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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello all.

I picked up a fully loaded BMW i3 REX last week. I owned a Chevy Volt for about 18 months ending about a year ago. I subsequently owned a Ford Fusion Energi.

I will try to point out some comparisons to the Volt as best I can.

Looks: Obviously subjective, but the i3 is more "distinctive" looking than the Volt (versus generic ICE cars). I think it is uglier than the Volt, but the boxy shape offers some advantages. I kinda like the suicide doors too. Functional and unique.

Interior: Feels very roomy and spacious inside. Much less dash clutter than Volt. Fit and finish is much better (at least on the top trim model-- not sure about base versus base). LCD screens seem bigger and brighter. iDrive system (despite what detractors say) actually feels refined and elegant compared to Volt UI-- but does take some getting used to. Seating position feels awkwardly high up, but does provide excellent visibility.

Gadgetronics: Stereo sounds great, but up-optioned Volt system sounds great too. I like the more techie information displays in the Volt in terms of inner workings of EV versus ICE. BMW display is very high-level information only. I really like the i3's adaptive cruise control with start and stop. Very nice in heavy traffic. The i3 will parallel park itself. Pretty cool "wow factor" demo for friends, but that's about it. Outside the car, but worth mentioning: there is no BMW provided web interface to the car. I really miss the Volt's website. So much great info there. BMW's integration with iPhone apps is way better. The eyes-free Siri integration is really handy (perhaps newer Volts have this too).

Overall Comfort: Very compliant ride. Very little road/wind noise. Feels like it is sprung softer than Volt, but higher seating position might be tricking my brain. Can feel a bit twitchy on the highway, which I think is due to skinny front tires and high profile.

Handling: You really feel the lighter weight in fast corners. Big advantage to i3. Much more neutral than Volt. Fun to push the car and get a little four-wheel sliding and then a bit more throttle tucks in the nose to scoot you around the turn. Too much fun! The Volt would understeer under similar abuse. Again perhaps due to higher seating position, but the i3 feels like it takes forever to shift the weight from side to side in the turns. I have not carefully explored limits here, but it doesn't inspire confidence. Volt may be the better S-turns car, but I suspect the lower CG point would make i3 handle better than first appearances suggest. Definitely more fun on backroads.

Acceleration: Squirts away from red lights much like the Volt in L/Sport @ WOT, but holds the thrust for a bit longer. The Volt seems to lose steam around 35MPH, but the i3 pulls hard through 50MPH-ish and gets to freeway speed much faster. The i3 has no Sport or L mode, so you can't avoid a heavily dampened/smoothed throttle mapping, making the car feel less responsive than the Volt. But, with an assertive right foot, it will show its superior power/weight ratio. Nonetheless, passing power in the i3 is nothing to write home about.

Range: I have a lead foot and still get about 70 miles of EV range. I am sure >80 miles would be the norm for most drivers. Transition to REX is smooth and full power is available as long as you keep you average speed in the 70-75 MPH range on flat ground. Sustained cruising about 75MPH and/or sustain hill climbs will quickly deplete the SOC reserve and cut power A BUNCH. In an intentional stress test, I drove the car on REX over Highway 17 to Santa Cruz and saw speeds of 25MPH (in 50MPH zone) before pulling over. This car NEEDS a Mountain Mode (long story here). That said, with some planning and self control, I think most moderate grades can be handled even in REX mode. On EV, the car will happily go 85+ up any grade I have encountered.

Charging: charges at 7.4kW on Level 2 (about 20-25miles of range per hour) or via 50kW SAE Combo DC fast charge at about 60 miles of range in 20 minutes (I've tried it, it works). Unfortunately, they are sorting out a thermal failure issue and temporarily patched the SW to reduce max charge rate on Level 2 to about 5.5kW which is a bummer, but still get full charge in 4.5 hours. On L2 it takes about 21kWh to fully charge (18.8kWh usable charge window I think).

Preliminary conclusion: A better car than the Volt for people who rarely drive more than 70-80 miles a day, as you can do that all EV and have more luxury/fun. When the DC fast charge network is built out a bit more (free until 1/1/2016), maybe I would expand that to 100-120 miles a day max. If you need more range freedom, the Volt is better. But this would be if the cars were priced the same. They are not. For now, you pay full MSRP ($55K for mine-- a loaded one) with only the Fed/State rebates ($7500 + $2500 in CA) knocked off the price. I think the Volt is a MUCH better value for almost everyone, so net-net will be the better choice for anyone who is price sensitive. The superior performance is noticeable, but not night and day. I paid up to be an early adopter and to try something new, so I am not complaining.

