Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the new BMW i3 REX 94Ah with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Range anxiety. Anyone who has driven an electric car has had it, whether it was a Tesla being thrashed or a Nissan Leaf being babied between charges. To highlight anxiety, we in the motoring media indulge in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy of either proving or disproving the manufacturer claims.
With the old car, twice I came up well short of its claimed 130km range, even with a healthy dose of the most economical running and a light foot. This time, to hell with that - the i3 is a city car in a city that doesn't give two hoots about electric car infrastructure. I wanted to see if you could drive the i3 normally, without fear or resorting to roadside assist.
As they say in the clickbait, you won't believe what happened next.
Price and features
BMW's i3 range hasn't been a huge seller here in Australia for a couple of reasons. The first is the price. Electric cars get precisely zero tax perks from our various levels of government, so you're paying top whack for the aluminium and carbon fibre construction of the wacky-looking i3.
Second is the woefully inadequate provisions for on-the-go charging - all levels of government, with a few notable exceptions, make no provisions or demands so it relies on the funds of companies like ChargePoint and the goodwill of commercial landlords.
The range technically has four cars in it, but by the end of 2016, you'll be down to a choice of two. The first two are the old 60Ah battery-powered models in electric and REX specs, priced at $63,900 and $65,900 respectively. For the newer version, you'll be paying $65,900 for electric only and $71,900 for the range extender.
BMW's iDrive continues to be the best control system in any car anywhere.
For your money you get hilariously skinny 19-inch alloy wheels, a four speaker stereo, climate control, interior ambient lighting, reversing camera, remote central locking, keyless start, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, sat nav, auto headlights and wipers, wood and partial leather trim, auto parking and power everything.
Added to our car was the $2000 Suite interior package which made the interior a dark chocolatey brown colour and added some other bits and pieces. The $3510 Innovations Package added LED headlights, forward collision warning, active cruise control and keyless entry. Seat heating piled on a further $730, taking the total to $78,410.
BMW's iDrive continues to be the best control system in any car anywhere and runs a huge 10.25-inch screen on the dashboard. The i3's four speaker stereo works perfectly well and will connect to your phone via USB and Bluetooth. There's a built-in hard drive if you don't have a smartphone but there's still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The i3's weird looks contribute much to a surprisingly roomy and useful cabin. The long front doors open wide and allow for rearward opening doors ('coach' or 'suicide' doors depending on how you're feeling) for better access to the rear. You can also flip the front seat forward to further assist, but they're quite tall and (on our test example) kept falling back and getting in the way.
Two rear passengers enjoy a high-set seating position with a good view out the panoramic windscreen and still-decent side vision, despite the tapering windows. The flat floor means good foot accommodation and thin front seats liberate a lot of kneeroom for a car of this size. It does sit higher than your average hatchback and no matter how many times I told my septuagenarian parents to put their backsides in first, they insisted on stepping in, which makes life hard.
I'm not a fan of absurd-looking electric cars, but the i3 is completely individual.
Front seat dwellers have all the head and legroom in the world, with a good, adjustable driving position and a terrific view out. There's a medium-sized glove box, two cupholders (although the second one is inconveniently sited behind the elbow and under the armrest), multiple door pockets and a bottle holder in each door. The rear passengers get a pair of cupholders between the outboard seats.
Boot space starts at a Mazda2 sized 260 litres and with the seats down jumps to 1100 litres. The electric gubbins and space for the range extender motor are responsible for the high boot floor and limited space.
I'm not a fan of absurd-looking electric cars, but the i3 is completely individual. Rather than looking like a dud hatchback (Leaf and Prius, I'm looking at you), BMW has instead taken a far more 'statement' approach.
It's very upright, with a long wheelbase and those huge-looking 19-inch wheels that run on what look like motorbike tyres. Thankfully, the body sits low over the wheels so it doesn't look knock-kneed. There's a limited number of colour combinations, the white base looking a bit naff and the black marking extraordinarily easily. The blue accents, as if they're needed, remind you that this is an electric car and the daytime running lights reference the performance i car, the i8.
