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BMW i3 REX 2015 review

My first commute in the BMW i3 didn’t get off to a great start. After a weekend of running about, the little electric hatchback was in need of a recharge and CarsGuide’s carpark had recently installed a dedicated recharging bay for electric vehicles.

Part 1 - 14 May 2015

Sparks in the carpark

It was impossible to miss the fact that this was an EV parking bay. It’s painted green, just as disabled spots are painted blue, and is marked EVs only.

Yet as I turned into the carpark, what was in that spot but a big, ugly, fossil fuel-propelled Mitsubishi Triton. What to do when confronted by poor parking etiquette?

Explore the 2015 BMW i Series range

I briefly entertained the idea of leaving an indignant note under the wiper but decided against it on the basis that the i3 stands out like a sore thumb, making me eminently traceable to the tradie who had gazumped my spot.

Its looks are — to be kind — polarising

It was a good introduction to a car that has its fair share of ups and downs. On the plus side, the i3 is hot-hatch quick off the mark, spacious for a hatchback and popular with the kids.

But there are design flaws and its looks are — to be kind — polarising.

The i3 is without doubt a head-turner, although not all the heads that turn are impressed by what they see. The seats look like a tired tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and the dash material looks as if it belongs out of sight — perhaps on the underside of a parcel shelf.

The timber highlights, though, look classy and are reminiscent of the panelling on an expensive yacht. The cabin ergonomics are good, the infotainment controls are easy to use, the outward vision is above average and the seats are comfortable. But the rear-hinged back doors are already wearing thin.

Yes, they provide good access to the rear seats but there’s a snag: to open the rear doors you must first open the fronts. And if you’re in the front, you have to undo your seat belt to let rear passengers out because it’s connected to the rear doors.

I learnt this the hard way, tugged violently backwards as my son flung open the rear door.

Then there’s the range. The official claims seem a little optimistic but I’ll leave that until I’ve put more kilometres on the clock.

Part 2 - 19 June 2015 

What? Me worry?

After a month of living with the i3 it was time to confront the elephant in the room: range anxiety.

The test for the little BMW was a 190km round trip that included a long climb into the mountains (and the return descent).

The spec sheet said we wouldn't make it on electricity alone (the official range is 170km for the range extender model with the tiny 650cc motorbike engine) but could we squeeze enough out of the battery and the tiny 9L petrol tank to make it there and back comfortably?

We fired up the most efficient ECO PRO+ mode, turned off the aircon and wound down the windows for a pleasant autumn trawl through the suburbs. Once on the highway, the windows went up and the aircon was set to comfortable rather than chilly so as not to drain the motor too much.

Once we hit the highway, it seemed every kilometre we travelled, we lost a kilometre and a half of range.

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  • 2014 BMW i3 2014 BMW i3

Things got worse as we began to climb. At one stage I thought we weren't going to reach our halfway point on electricity alone.

But as we wove our way through 50km/h streets, the range began to return and eventually we reached halfway with 20km of electric range left — 55km short of BMW's claim.

On the home run, a long downhill stretch saw our 20km of electric range become almost 40km, before the petrol engine kicked in with 4km range left.

Apart from the distant hum of the little engine — barely audible over the road noise at 100km/h — the i3 didn't feel any different. The acceleration was still there and it was still impressively quiet.

By the time we reached home, we'd travelled 190km and still had 78km of range. That put us smack-bang in the middle of the 240km-300km "customer-orientated" range but some way shy of the maximum 340km.

The i3 is definitely growing on me. But as it's almost $70,000, I'm still far from sold.

Part 3 - 17 July 2015

Price of excellence

My three-month stint in BMW's new i3 ended in embarrassment, after the front door was damaged during a mad rush to catch the school bus.

The i3's unique door design — the doors open like a clamshell — means the back door has to be closed before the front one is. Unfortunately, in her haste to exit, my daughter forgot this, slamming the front door on the back one.

Impressively, no panels were dented, but unfortunately the impact broke a couple of clips on the front door. A design flaw? Perhaps, although the design does allow for better access to the rear seats than a two-door, and the repair was simple and cheap — roughly an hour's labour and about $200 all up with parts.

 I found I liked the BMW the more I drove it — and I'll definitely miss it

The only other dampener on my final days with the i3 was the effect cold weather (and more importantly heater use) has on the little BMW. On one particularly cool morning, after the heater was turned up to tropical, the range immediately dropped by 10km. It also took a while to heat up, as the heater can't draw warm air from the internal combustion engine.

Other than that minor gripe, I found I liked the BMW the more I drove it — and I'll definitely miss it. Although the styling had been the butt of some unkind jokes, I grew to like the space-age exterior look and the airy cabin with its tweed-jacket styling. The i3 is great fun to drive, too, particularly at traffic lights, where it's a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing.

It's not as fast, though as the cheaper BMW 135i — the pricetag is the biggest hurdle for me with the i3.

Then again, I've never understood why a Montblanc pen costs hundreds of dollars more than a Kilometrico and I can't see the point of a Rolex when my iPhone tells the time. Could it be that tight-wad journalists aren't the i3 demographic?

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Range and Specs

I8 Hybrid 1.5L, Hyb/PULP, 6 SP AUTO $117,100 – 148,060 2015 BMW i Series 2015 I8 Hybrid Pricing and Specs
I3 —, Electric, 1 SP AUTO $30,700 – 40,260 2015 BMW i Series 2015 I3 Pricing and Specs
I3 Hybrid —, Hyb/PULP, 1 SP AUTO $34,100 – 44,110 2015 BMW i Series 2015 I3 Hybrid Pricing and Specs