As most of you know if you are lucky enough to live on Florida’s Space Coast Saturday was beautiful. Not one afternoon shower or storm, a rare thing for the summer months. Josh and I were out and about and we figured it was as good a time as any for a BMW i3 test drive. Since we are due for a new vehicle in December and it has to be electric we wanted to compare the i3 with the 2012 Volt.
When we arrived we were able to plug up the Chevy Volt in BMW’s Chargepoint Level 2 charger for free while we talked with the client advisor and drove the i3REX around the block.
At first sight the i3 looks great on the outside but on the inside we quickly noticed the exposed fiberglass interior trim.
It is very “eco” looking, and while it goes with the other fabrics it seems like they could have put some kind of gloss or light resin over it. Immediately I was poked in the hand by a stray fiber while getting into the back seat, a minus for the i3. The back seat area was roomy, but the lack of center arm rest left me wanting and getting in and out was a bit uncomfortable due to the position of the door handles.
The interior electronics are quite advanced and they kind of make you feel like you are driving a space ship.
If you have ever had a BMW with iDrive the “puck” controller is the same. If not, it’s pretty easy to navigate the screen and go through all the options like radio, navigation, Bluetooth audio, satellite radio, and selecting “profiles” for different drivers. But it’s not on the same level as a touch screen like most of us are used to.
Our advisor didn’t know much about the i3 as it was only her third month on the job so in true enthusiast fashion we took the opportunity to educate her. We compared it to the Volt in the way it drove and how it felt during stop and go traffic. The big difference we noticed immediately when starting the drive was the high regenerative braking that slowed the car down as soon as you let off the gas pedal. It was very similar to the Tesla Model S. In the Volt you have to shift from D to L on the “gear” selector to get that kind of regen and I think even in L the i3 is a bit stronger. We asked if that was a selectable option on the i3, like the Tesla but she didn’t know.
The on site i3 specialist was busy with other clients at the time so we were unable to get that question answered as well as some maintenance questions. Specifically we wanted to know if the BMW i3REX was as smart as the Volt in the areas of automatic maintenance. In terms of space the Volt has a bit more “trunk”. Given that, with the back seats folded down we have hauled a 24 inch wall oven on one occasion, two large dogs on another, and two fully assembled beach cruisers on yet another and were still able to shut the hatch. Even with the back seats folded down i3 is short on that kind of space. This leaves the volt the clear choice over the i3 if you need more room for storage/hauling.
Since the i3 weighs so much less than the Volt (i3 = ~2500lbs Volt = ~3800lbs) the i3 had a much quicker 0-60 time. It also seemed to handle bumps in the road much smoother as well, but given it is more of an SUV that was not surprising. Overall it had a very sporty and nimble ride. We couldn’t hear how quiet the ride was since we had the A/C on full fan but from what we could tell it on par to most other EVs. There were still 28 miles left on the battery after our test drive so we couldn’t test out the range extender mode though we heard through other reviews that range extender engine sounds like a weed eater or dirt bike.
The main drawback of the i3REX and the one that would keep us from switching from the Volt is the road trips we take once or twice a year. The range extension on the i3 is in one word, pathetic. The battery lasts about 80-100 miles and there is a 2 gallon range extending gas tank that will get you another 80 or so miles. So on an 800 mile road trip you would do the first 80 miles on battery leaving 720 miles, then 720 / 80 = 9. That’s right you would stop for gas nine times and you haven’t even driven 1000 miles. This would get annoying and add significant time to a road trip. While the Volt only gets 40 miles or so on the battery you can go another 340 miles on its 9 gallon tank. So you’d only have to stop for gas two to three times, much better for road trips. Depending on how often you take long road trips the Volt might be better. If you RARELY take crazy long road trips then the BMW i3 would still be a good choice.
In the end the pros of the BMW i3 for us are larger EV range, heavy regen for one pedal driving, fast 0-60 time, smooth ride (sits higher and handles bumps better.) The cons from our perspective are the scratchy feel of the fiberglass interior, the lack of a back arm rest, no touch screen for controls, small about of storage space even including the frunk and the real killer for us insignificant gas extended range.