Often times the idea of something is so much better than the reality. Exercise immediately comes to mind. Travelling with a partner. Getting a tattoo (oh sure, that’s a good idea and won’t hurt at all). Owning an EV.
Now, before you all get up in arms about me bashing electric-vehicle life, let me preface this with: I know I am not the ideal candidate for an EV. I could not own one for the lifestyle I live. I am too far from work, too far from my parents, too far from everything. I also drive too much with little time in between for proper charging. The locations I visit are not properly equipped with super chargers, and I would constantly be searching for a wall socket (read on for more details there).
However, even if I was more central to my life with everything within a 60-80km range, I’d still be adverse to EV life simply because my particular city’s infrastructure does not cater to said lifestyle.
That being said, BMW’s entry into the full EV game is a real winner, otherwise. The 2016 BMW i3 is an absolute marvel in engineering and design and I adore it. My particular tester featured a range extender generator (hence the REX at the end of the name), which offered me a bit more freedom to “live” with the EV, however, it was not ideal for me in the end.
iRobot brought to life
I drove the i3 for the first time a year ago. It was a short drive, about 45 minutes, and on crowded city streets. It got an insane amount of looks, stares, and even had a few pictures taken of it along the way. I mean, look at it! How do you not stare just a bit?
Now, I realize the look is highly polarizing. Personally, I love it. It’s different, it’s quirky, and it’s unique. Sure, I’ve complained about hybrids and EVs looking too different before, but there’s something endearing about the i3’s design. Perhaps it’s that this is a truly unique car from BMW. It’s not based on any other BMW chassis or design. It’s completely new. Something the designers and engineers at BMW came up with on the fly, with fresh lines, creases and edges. I love that.
With various colour combos to choose from, the 2016 BMW i3 can look as “wild” or as “regular” as you like. With it’s black accented hood and rear hatch, it always looks a little bit out there, but coupled with a dark grey colour, the hood and rear stand out a little less. Of course, I love the Solar Orange Metallic with Frozen Grey Accents… but then we all know I’m a little odd.
Dressed in Ionic Silver Metallic with Frozen Blue Accents, my particular tester was just demure enough to “blend in” but the overall design of the thing keeps heads turning, no matter what.
And then there’s the interior. Oh my God, the interior. It’s my favourite, hands down, in the industry right now. Made of entirely repurposed materials, the interior of the 2016 BMW i3 is stunning. Eucalyptus wood, along with recycled leathers and materials came together in my particular tester, which sported the Lodge Style interior world. And what a world it is: the dash alone is a marvel in engineering, aesthetics and design. The integrated eucalyptus wood dash along with the two floating screens is gorgeous. Of course, that particular interior world costs an extra $3,250 but is well worth the cost in my humble opinion.
The seats are stupid comfortable, even in the rear. Oh, and about the rear: getting in is also super easy with the suicide doors on either side. The whole process for getting a child (or an adult) back there was simplified immensely with the doors, and the height of the roof also meant ample headroom for all. While there is only seating for four, there’s still plenty of space. The lack of a traditional transmission (there’s just an e-drive system in place) means there’s plenty of middle legroom and storage; even a nifty spot up front for my purse to sit perfectly on the floor between the driver and front-passenger seat.
Driving an EV
Now, design aside, where it gets really interesting with the i3 is in the drive. I loved it the first time, and I fell in love all over again the second time around.
If any of you follow my writing you’ll know I am not a fan of hybrids and/or EVs. They are generally soulless, gutless, boring grocery getters. Well, that’s totally not the case with the i3. Of course, it’s no Tesla, but it’s a helluva lot more fun than the average green-machine.
My particular BMW i3 REX came equipped with the standard 22 kWH lithium-ion battery as well as a rear-mounted 2-cylinder generator. On it’s own, the lithium-ion motor produces 170 horsepower. With the range extender there, that’s an extra 34 ponies. Um, over 200 horsepower? Yes, please! Oh, and there’s 184 lb-ft of torque, too.
And it’s the torque that you’ll notice the most, along with the fluid linear way in which speed builds. You’ll not even notice you’re going as quickly as you are until you look at the speed-o – oops. And the lack of gears means you really do just kind of float to these insane speeds.
Of course, flooring it all the time means your range will drop significantly. There’s a certain style of driving that has to be adopted when you’re driving an EV. This I’ve learned over the years, and I’ve also learned I’m not a great student in EV-driving ways.
If you’re a star hypermiler and well versed in EV driving ways, you should be able to get about 130-140km in full electric driving from a single charge in the i3. Add the REX package and that range jumps to 250km.
Now, here’s where it all kind of fell through for me: The max mileage I could achieve on a full charge was just under 100km. Now, that’s dependent on your driving style. Keep in mind, the range extender generator only has approximately 7L of fuel (I discovered that when I went to fill it and after just 4L of fuel promptly had the pump stop and gas splash back – grrr).
Consider I live approximately 60km from work (one way). To charge the BMW i3 fully from a standard 110V socket, you need to be able to give it about 20 hours. My work day is not 20 hours long (thank God), but I’m generally not at home that long either between getting home from work and leaving for it the next day. The max time I was able to charge it during the week was about 14-15 hours, and that just wasn’t enough.
I found myself running on the generator more than I should have. And oh my is it ever loud. It sounds exactly like you’d expect a generator to sound, and it causes quite the vibration in the i3, enough that my son questioned what was going on and asked it if the car was broken.
Again, I am not a candidate for this vehicle, not even with the range extender. However, it’s important to note that anyone thinking they could handle life with one on the outskirts of cities/major metropolis centres might want to reconsider.
We’re not ready for EV life yet
Here’s the other issue: Our cities aren’t ready for EV life yet. We’ve not adopted the right infrastructure to accommodate electric vehicles. In Quebec, we have something called the Circuit Electrique. It’s a series of charging stations around the city and province that offers super charging. However, you need to be a member to use the stations. It costs about $10/year, and that’s fine. However, if you were only visiting the province, you’d not want to wait for your member card to come in the mail, so you’d simply download the app. If you only download the app, you’re not able to use all the stations, as the older ones require you to swipe your member card. On top of paying for a charge (between $1-$2.50 per session), you’ll often need to pay for parking as well as most of the charging stations are housed in underground lots in the city centre. That adds another $20-$30 on top of that, whereas if you owned a normal gas-powered car you could park on the street for $6 for the afternoon.
There’s a lot to consider when purchasing an electric vehicle, and your driving habits are a major part of that consideration, but so is your city’s ability to accommodate your vehicle. I learned a lot about my city and my driving habits while in the BMW i3, some good, some not so good at all.
Coolest EV out there?
It just might be. Well, besides the Tesla, but that’s not accessible to everyone. With a starting price in the mid $40k (for the REX version) and incentives that bring it down to the mid-$30k range the BMW i3 is a viable option to the Chevrolet Volt. And really, does the Volt have eucalyptus wood on its dash? Um, no. No argument there.