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2017 BMW i3 Review and Road Test - To EV Or Not EV By Larry Nutson

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2017 BMW i3
Silence is Golden

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

The BMW i3 is the 2017 World Urban Car of the Year. Actually, it’s the inaugural winner -- the first-ever vehicle to be named the World Urban Car.

My urban world is Chicago. After a week of driving a 2017 BMW i3 with Range Extender I came to the conclusion that the i3 fits in pretty well with my world.

I expect the i3 will also fit in quite well with the world of many an urban dweller. As more and more folks return to urban living, globally a trend that is forecasted to continue over many decades going forward, we will see more and more i3-like vehicles on the road.

Launched in 2014, the i3 is intended to bring a focus to BMW’s commitment to sustainable mobility through BMW’s first all-electric vehicle made primarily of carbon fiber.

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In naming the BMW i3 the World Urban Car, the World Car jurors said that “Everyday cars in many - perhaps most - parts of the world will have to become smaller if road and parking space is to be found for them in increasingly packed towns and cities whose populations are swelling annually.”

For 2017 the BMW i3 is available with a 94 Ah battery for $44,595 and also with a 94 Ah battery with Range Extender for $48,445. I drove the later version.

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The i3 seats four. It looks like a two-door but has a small rear-hinged “coach” door on each side for rear seat access. It’s rear wheel drive and a city-friendly 157.8 inches long. The rear seat folds to increase the cargo room under the rear hatch from 15.1 cuft to 36.9 cuft.

The 170 HP AC synchronous motor can deliver a top speed of 93 mph. Zero to 60mph is in a bit over 7 seconds. The EPA MPGe rating is 111 miles combined city/highway electric driving.

The range of the BMW i3 is extended by a 650 cc 2-cylinder gasoline engine which is located adjacent to the electric drive above the rear axle. The Range Extender engine delivers a maximum output of 38 HP and powers a generator in order to produce electricity. There’s a 2.4 gallon fuel tank to supply the engine. When the battery drops to 6.5% of charge the range extender engine automatically starts. This i3 REX is a bit heavier and zero to 60 mph is in 8 seconds.

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The i3 has plenty of creature comforts including automatic climate control, heated front seats, navigation system, LED headlights, keyless entry, rear park distance control, a rear view camera, and USB and Bluetooth wireless technology.

I put about 425 miles on my BMW i3 media-loaner. One longer round trip covered about 120 miles. On the outbound I made it on all-electric driving for about 55 miles, starting out with less than a full battery charge. The range extender engine kicked on about two miles from my destination. I didn’t mess around with any hyper-driving and kept up to typical highway speeds while also having the air conditioning on. My return trip necessitated that the range extender provide the electricity.

I have EV chargers located in a Whoie Foods parking garage less than a mile from my residence. I plugged a Level 2 (240V) charger into the i3 and came back five hours later to a fully charged battery. If I had a home garage with a Level 2 charger I could have easily charged overnight.

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After spending a few days of city driving on all-electric I recharged again for a trip that would be about 105 miles each-way. At the start the instrument cluster displayed 207 miles of driving range; 124 miles from the battery and 73 more with the range extender engine. I kept to the posted speed limit and used the ECO PRO energy efficient setting for the air conditioner.

On arrival at my destination I was still running on the battery but would need to recharge for the trip back. Now I experienced a not-infrequent EV charging issue. That is, the two Level 2 chargers at my destination were in use.

Inadequate charging infrastructure remains a big drawback to the greater adoption of EV usage.

Fortunately in my case, I didn’t need the i3 charged for the return drive home until late in the afternoon of the next day. With some help from the hotel valets I located a 120-volt outlet that I could use with the i3’s on-board charging cable. On my return to the car after 23 hours the i3 was fully charged.

An interesting driving capability of the i3, and other EVs, is one-foot driving that makes use of the regenerative braking to slow the car. With careful forward-looking at traffic it can become unnecessary to use the brake pedal. Simply lift off the accelerator pedal and the car slows. Of course the brakes are always there for quick stops or more rapid slowing than one-pedal driving will provide.

As a last note on recharging the battery, the i3 is also capable of being recharged with a Level 3 (440v) charger. This will provide about 80-percent charge in about 40 minutes.

All-in-all the BMW i3 is a very capable urban use car. With it’s battery-only range a lot of everyday personal needs can get done without fear of running out of charge. There is little to no range anxiety.

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I’m not sure I would opt for the range extender model. More and more city condo and apartment buildings have Level 2 chargers. If you have your own garage then you can easily install one.

For long road trips I might be visiting a car rental agency. You can rent most any vehicle these days to suite your personal taste and needs.

Take a look at for more info, specs and options. BMW also offers various charging and route planning apps and services to make electric vehicle ownership convenient.

As an interesting aside, BMW won the bid to supply the Los Angeles Police Department with 100 fully-electric BMW i3 vehicles for use in the department’s transportation fleet. This came after a field trial during which a BMW i3 was evaluated alongside other EVs on the streets of Los Angeles as part of the LAPD’s every day fleet. 

Ultimately, the BMW i3 was selected due to a combination of EPA rated best-in-class efficiency, reliability and state-of-the-art ConnectedDrive services, which can be used to support fleet management applications, according to BMW.

For 2018 the BMW i3 has a revised exterior design with a wider and sportier look. Also, the first-ever BMW i3s featuring a sportier chassis, wider track and higher performance output is being offered

By the way, an EV is very quiet. At that point in the future when we get to a significant population of EVs driving on city streets our quality of life might just be more relaxed.

© 2017 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy

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