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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Most EV buyers are confronted with the difficult task of deciding which EV is their best choice, there’s a lot to consider such as; manufacture, EV range, cost, range extenders, and the many options when choosing between electric vehicles. I’ve been looking at electric cars for a long time now, however since the charging network is years from being completed and even though the Tesla looked inviting, I ruled it out since my first requirement would be an electric car with a generator.

Years ago, when I heard BMW was going to release an all-electric car with 70-100 miles of range with a small engine, I couldn’t even sleep – I sat on pins and needles for over a year waiting for the release. Finally, word was out, BMW would release the I3 in the US. This would be my dream car, it had all the right ingredients; it was a real electric car with a generator should you batteries give out, carbon fiber, light, quick, and the best part it had the BMW name. As soon as one was available in Atlanta I ran down there and plunked down a little over 50K. Regretfully, this electric car dream wasn’t quite what I expected; there really was no information on the I3 when I bought mine so I just depended on the “good name” of BMW!

Anyhow, since I owned a BMW I3 RX for a good period of time, I felt I would share my thoughts in an open discussion on the Volt Forum since many future EV buyers are considering both vehicles. I recently traded my dream car (I3) in on a 2015 Volt, and wanted to put this thread up for those who might be comparing the BMW I3 to the GM Volt. Hopefully this might steer them in the right direction.

Please understand, the scope of this article is not to harm BMW – the I3 concept while innovate, such as its light carbon fiber body, great performance and quality components have all the ingredients of a good electric car - the down side is the I3 is plagued with numerous poor design problems, so many in fact, they should have not released the I3 when they did. What upsets me, there has been a new model year release and nothing to remedy the many problems I3 owners are confronted with. For the most part, BMW could care less about its I3 customers.

Aside from a number of I3 shortcomings - the main reason I decided to dump my I3 was due to a serious and dangerous defect of “Over-Sensitive Steering”, the I3’s speed sensitive electric steering system does not desensitize at highway speeds, therefore the car can be extremely dangerous to drive at speeds over 55 mph. Bottom line, in the event of a quick steering reaction, the car can easily lose control resulting in an accident. Compounding the problem further, is the fact the car is tall by any standards, even though the batteries are in the floor, the I3 design remains top heavy by today’s standard since its around 7” taller than the Volt and almost 2 feet shorter, this plus the fact it has very skinny tires which can lose grip during an unexpected quick turn of the wheel at high speeds.

After months of repeated calls to BMW factory techs, BMW finally called me back and informed me they are aware of the steering problem, but there was no recall or fix released. Now after a year, BMW has not yet initiated any fix or updates for the problem. Keep in mind - this fix is as simple as a computer firmware update – the steering is electric and its sensitivity and steering resistance is all programmable. The problem is, the steering is just as sensitive at 10 mph as it is at 70 mph, which makes the car very temperamental, any jester such as turning on the radio, rolling up a window or any driver induced movement results in the vehicle changing position on the road. Anyhow, it’s now been over a year and BMW has not made any changes to the old or new models even though it’s the major complaint of I3 owners.

Anyhow, with no remedy in site and the safety of my family - I decided it was time to let her go! While I’m not going to burden you guys with all the details - after taking my I3 to 5 different dealers, the highest offer I got was $28,500. Now just so everyone understands, my I3 was the upgraded Giga RX model "Dead Mint" flawless condition, loaded with leather - wood – wheels – GPS - Range Extender, etc. My I3 retailed for $53,250.00 and after a small discount, I paid around $51,000 + tax. Six months later, with only 3,600 miles it lost over $21,000 in value. Yes, my $50K car depreciated $20,000+ even though supposedly BMW cars where advertised as holding their value. With BMW’s “Smoke & Mirrors” advertising and web sites they had buyers (like me) standing in line to purchase this miracle electric car that in fact is plagued with ton's of problems - buyers like myself paid a “Luxury Price” for an electric that was not ready to be released. Now - in less than a year, with word out, no one wants them and they are sitting at dealers!

Here's just a few reasons below:

Dangerous Steering – As mentioned, the biggest complaint is the I3’s over-sensitive steering problem – they have it backwards - when the car goes fast, its supposed to be less sensitive not more sensitive!

Mickey Mouse Generator - Instead of having a real generator like the Volt, BMW installs their inexpensive; 650cc 2 cyl. Scooter/motorcycle engine in the I3. Simple logic tells you that a 650cc engine which is small by motorcycle standards, is not going to have sufficient power for a car with 2-4 people at highway speeds – keep in mind a Honda Goldwing motorcycle has an 1800cc engine almost three time as big.

Self Starting Generator that Starts Too Late - The I3 has a self-starting generator system that BMW programmed to start after the batteries are already too low in charge to where you can not maintain highway speeds in hilly terrain. (I’ll tell you the reason later) Unlike the Volt where GM offers the option to keep the batteries close to 40-50% SOC with the RX running to negotiate hilly terrain, BMW’s confused logic runs the battery down to less than 10% before the RX starts up, it then depends on the generator to provide enough electrical power to run the car – however the small RX engine falls on its face climbing a hill and only discharges the battery further until its nearly depleted and shuts down.

