Green Car Journal editors previously experienced 10,000 miles of driving in BMW’s i3, with those miles behind the wheel of a 2015 i3 REx several years ago. We were convinced then, as we are now, that BMW’s i3 is an indispensable, right-sized urban car that’s not only super-efficient to drive around crowded city environs but loads of fun as well.
Chalk that up to its easy maneuverability, great handling, and lightweight construction using a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body over an aluminum and CFRP passenger cell. Plus, of course, there’s the instant torque and surprisingly quick launch provided by the i3’s 170 horsepower electric motor. The i3 became our go-to vehicle for everyday drives.
Now, two years later, we’re 7,500 miles into a long-term test of a 2017 BMW i3 REx and experiencing even more satisfying results. While driving range in the earlier i3 was limited to 81 miles on the model’s 22 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, or 72 miles on batteries with an overall range of 150 miles using electricity from its REx gasoline engine-generator, those numbers substantially increased in the 2017 model year i3 we’ve been driving.
We knew from the start that BMW hit upon something extraordinary with its range-extended REx i3 variant. Simply, BMW recognized that range is a big issue with drivers considering an electric vehicle, and while the i3’s electric range is suitable for a great many drivers, the confidence of extending range with a small engine-generator is real. With the REx variant, most driving can be done exclusively on battery power for convenient, efficient, and zero-emission transport. Occasional trips beyond the i3’s battery range are possible with electricity produced by the REx system.
While a 22 kWh battery pack still powers the 2017 base model, BMW reengineered the 2017 i3 with an optionally available 94 kWh battery pack for greater battery electric range, plus an available REx variant with a slightly larger 2.4 gallon gas tank. The result is notable. The 2017 i3 with the larger battery offers an EPA estimated 114 miles on battery power. Opting for the 2017 i3 REx variant delivers an EPA estimated 97 miles of battery range (somewhat less than the electric-only model due to the REx system’s additional weight), and 180 miles of overall driving with the range extender.
We did find that the shorter 72 mile battery range of our 2015 i3 REx found us using the range extender somewhat regularly. With the longer 97 mile range we’ve only been into the range extender a few times, other than those times the range extender was required to automatically run for service since we hadn’t been using it. Yes, it’s only a difference of 15 additional battery electric miles, but with our everyday routes and driving habits those additional miles have made a difference.
The i3 is a kick to drive and we tend to smile a lot as our off-the-line acceleration regularly surprises others between traffic lights. The twin displays offer easy-to-reference information and controls are intuitive. For such a small car, the i3 provides a surprising amount of headroom and overall passenger comfort. The trunk is small but adequate for our everyday needs. Charging with our wall-mounted 240-volt charger is a breeze. It’s also economical since we set the i3 to charge at off-peak times and enjoy a discounted electric vehicle rate from our local electric utility.
Green Car Journal editors continue to find our 2017 BMW i3 tester a favored go-to vehicle for daily drives because it’s fun and easy to drive in addition to being clean and economical. We expect that will continue to be the case in the months ahead because it’s a combination that’s just hard to beat.