BMW i3 REx: Australian Review

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Built from recycled materials, powered by an efficient electric motor, and now with a larger battery that promises to handle almost any long-distance journey without breaking a sweat, the BMW i3 is one of the most environmentally friendly cars you can buy. It's efficient when you drive it, and at the end of its life cycle a full 95 per cent can be returned to the earth from whence it came.

What Is It?

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The 2017 BMW i3 is an electric car, built with sustainability and environmental responsibility in mind. The 2017 update adds a significantly larger 94Ah battery pack over the 2013 original, a full 50 per cent larger than the outgoing 60Ah model. That translates into 33kWh of capacity with 27KWh usable -- the rest is a buffer that maintains battery condition over the life of the car -- versus 22kWh and 19kWh usable over the last generation model. That power goes to the car's wheels using a 125kW/250Nm electric motor, delivering you to 100km/h from a standstill in 7.3 seconds on the pure electric i3.

The electric-only i3 starts at $63,990 before on-road costs in Australia, while the extra petrol-powered range of the i3 REx boosts the starting cost to $69,990. Charge times for the battery are longer now because of the additional capacity, but you can install a 3.7kW home charger (rather than the standard wall-plug 1.8kW charger) that will charge your i3 overnight, from empty to full power in 8 hours. There are options like the 12-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system and Innovation Pack which can add a few thousand dollars to the asking price, but add useful features like radar-powered active cruise control and automatic emergency braking, as well as LED headlights and comfort tech like keyless entry.

BMW says the 2017 i3 has a NEDC rated range of 310km for the battery-only model, and 390km for the i3 REx under ideal driving conditions. I spent a week in the i3 to test out the circa-200km theoretical range of its new, larger 94Ah battery and the potential of the REx range extender, which promises at least another 100km of contingency range using a BMW 650cc motorbike engine mounted underneath and behind the rear seats. The i3 REx is a plug-in hybrid, using the Combo SAE J1772 connector -- which means you can charge at almost any public charging station, including Chargepoint's large metropolitan network.

What's It Good At?

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You might not think it by looking at it from the outside, but the BMW i3 is actually a zippy little thing. The electric motor gives it instant throttle response and more get-up-and-go than you'd expect, and although it's not incredibly light or incredibly quick, it'll run the 0-100km/h sprint in 7.3 seconds (for the standard i3) or 8.1 seconds (for the heavier REx). Perhaps more explanatory is the faster 0-60km/h time of around 4 seconds for both, which goes to show that you'll be winning a lot of traffic light Grands Prix. Beyond a little bit of electrical whine from the car's front-mounted motor, all of this is accomplished in nearly-eerie silence.

Despite it looking like a small car from the outside, the BMW i3 has plenty of passenger space on the inside -- with the caveat that it only seats four, not five. And all those passengers will be sitting in eco-luxury, too; the i3's interior is constructed from recycled materials, and the REx's seat fabric is a wonderfully tactile polyester marle that's both hard-wearing and comfortable to sit against. (You can choose leatherette, too, if you so desire.) The dash and door panels are eucalyptus and grown from forestry-managed sources.

It's also a funky and modern and high-tech place to be at the same time. The central display -- mounted in the middle of the dash, set back near the windscreen to leave a small valley that's a tempting place to throw your sunglasses or wallet during a drive -- is big and brightly coloured, and BMW's iDrive interface is easy to understand and navigate using the click-and-scroll wheel that sits underneath the armrest between driver and front passenger. The driver gets their own smaller dash display, which includes a digital speedo and combined electric/petrol range and charge distance read-outs. It's just fun.

The extra range that the 94Ah battery pack bestows on the new 2017 BMW i3 goes a long way to make it more practical for day-to-day use as well as the occasional, well-considered weekend drive. 200km of all-electric power on either i3 is enough for a regular garden-variety weekly commute without needing a recharge in between, or 90 per cent of other long-distance trips: how often do you travel more than a 200km round trip in a day? In that instance, the extra 100km of range-extending distance the REx model bestows might come in handy. And that's 100km between petrol stations, too -- you can limp home for more than that distance just refilling as you go. Trust me, I tried it out.