I'd be happy to answer any questions anyone has.
 

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Great review!!!

One thing i am really curious about is the way the REX works - i have read that it really is a range extender in every sense of the word, as in once you have depleted the battery and the REX ICE cuts in you need to get to a charger - if you turn off the car when battery is depleted and do not plug in, you cannot re-start the car...............is this correct?? unlike the Volt you cannot purely run around on ICE and never actually plug it in...........if for some strange reason you saw fit!! :)
 

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Nice. I'm including this in a roundup post I'm doing on CleanTechnica right now. But wondering if you'd also be cool if I reposted this to CleanTechnica. A lot more people would see it that way. If so, feel free to send me a short bio and headshot/photos to go with it (not required): zach(at)importantmedia.org
 

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Thank you for this review. Please update as you accumulate time in the car.

Do you see this BMW as being a niche car or could it be one for the masses?
 

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Please add more information about passenger entry and exit, especially in the rear. I wonder about those rear doors - are they reverse opening (commonly called "suicide door")? And how is visbilty for the driver? I am very interested in the Chevy Spark EV because I sat in a gas model and loved the seat height and view.

In addition to the Nissan Leaf, the BMW I3 is offered for sale in Puerto Rico. As proof, I went to PlugShare's database, and they have two EVSE stations at BMW dealerships already installed here. Ironically, none are shown at Nissan dealers yet.
 

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One thing i am really curious about is the way the REX works - i have read that it really is a range extender in every sense of the word, as in once you have depleted the battery and the REX ICE cuts in you need to get to a charger - if you turn off the car when battery is depleted and do not plug in, you cannot re-start the car...............is this correct??
Pretty sure that's not the case.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
I have read that it really is a range extender in every sense of the word, as in once you have depleted the battery and the REX ICE cuts in you need to get to a charger - if you turn off the car when battery is depleted and do not plug in, you cannot re-start the car.........
All the REX does is charge the battery and/or provide current to drive the motor. No mechanical linkage between ICE and wheels. At around 6% SOC, the REX turns on and attempts to maintain that SOC. In normal driving on reasonably flat roads at moderate highway speeds (or slower--- cities are no problem at all for REX), you have full power and can drive normally (including stopping). REX provides 50-70 miles of extra range (some claim longer).

The only "problem" with the REX is that, in the U.S. only, there is no "Mountain Mode," so even when you know you have a high-demend road ahead (high speed and/or steep grade) you can't reserve extra SOC to deal with it. Couple that with the ~35HP max output of the REX and you can "hit the wall" in terms of no SOC reserve and no ability to make sufficient power in real time. This would be an extreme edge case scenario, but it can happen. This was the scenario when I had to slow to 25MPH going up a steep grade.

Other than that, the REX is a simple and effective way to cure range anxiety and opens up the car to many many more potential buyers.
 

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I think the REX in the i3 works like in the volt, where you can drive indefinitely, however it only has a 1.9 gallon tank in the US and the US version is neutered in that it has no equivalent to Gas now, EV later (mountain mode) like it does in Europe or like the Volt has. This means it would be less than ideal in a mountainous region or for extended drives (when I go home to Wyoming, gas stations could be further than 80 miles apart, so would have to carry gas with me on some routes).

However, I drove the i3 at an event, and it was really amazing. Much stronger acceleration from 0-30 (at least in car I drove, a eurospec one without the heavy range extender). This is expected though, as it has 125 KW drive motor and weighs 1000 lbs less. However, the Volt is more than enough power at the low end around town, so it isn't like I would use that additional acceleration.

I really wanted an i3, but ended up with a Volt. Primarily because the Volt is a much better Value. I might get an i3 in a couple years. If price were no concern I would have the i3.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 · (Edited)
How are noise levels while the REX is working? I've heard it's pretty harsh sounding.
It is barely noticeable on the open road-- on my first long drive I had to hush my kids "quiet. Do you hear it? Is it on?". In tunnels or when driving downtown (with buildings to reflect the sound) or with windows open, you can hear it.

It's not a pleasant exhaust note, but it is what it is. Not really at issue.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Please add more information about passenger entry and exit, especially in the rear....And how is visbilty for the driver? I am very interested in the Chevy Spark EV because I sat in a gas model and loved the seat height and view.
I think the suicide doors are cool. Entry much easier than a coupe, but not as easy as a sedan.