Generator that won’t Charge – The I3 generator will not charge the high-voltage battery in any condition. BMW runs the battery all the way down to only around 10% or less SOC, before the RX starts up. At this point the RX attempts to maintain the charge but will not put one amp in the battery to increase the charge level. The reason they do this is to earn extra EV USA tax credits so the EV battery will run the car further than the RX engine, so rather than put a larger battery in the car, they discharge the battery further to obtain the mileage needed. Now Get This - On the European I3’s, owners can start the RX generator any time the battery is below 75% SOC and hold the charge, however here in the USA so BMW can stuff their pockets with tax credits, we have “No Option” to start the generator at all, we have to wait for the battery to almost die before the RX starts.
On a side note, I did find a coding company who reprogrammed my I3 for $200 to allow me to start my RX any time I wanted.

No Engine Access - Myself, I cannot deal with having an engine in my car and not being able to physically see it – the I3 engine is totally hidden behind the seat in the floor at the rear of the car with absolutely no access other than a dipstick.

Noisy with Vibration - In addition to poor programming and small size, the RX is so noisy that at speeds over 45 mph it’s difficult to have a conversation in the car. In addition, you can really feel this little un-balanced engine shaking the car.

Tiny Fuel Tank - The fuel tank in my lawn mower is larger than my I3. For reasons of obtaining tax credits in the US and having the I3’s battery go further than the engine, BMW installed a goofy small 2.5 gal fuel tank that is reduced in the USA further to only 1.9 gallons usable. In Europe, they can use the entire 2.5 gallons – here in the US, BMW has the nerve to actually; “Shut down the Fuel Pump” at 1.9 gallons so they can earn extra EV credits at our expense. So, if your wife’s out one night and happened to discharge the battery and she runs out of fuel (not hard to do) and stuck on the side of the road – She’ll still have over a ½ gallon of fuel left in the tank that she can’t use to get home.

No Features - The I3 is a $50,000 luxury electric car with no blind spot feature or with manual pump up seats. While on the subject of seats, the I3’s mini 4 doors are less than accommodating – it’s a circus act getting in and out and there is no way someone sitting in the (tiny) rear can reach the front door to close it.
Defective windshield design – during rain, there is an area on both the right and left sides of the windshield that forces the rain to puddle in an area of about one foot in diameter that seriously blocks the drivers and passengers vision.

Unusable Trunk – BMW even drilled holes in the trunk to let the water out. In addition, it fills up with road sand, debris and even leaves in fall.

In Conclusion - These are just a few of the major problems with the I3 - If you’re considering a I3 instead of a Volt, take my advise, it will be your worst nightmare – Also, unlike GM where there are thousands of dealers, with BMW you’ll be lucky to find one even in larger cities. In addition, even when you find a dealer, most of the dealers do not sell electrics and won’t work on the car. Even if you find a dealer there might be only 1 mechanic that is qualified to work on the car.

While the BMW I3 has some innovative design and a future in the EV market, at the present time it has major design problems and should have never been released in its present state. What’s really sad is the way BMW took a European design car which had problems – then took it to the US and made it worse so they could benefit from US EV tax credits all at the burden of the US consumers – If you thought the Volkswagen - Porsche emission scheme was nasty, the BMW I3 is even worse.

Best Regards – Mike Mas





 

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I agree with the OP on everything, except he forgot "it's fugly" I saw the rollout, read the specs, and decided it just wasn't for me., saved a bunch of $$ not getting one
 

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Almost all of the negative features you listed about the i3 relate to its ICE range extender, which I had no interest in to begin with. I was (and still am) open to the possibility of getting an i3, but I do not have (and never have had) interest in the i3 REX. The primary concern for me is that, given my current situation, the i3's range isn't sufficient to meet my regular needs. It is close, but I'd have to make too many concessions. With the increased capacity that it will be receiving, it is a better fit. However, the Bolt on the horizon outshines it in almost every measurable category, including starting price.
 

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Thanks for your first hand, long term review of the i3. Pretty much in line with my observations after spending a few days with a non REX version of the car. My wife took it to work (her daily driver is a Volt) and when she brought it back she said she didn't want to drive it any more and was thrilled to be back in her Volt. We have had many BMW's over the years and she traded off an e39 525i for the Volt. I found the i3 a hoot to drive, very fast and nimble. But, like you noticed, it was very tiring to drive on the interstate; I called it "twitchy". BMW doesn't like to admit their mistakes. I have seen it many times. A perfect example is the flagship of the marque, the 7 series. It has rock bottom reliability ratings (and resale) and sky high repair costs.

Congratulations on your Volt. I know you will enjoy it!
 