What's It Not Good At?

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The BMW i3 is a car that's very much made to be charged at home, overnight. It's a model of ownership that's completely different to driving a petrol-powered car, and you'll have to adapt to it if you do want to buy one. Charging the new 94Ah model's 33kWh battery, 27kWh of which is usable, will take 14 hours from empty to the 80 per cent 'full' capacity using a 1.8kW regular wall-plug charger. If you have BMW's long-term home charger installed, that drops to 8 hours at 3.7kW. All those charge times are much, much longer than nipping to the petrol station for a refill in an internal combustion-powered vehicle.

That also ties into the fact that, compared to its chief competitor from Tesla -- although the two cars have a massive price disparity, they're two of the few electric cars that exist on Australian roads right now -- the i3 has a comparative lack of charging infrastructure. Tesla's Superchargers are arranged to allow for intercity travel, but the i3's compatible publicly-accessible ChargePoint network is restricted to metro locations only -- and is generally much slower (on average, chargers run at 6.6kW) taking four hours to complete a charge.

The REx is the more sensible choice of the two if you intend to do anything other than city driving on a daily or weekly basis. Its 9-litre auxiliary petrol tank runs a 28kW, 650cc motorcycle engine underneath the boot (it takes up some potential boot space, too, with 260 litres unless the rear seats are down) will give you a 100km range-boost if you run out electric power, and you can run the car on it alone as it'll charge the battery enough to power the electric motor with normal performance at speeds up to 130km/h. I gave the i3 REx a run up the Blue Mountains on petrol power alone, and it performed just fine, but leaving the battery at a low state of charge constantly isn't good for its health.

The i3 REx ride, too, is not especially forgiving -- it's a side effect of the car's high seating and the distribution of weight (circa 1400kg in the 94Ah REx, although the non-REx is significantly lighter). It's very firm over city speed bumps and potholes, and out over a highway's undulations it can introduce a fair bit of unwanted road noise into the cabin. You quickly learn to drive to accommodate it -- it takes a different style of driving to navigate a roundabout when you're driving from a tall position, for example -- but firm is not really a word I'd normally want to associate with a $70,000 eco-friendly electric car. It also wears super skinny 175mm tyres up front -- for efficiency, y'know -- that don't need much pushing to understeer all over the shop.

Should You Buy It?

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The $63,990-plus BMW i3 is a wonderful car to be inside. It's a warm and welcoming, comforting and friendly interior for a car that has its priorities right: efficiently transporting you from A to B, and making that journey an enjoyable one from start to finish. Its suite of technologies -- from driving to in-car entertainment -- are all well sorted; BMW's i3 is a car that feels complete. It's expensive, but you're paying a premium for its smarts and the environmental friendliness that pervades every aspect of the car from its drivetrain to the materials used throughout its construction.

The updated 94Ah model and its range extender variant have the electric capacity (and petrol backup) to make anything but the longest daily trips entirely possible on battery power alone, providing that price advantage that electric cars will always be able to lord over petrol and diesel. 'Range anxiety' has always been, and will always be, a very flexible concept -- and I know that there will be complaints in the comments about an electric car that can only travel 200km -- but I never felt like the i3 REx was putting me in a situation where I'd be stranded. Part of that is the petrol engine being there as a backup, and part is the extra capacity for the city commutes the car is meant for.

Ever since I sat down in the driver's seat of the 2017 BMW i3, I've wanted one to keep. It's almost entirely to do with the car's interior and the manner it's designed in more than its electrified nature, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that it's a fun car to drive, too -- in its own special way. You might feel a bit guilty about putting the boot in and zipping around the city quickly, but it's enjoyable, and you're sorta saving the planet at the same time.


    When these first came out I thought they were ugly as sin.
    Now.....I still think they are as ugly as sin.
    But I kinda want one!
    My inner techno-nerd loved the technology and my "save the planet" eco warrior side loves the environmental friendliness.
    The only issue is given the size it only works as a second car for us. Which kinda defeats the whole environmental friendliness a bit. :)

    After watching the Grand Tour review of this car, its a no go.