Visibility is excellent, but takes getting used to. Seating position is very unusual (high up and surrounded by open space, especially toward the front) but not problematic. I think the car handles very well, but the soft suspension and high seating make you feel like it might rollover-- but I assure you, it will not. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Do you see this BMW as being a niche car or could it be one for the masses?
I think it is too expensive for what it is to be a "car for the masses."

From a utility/functionality perspective, I think it could be a second car for almost anyone in an urban or suburban area, but would not be a good only car for anyone and might not be appropriate at all for people who frequently travel more than ~80-100 miles a day.

Apart from limited REX range, the car has limited cargo capacity-- would not fit four people with their luggage.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Nice. I'm including this in a roundup post I'm doing on CleanTechnica right now. But wondering if you'd also be cool if I reposted this to CleanTechnica. A lot more people would see it that way. If so, feel free to send me a short bio and headshot/photos to go with it (not required): zach(at)importantmedia.org
Feel free to repost or link.
 

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Range: I have a lead foot and still get about 70 miles of EV range. I am sure >80 miles would be the norm for most drivers. Transition to REX is smooth and full power is available as long as you keep you average speed in the 70-75 MPH range on flat ground. Sustained cruising about 75MPH and/or sustain hill climbs will quickly deplete the SOC reserve and cut power A BUNCH. In an intentional stress test, I drove the car on REX over Highway 17 to Santa Cruz and saw speeds of 25MPH (in 50MPH zone) before pulling over. This car NEEDS a Mountain Mode (long story here). That said, with some planning and self control, I think most moderate grades can be handled even in REX mode. On EV, the car will happily go 85+ up any grade I have encountered.
For your range what:
- temperatures, climate control use
- terrain
- speeds
- driving pattern?
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Ambient temps upper 80s, Driving 75 MPH through flattish roads with some rolling hills and elevation changes. A/C on comfort at 67 degrees. Jack rabbit starts from any red lights. If it had a sports mode, I would use that. These are mostly freeway commute miles with some sections with slower traffic, but mostly cruising between 70 and 80 MPH (going with the flow in the fast lane). I'm pretty sure you could get 100 EV miles if you were trying to make a point, but I drive it like a performance sedan.

Looking at my handy i3 iPhone App, it says my last trip was 41 miles at 3.4 miles/kWh, which implied a total range of 64 miles. The ECO stats say I am driving at 27% efficiency rating. The app says the "community" average is 4.0 miles/kWh, implying a 75 mile range. I have heard many people claim ranges >80 in what they swear is normal (non-hyper-miling) driving.
 

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My understanding is BMW changed the operation of the U.S. REXs to obtain a higher rebate from California. Specifically no Mountain or Hold modes and a gas tank that provides a range less than the electric range from the battery. In exchange for this the I3 REX qualified for a $2500 rebate instead of the $1500 rebate cars like the Volt receive. The question is, do you think the extra thousand bucks is worth the loss in capability?
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
My understanding is BMW changed the operation of the U.S. REXs to obtain a higher rebate from California. Specifically no Mountain or Hold modes and a gas tank that provides a range less than the electric range from the battery. In exchange for this the I3 REX qualified for a $2500 rebate instead of the $1500 rebate cars like the Volt receive. The question is, do you think the extra thousand bucks is worth the loss in capability?
You may know than me on this topic, but I don't think the REX crippling was a $1500 v. $2500 rebate issue, but rather an issue with BMW getting more CARB credits in the new "BEVx" category--- a benefit to BMW but not its customers.

But, to answer your question, I would ABSOLUTELY pay $1000 for a bigger gas tank plus Mountain/Hold modes. No question. I may be unusual in this position since I have a frequent route that requires me to climb some steep grades beginning about 65 miles from my house (worst case scenario).
 

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My understanding is BMW changed the operation of the U.S. REXs to obtain a higher rebate from California. Specifically no Mountain or Hold modes and a gas tank that provides a range less than the electric range from the battery. In exchange for this the I3 REX qualified for a $2500 rebate instead of the $1500 rebate cars like the Volt receive. The question is, do you think the extra thousand bucks is worth the loss in capability?
As cnicholson said, it is actually about EV credits. Under current CARB rules, the i3 REx counts as a full EV instead of a PHEV, reducing the bed for BMW to sell other EVs. It only gets the fifteen hundred dollar rebate and the green sticker, though.

The two requirements to get that certification were a shorter gas range than electric per the EPA and the engine not coming on until the battery was drained.

Of course, this combination quite thoroughly cripples what would otherwise be the first serious competition for the Volt, but CARB doesn't care about that.
 
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