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The freeway twitchiness and general mediocre ride quality with poor suspension tuning on the small wheelbase really are disappointing in this car. When you add in the other items Mike noted (small gas tank, noisy rex, etc.), it really is very unfortunate. Like twoheel says, it was a blast to go cart around in, but the drawbacks just tilt the scales in the wrong direction...and I LIKE BMWs! Conversely, the Volt is a screaming good deal in terms of what it offers for the money and the Model S is the real "BMW" of electric cars!
 

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Compounding the problem further, is the fact the car is tall by any standards, even though the batteries are in the floor, the I3 design remains top heavy by today’s standard since its around 7” taller than the Volt and almost 2 feet shorter, this plus the fact it has very skinny tires which can lose grip during an unexpected quick turn of the wheel at high speeds.
Height on its own is not an indication of stability. I have a camperized Plymouth Voyager van that's way taller than even the BMW i3 and it has no stability issues because most of its weight is very low in the frame. The BMW with its floor-mounted battery is surely similar.

I can see how over-sensitive steering might cause it to feel less stable, but unless you slam sideways into a curb at pretty high speeds I'd be very surprised if it was likely to actually tip over.

That having been said, I completely agree with you on the other points you raised.
 

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I wonder if the rear mounted rex might contribute to the oversteer problem. I wonder if BMW makes handling adjustments to compensate for the extra weight in the rear.
 

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When I tested the i3 I thought it drove great on the highway, but better in towns. Remember it was not designed for extended periods on the highway, with a 70+ mile range.

Are you used to driving larger and slower responding cars? Ones with a long wheelbase and heavier weight? Most compacts are twitchy. If the i3 was 15k less I would have bought it instead.
 

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Interesting. I was once considering i3 as my next vehicle, and had a discussion on the FB i3 page about the REX. I used to have range anxiety with ICE vehicles, and can't get interested even in Tesla due to range. The FB people say REX is fine for distance travel (of course), but I notice at how often Volt uses more than 25KW (REX power) just maintaining speed, and wonder. And I thought Volt a bit twitchy at speed, but I do come from a longer wheelbase (although lighter, more HP) car, previously.
 

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Thanks for the thorough review.

I'm still considering the i3, because I love its acceleration and regen braking and efficiency and windshield and a few other things. But this is what I find is the drawback that may kill it for me: "The freeway twitchiness and general mediocre ride quality with poor suspension tuning on the small wheelbase really are disappointing in this car." (Good summary, cab.)

I actually haven't seen concerns about the steering at highway speeds (and follow this industry for a living as well as personal matters), so now I'm very curious to test out the i3 on the interstate a bit.

I expect to drive ~20 miles a day and very seldom take long-distance trips, so am not too concerned about highway driving, but if it's horrible, well....

The i3 is actually designated as safer than the Model S in Europe, but matters like sketchy highway steering don't really get captured fully by such testing systems.

On a final note, Idleup, I'd love to get these more eyes by publishing it on CleanTechnica.com and EVObsession.com. Let me know if you'd be fine with me doing that. Either way, thanks for sharing.
 

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I have seen two BMW i3 here in Puerto Rico (it was the first EV offered for sale in July 2014) and I took a picture of one next to my 1995 Buick Regal (which I have sold): http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?167874-BMW-i3-seen-in-Puerto-Rico

Although both cars were lined up at the traffic light, the tail doesn't reach my rear door (my Regal was much longer), so I could take of picture of its full side from my driver's position as seen in my photo. My question about this EV is how does the passenger of the rear open the door from the outside? There is no visible door handle nor latch grab anywhere.
 

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If anyone buys a car solely because of a name, without doing any research, they get no sympathy from me.
I agree with the OP on everything, except he forgot "it's fugly" I saw the rollout, read the specs, and decided it just wasn't for me., saved a bunch of $$ not getting one

Agreed.
Personally, I'm not interested in a vehicle that looks like it drove out of a cartoon. BMW vehicles, while sharp/nice, are priced higher due to nameplate mostly. Not to mention basic maintenance costs are generally more than other nameplates.

So far my research indicates the Volt is a solid car with excellent long term reviews. I'll take the sub-$15k pricing for clean used versions all day long.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
If anyone buys a car solely because of a name, without doing any research, they get no sympathy from me.
Well I'm not really looking for your sympathy - however you need to get up to speed, BMW does build some of the finest cars in the world. Also, in case you haven't noticed, there is no such thing as researching a new model year!

Also just in case you haven't noticed the BMW I3 is selling over 30,000 cars a year - Myself I never had a problem with the looks - I wanted a car that looked different, I think she looks pretty damn good.
 

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I kind of like the look, but I owned a PT Cruiser so my taste is a little weird to begin with. And it seems like an excellent second vehicle for a household that already has something that's suitable for distance travel. (I may do less of it than I did a couple of years ago, but my "social range" is still from Milwaukee to Madison, Chicago, or Green Bay, and that's further than a vehicle with a 120 mile range (especially since the extension adds only about 40 miles not 400) can go.)
 
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