      I don't think a children's TV show like, The Grand Tour is a good place to get car advice from.

    From the back it looks like it's wearing a wrestling mask. From the side it's like 2 designers were told to start from the front and back respectively then (hopefully) meet somewhere in the middle (aligned?). I like the interior but at the end of the day smooth lines will always win me over and that's where this fails, it's too damn fiddly.

    I don't think it's ugly at all. Weird looking, definitely, but it takes many of its styling cues from the sexy-as-hell i8, which is fine by me.

    One question, Campbell - how noisy is it with the range-extender running for long periods?

    Having to put petrol in it every 100km would get old, fast on a trip between Sydney and Melbourne but overall it probably wouldn't be as annoying as having to wait a couple of hours, twice, at supercharger stations and it would give you the flexibility to choose whatever route you wanted.

    Oh, and a second question - can a Tesla use Chargepoint?

    Last edited 10/02/17 12:46 pm

      REx engine isn't hugely loud, it's well dampened -- but it's still there. It runs at a constant RPM for the most part, so you can kinda tune it out at highway speeds as extra road nice.

      You need an adapter to use a Tesla with Chargepoint stations.

      BMW would be better off using SuperCharge or the Tesla standard charger as its an open patent.

      edit: retrospectively no doubt BMW would want to use a proprietary patent so they can make more money from original parts...

      Last edited 10/02/17 2:13 pm

        Totally agree, it would have been much better for users had they kept the same charging port.

        Or maybe Tesla could have made their superchargers to an existing standard, like Chargepoint did?

          Why build to a standard when the spec is open? Is it not wasted development? I don't pertain to be all over Tesla's design and approach however I would assume they have opened the patents and more to encourage adoption. Thats in comparison to building to compatibility (standard).

          Just did a little bit of digging. On the face of it, it seems the Chargepoint DC-fast chargers are slower at charging compared to the Supercharge stations. Maybe that's why Tesla have the Supercharge station.

          I also wonder if the standards are going to change as battery tech changes and the batteries can take more charge faster.

          Edit: I just did some more digging and you can get adaptors for both so win win for everyone.

          Last edited 13/02/17 2:27 pm

            I own an i3 and am constantly restricted to using the ChargePoint systems or my BMW supplied 240V charger. I have looked but cannot find an 'adaptor' to use the Tesla style superchargers of which there are many around Canberra. BMW have told me they are not available yet you say you've found an adaptor. Would you mind sharing the web link so I can purchase one please?

        Also couldn't agree more. Frustrating that they won't standardise and then we can get one with deploying decent infrastructure.

    bit too expensive still.
    The range and charging issues wouldn't really be an issue for a family with 2 cars. But its a shame these companies aren't doing more to integrate their charging infrastructure (are we seriously going to have separate charging stations depend on the model of your car?)

      What I keep hearing EV owners say "I hardly ever use public chargers" 90% of the time you are changing at home or work.

    0-100km/h in 7.3 secs will blow away most new cars up to and including a V6 Commodore with 200+kW.

      Sure but 0-110 is likely to be a different story. EVs run out of puff pretty quickly. Also, a fair chunk of their advantage is that they don't need to change gears, so they get to 100 quickly but probably don't feel any quicker than a V6 Commodore.

        Spot on. EVs are super quick to 60, slower to 100, slower beyond that. It's why a Tesla Model S P100D is the quickest car in the world to 100, but pulls a quarter mile a fair bit slower than a LaFerrari.

    Returned to the earth, so it's biodegradable? I thought it was just recyclable.

    "front-mounted motor"? WRONG!

    The motor is in the back. It's rear-wheel-drive.

      You're absolutely right, sorry about that. In an early draft I was writing about the front-mounted fuel tank :)

    I would never buy a car or house based on how it looks on the outside because I only spend .1% of my time looking at it. It's the interior that matters to me and that looks great.

      Really? I am very much in the habit of parking my car where I can spend long periods just gazing at it or where I will be able to see it from an interesting/flattering angle as I approach it. How my car looks is very important to me, it's a big part of the overall satisfaction of ownership.

        I just go to the classic car dealers when I need my car porn fix.

