Why I love the BMW i3 (and will never buy one.)

I’m looking for a runaround for school drop-offs (such is my exciting life). I’ve discounted small petrol cars (mechanically complex, inefficient for small journeys, unexciting, yesteryear’s tech), and am looking at small fully electric or plugin hybrid cars.

To that end, I recently test drove a BMW i3 from BMW Guildford (where I live now) since . The i3 is one of a handful of battery or small plugin hybrid cars that I’m considering (which would sit alongside an ageing Prius in the driveway).

Customer Service

The BMW staff at BMW Guildford were super nice and promptly arranged a good test drive with some A-roads, some winding little roads and so on. As a side note: they were immeasurably better than the neighbouring Audi Guildford who, after several unreturned phone calls, have still not even bothered to set up a test drive for an A3 e-tron.

Shut up and take my money indeed!


But I digress. I rather like the looks of the BMW. To some it’s an abominable science project but I rather like it’s a car that wears its technology loud and proud.

I really enjoyed driving the BMW. Though it’s no slouch in town, it’s not a warp-speed car like the Tesla Model S, but the controls are simple, intuitive (though the first few minutes were full of kangaroo-ing!) and worry free. It’s turning circle is amazing: it basically drives like a luxury high-speed dodgem!

Putting your foot to the floor gives a very competent amount of acceleration, and moving from a standing start was sure footed and smooth. The instrument panel for driving is sensible and accessible. The auxiliary panel could do with some Jonny Ive love though: it’s full of pointless energy production/consumption stuff that detracts from the dodgem-like simplicity of actually driving the vehicle.

At the end of the test drive of around 6 miles, I adored the vehicle and totally wanted it. I also knew that I would never, ever buy one.

Paradox of Range

The BMW i3 has an 80 mile quoted range on battery power, and if you add the range extender (which is a little petrol generator in the boot area) you can get another 80 miles out of the vehicle before coming to a halt. This is the exact sweet spot of suck.

For town cars, most driving is a handful of miles per day. That’s the attraction of an electric vehicle: they cover a handful of miles really efficiently. My drive in the car would be 6-8 miles per day, nothing really. And yet the car can go for 80 miles: 10x more than I need for a school run.

But: if I choose to commute into London, suddenly 80 miles leaves me nervous. It’s around a 60 mile round-trip from my house to the Neo4j office in central London. While the i3 would be exempt from congestion charging, if I couldn’t hook up to a charger while I parked I would be very nervous on the way home. If I add the range extender then my nerves dissipate for the commute but I’m chewing through petrol which I don’t like

By contrast the more modern plugin hybrids are generally quoted as having a 30 mile range (Plug-in Prius is lower until next year’s model comes out). This means I can still do a school drop off on electrical power (easily 90% of my planned trips), but I don’t have any range anxiety about longer trips.

The BMW i3 with the range extender is – from a logical perspective – still just a plugin hybrid despite BMW’s protestations to the contrary (the drive train is purely electrical). But it just has too small a petrol tank. If I wanted to take the BMW on a trip to see family or friends, suddenly I’m stuck with a car that is great for the first hour, will continue on petrol for the second hour (assuming range extender) and then makes me stop for petrol around every hour or so after that which is super inconvenient even for a small number of trips (probably less than 6 per year).

Final thoughts

I love the BMW i3. If I had infinite money, then I’d buy one just for doing shopping and mooching around my small home town and embarrassing the neighbours with their ghastly 4×4 VW smog machines. But the i3’s range is far too generous for most days when I don’t need it, and far too constrained for the 1% of journeys when I need hundreds rather than 10s of miles range. So my search continues: I’ll now look at the Audi A3 e-tron (assuming the local garage ever shuts up and takes my money), and maybe the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (though it’s rather large for my liking). Stay tuned.

4 comments on “Why I love the BMW i3 (and will never buy one.)
  1. Mark says:

    Hi Jim,

    Any luck with your EV hunt?

    My wife and I also loved the BMW i3 for the same reasons you pointed out. Our reasoning for the purchase was simply this: my wife’s commute is about 60 miles (100km) a day. With our BMW X3 and/or our van, our gas bill neared 400/month ($C) This has now been completely eliminated. Granted, there are times she will do groceries on the way back and dips into the Rex. And when I say dip, it’s a 2 dollar dip.

    In fact, for about 98% of our driving (friends, family, gymnastics, groceries, work, etc) this car is our first choice.

    I understand we now have a car payment but at least it isn’t going to some gas company but rather into probably one of the most technologically advanced vehicles on the road.

    My prediction in 10 years when I will need to replace the batteries the conversation will go something like this: Hi Veteran BMW i3 driver, we could put the same 22 kWh battery in for 5-6k or you could replace it with the current technology which is a 150 kWh battery giving you a range of 500-700 km. Oh yes, by the way, since the car is carbon fibre and plastics, it will never rust so enjoy your car for another 10 + years.

    I am probably being a bit optimistic with technology but you get the gist.

    Thought to share a different perspective. Cheers.

  2. jim says:

    Hi @Mark,

    See: https://jimwebber.org/2015/10/plugin-hybrid-test-drives-electric-boogaloo/

    I went with the i3 REX. I concur with you on the tech, but I think BMW’s business practices are such that they’ll compel a full upgrade once the finance period runs out.

    In fact that’s the only negative I have: BMW’s sales practices and obfuscation of model/world/options is frustrating compared to, say, Toyota.


  3. kAREN LAKIND says:

    Thats so funny. Your origtinal post was about why you would never buy a BMW i3….and it ends 3 months later with you buying one. So ….what happened? and do you have any follow ups now, almost 3 years later?

    thinking of taking the plunge but I am overly concerned about range. we like to drive from our home to disney now and then….a 120mile trip…but BMW said we can exchange our i3 for an x3 x5 for no charge 14 days every year…?

  4. jim says:

    Hi Karen,

    My i3 (22kWh) plus Rex gives me about 140 miles. But as I understand it, the US version of the car has a smaller petrol tank and it doesn’t have the charge-hold function that enables the driver to deliberately use the Rex for better long journey planning.

    Having said that, I think the newer versions of the i3 have 33kWh batteries which even with a slightly smaller Rex could easily see you do a 120 mile trip.

    I’ve never exchanged my i3 for a fossil car: I have an old Prius that I use for any long trips.


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