The panels are made from a carbon reinforced polymer that is light and less likely to dent in a parking lot accident but in black pick up every fingerprint in the suburb.
The lovely wave of wood on the dash, which I reckon is a real highlight, is from sustainable forests and looks amazing in any spec.
Inside is cavernous for a car of this size, with an almost completely flat floor front to rear and the genius doors - the front two open forward and the rears - which are really half doors - open back for a huge, unimpeded opening that looks great in photos but also helps with rear access.
The optional Suite package fitted to our car wasn't to my taste, making the interior a bit dark and less Scandi-cool. The materials are all interesting and, of course, sustainable, with a plant-based material making up the door cards, plastic bottles recycled for most of the plastics and naturally tanned leather. The lovely wave of wood on the dash, which I reckon is a real highlight, is from sustainable forests and looks amazing in any spec.
Engine and transmission
All 94Ah i3s are powered by the same 125kW electric motor, with 250Nm of torque available from zero rpm. The battery has a capacity of 33kW/h, 27 of which is usable, 8kW/h up on the 60Ah battery.
Power goes through a single-speed transmission to the rear wheels and will accelerate the 1365kg i3 to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds, which is not bad at all.
The REX we had also carries a 650cc twin cylinder motorbike engine that kicks into life (depending on how you've set up the car) to generate electricity to charge the battery and contribute another 130km of range.
Official figures for the i3 REX are 12.6kWh/100km, which is slightly better than the 12.9kWh/100km of the 60Ah. Combined figures with the engine come out to 0.6L/100km, but that is of course, ridiculous, and is highly dependent on how you configure the car's use of the engine.
A 14-hour charge from a standard wall socket will set you back around $5-$6 depending on your energy plan. BMW's $1700 wall box will drop the charge time to eight hours or you can use the ChargePoint network for a free four hour charge.
If you do as well as we did with electric only, instead of paying nearly $20 to cover 200km (a generous 7.0L/100km at $1.30/L), you'll be paying a quarter of that with electricity. If you've got solar panels, you can reduce that even further, along with the CO2 liability of using power from the grid.
My brief for my time with the i3 was this - drive it like you normally drive it. It's all very well to try and stretch the range, but that's not how people drive cars unless they're hyper-milers and enjoy driving down the hard shoulder of the motorway at 40km/h with the hazards on.
"Leave the air-conditioning on, no Eco-Pro, just drive it," said editor Flynn. "See how far you get."
This was quite liberating, because there's a competitive instinct in the back of motoring journalist's heads that either says, drain it in half an hour and declare the electric car useless, or eke out every last kilometre while dismissing the pain and suffering (and road rage) it took to get there.
The response from the electric motor is instant and the distant whistle is all you'll hear.
So we did a week of suburban and urban driving, criss-crossing the suburbs to the shops, school, a quick trip along the freeway, as well as a simulation of the morning commute by driving in and out of the city every day for almost two weeks.
BMW quotes 200km on electric only. We got 194.9km driving normally and we tracked it with the mobile app (see below). That's far, far closer than we ever got to the claimed range on the 60Ah, from which we can draw two conclusions. The first is that the 94Ah battery is better all-round and secondly, what power is available is being used more efficiently.
The i3 is great fun to drive, the engineers have conjured a huge amount of grip from the 155 section tyres. Blatting about is point and shoot in the purest possibly terms - the response from the electric motor is instant and the distant whistle is all you'll hear.
Big lumps and bumps make a thump but given the total lack of background noise that traditional cars can bank on to drown out other noise sources, it's very, very quiet in the i3.
The i3 comes with BMW's standard three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is a startling once every two years or 25,000km, whichever comes first.
The battery comes with its own warranty, which is eight years/100,00km. You can pre-purchase five years of servicing for the i3 which weighs in at a very reasonable $920.
As of 2016 BMW offers free charging via ChargePoint stations or you can purchase a wallbox for $1700 to speed up home charging by a half, bringing a full 13-hour charge down to about eight hours, or a dead to 80 percent charge in less than six hours. If you can find a DC charger, you can charge in 40 minutes.