          Old cars are shit. I can't think of any car more than twenty years old that doesn't look either stupid or horrible. Even the Lamborghini Diablo and Ferrari 355, both of which I thought would look sexy forever, now look very ordinary and woefully out of date (but I'd still have either if someone was giving them away).

      But, don't you want to post it as your Facebook profile picture for all the world to drool over?

    Campbell, I beleive the government is reviewing the LCT this month ..... Please give them a bit of bash when compare to the rest of the planet when it comes to EVs and incentives (OS) and the dis-incentives we have here . Ta

      Why should Australia have incentives for EV ownership when most of our electricity still comes from coal and it will only favour overseas manufacturers? It would make sense if we were making EVs locally and it we had nuclear power but, as things stand, there is no reason for the government to incentivise EV uptake, as it is basically just moving the source of pollution, not reducing it, and won't create a single new job in Australia.

        Yeah, sadly. That said, I was under the impression that CO2 emissions per km are still lower than even the most efficient petrol/diesel powered engine (by all means correct me if not true).

        Though I'm still amazed we don't use ethanol or biofuel more. All the advantages of petroleum-based fuel with electric's reductions in net CO2 production. E85 here is derived from Australian grown sorghum and the ethanol component locally distilled, so it even has the onshore economic benefits too.

        You're not exactly Mr. Current Affairs. We have NO car manufacturing in Australia as of October this year! As for the incentives, you really think the rest of the world has got it wrong... /headbang
        And if you can name another type of vehicle that gets cleaner as years progress, we're all ears.
        Whens the last time a Doctor told you to suck in some good old exhaust gas for your health.....
        Seriously, do some thinking and research before posting ill informed dribble.

          "It would make sense IF we we were making EV vehicles locally... but as it stands..."
          There's ill informed dribble, and there's deliberate misrepresentation of someone else's statements. Which of these are you aiming for?

            Nice troll.

              So are you trying to tell us that we ar m aking EVs locally? Because the imminent cessation of car manufacturing in Australia doesn't affect the validity of my point at all. Governments provide incentives to drive jobs growth or an increase in GDP or something similar, not because you think they should. e.g. The LPG rebate provided jobs for conversions and promoted LPG, something Australia has an abundance of. What does Australia get out of an EV rebate?

        Excellent point about coal. Let's create incentives for EV ownership that work in tandem with renewables. EG only available if you are using renewable energy as the main charging source. Let's start some pilot projects for charging stations which get their energy from solar roofs.
        Not sure how you arrived at your conclusion that creating an new EV infrastructure will not create any jobs!?!? Lot's of potential with Hardware, software, engineering, design, construction etc, if we get on with this now.

        I think that's quite a narrow view. Sure we as a country need to do something about the coal industry/our power sources, but that is not a reason for penalising people trying to do the right thing.

        I think you'll find that the kind of car owners who buy an EV that's 95% recyclable, also tend to be the kind of people to have a solar array and battery storage at home to charge their car at night and probably draw very little power from the grid.

    ...and now with a larger battery that promises to handle almost any long-distance journey without breaking a sweat,...Just speaking for myself, but 200kms in an Australian context doesn't strike me as anything like a long-distance journey.

      That's not even to work and back home for some people.

        I dunno, it's only 150km round-trip from my inner-city Sydney home to my brother's in East Gosford. I can' t imagine too many people drive to work from further afield than that, although I know someone who used to drive from Berowra to Liverpool every day, which was a 160km round trip. BUt those kinds of distances are very much the exception and it would be fairer to say that not everyone can afford a $60k car than to call out the range..

          So it's a city car then. You go more rural some people do some decent distances to work. Even in Melbourne try considering geelong to the CBD as is common.

            Geelong to Melbourne CBD is also around 150km return, so well within the range of this car.

          Sydney to Newcastle: 160km each way. That's getting a bit tight.
          Sydney to Nelson Bay: 208km

      I can't recall the stat off the top of my head, but something like 99.95% of Australians travel less than 200km in an average day. We have long distances to cover between our cities, yes, but most Australians live and travel within those cities on a day-to-day basis.

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