePoint locations and through the BMW’s ChargeNow program. It is difficult to put an exact number on our total savings because of all the ever-changing variables that you’d have to take into consideration. However, based on my rough calculations, I save about $100 per month driving the i3 versus the Pilot. That means that for roughly $100 per month, we have a second car available to our family and one that is actually fun to drive. Not a bad deal in my mind (I’m Dutch, remember?). Please note, that I did not include things like insurance, interest and all that good stuff. I am just looking at the mileage on gas versus electric, the average gas price here in Westchester, NY and taking into account our higher electricity bill.
- Lightweight: as Colin Chapman from Lotus said:”Simplify, and then add lightness“. This surely applies to the i3. BMW extensive use of carbon fiber, aluminum, and other lightweight materials create such a lightweight vehicle that it defines the way it drives. It is nimble, fast in its responses and very eager to change direction. The lack of weight is what makes the i3 fun to drive and what makes the first generation BMW M3 fun to drive as well. With all the modern safety features and luxury add-ons, cars have become so bigger and heavier that it is easy to forget how much better a lightweight car reacts. My BMW i3 only weighs 2,635 Lbs (1195 kg) and that is significantly less than the 330e (3,915 Lbs, 1776 kg) we drove last week.
- Instant torque: the electric engine in the i3 provides 184 lb-ft of instant torque effortlessly. This torque in combination with the lightweight, and not having to shift gears, make this the fastest BMW to date from 0-30 mph. Now, this statement may not sound very impressive, but let me tell you, in day-to-day driving, it makes all the difference in the world. The way this car accelerates from a standstill is simply astonishing and puts a smile on my face every time. Especially in urban environments with traffic lights, stop signs and traffic, this is the kind or performance that is actually meaningful. It allows you to effortlessly move in and out of traffic. To me, this means more than having the ability to go 150 miles per hour in 8th gear, like some of the other BMW’s. Simply put, the i3 is fast where it matters.
- Turning radius: the i3 turns so quickly and the radius needed to turn 180 degrees is so small, that the car becomes very maneuverable in urban environments. Something that I never thought about until I experienced it in this car. Whenever I get back in the Pilot, that now feels like a semi-truck btw, I realize what a difference a small turning radius makes.
- Rear wheel drive: like any real BMW, this i3 is rear wheel drive only. This adds to the sporty character of the car. The front wheels do not have to worry about anything else other than changing the direction. No torque steer like the Chevy Bolt. When you turn into a corner you can change the balance of the i3 with the throttle and this feeling is what makes the car sporty. Rear wheel drive may scare some people off when it comes to winter driving, but since the electric engine is positioned over the rear wheels, the i3 performs remarkably well with winter tires.
- Driver input: the feeling and feedback from the steering wheel, throttle, brake pedal are very good like you would expect from the makers of the Ultimate Driving Machine. The only thing to point out here is, that when you hit a pothole or bump in the road under braking, the regenerative braking stops and all of a sudden your car does not slow down as fast as you were expecting. I am not sure why this is but it can catch you by surprise at times.
- One pedal driving: the regenerative braking works so well that under most conditions you hardly need to use the brakes at all. Simply lifting your foot from the “gas pedal” slows the car down immediately. In the beginning, this takes a little getting used to, but now when I drive another car, I miss it. One pedal driving makes driving in the city very easy.
- Maintenance: I got the car in May of 2016. The first service is scheduled for September 2017. Thank you very much!
- Silent: there is hardly any noise and there are no vibrations caused by some ICE. The car is eerily silent when you drive it. Only at higher speeds (70 mph and up) do you get any significant wind noise around the A-pillar.
- Fast charging: my i3 comes with the fast charging option, which allows me to replenish an almost empty battery in about 20 to 30 minutes with a Level 3 fast charging station.
Take risk. Get rewarded!
Re-reading this article, it is almost funny how much I have become a fan of electric driving and driving in my award-winning i3 in particular. In the past, I have owned a Lancia Delta (2nd gen) and Factory 5 Roadster and I loved driving those cars. I thought that a powerful combustion engine was at the heart of the driving experience and I never thought electric cars would appeal to me. Until the day that I brought in my BMW 335i coupe in for service and got an i3 as a loaner. From that day on, I was sold on electric.
The last thing I will say about this car is that unlike the 330e we drove last week, the i3 is a, albeit technically advanced, simple and honest BMW in nature that puts the FUN back in driving. Now, please BMW, think outside of the box again and bring us a fully electric 3 series sports sedan. There is a lot more interest than you think!
Please let us know in the comments below if you too want BMW to offer a full-electric 3 series.