First BMW i3 Drivers Share Impressions

By · May 28, 2014

BMW i3

Ward Jennings at the wheel of his brand-new BMW i3. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Ward Jennings works on European cars at his repair shop in Fairfield, Conn., so it’s fair to say that he looks at his new BMW i3 (non-REx) with a discriminating eye. Jennings, who spent 27 months with an ActiveE, is quite likely the first Nutmeg State customer.

“The performance is the best thing about it,” Jennings said. “I’ve heard it’s two seconds faster than the ActiveE zero to 60, and it feels like it.” Still, Jennings was sad to see his ActiveE go; it had a bit more personality than the i3, he says.

“I miss the easy-to-live-with analog dash in the ActiveE,” says Jennings. “I don’t like how digital the i3 is—my motto is ‘question technology.’” It bugs him that the i3 comes with neither a CD player or an AM radio. “I’m not a 20-something, and I suspect many other owners aren’t, either,” Jennings said. “I have an iPod but no iPhone, so this set-up doesn’t work for me.” The no-CD thing is a trend that transcends EVs.

Jennings is seeing 80 to 90 miles of range. He’s mostly happy with the car, and loves the extra space over the ActiveE. “It’s big on the inside, and small on the outside, which makes it easy to park,” he said. He worries, though, about the glass rear hatch being vulnerable in an accident, the rear doors need a slam, and he’s not sold on the styling. “Young people flock to it, though,” he said.

Nine Out of 10

Charlie Rabie, the Tufts University professor who was the i3's first U.S. customer, said, "The car lives up to its billing. It's lightweight, the maneuverability is great, and it certainly stands out more than my ActiveE did. I rate it an eight or nine out of 10—it's been phenomenal."

BMW i3

Charlie Rabie takes delivery of his i3. After living with it for a few weeks, he finds it phenomenal. (BMW photo)

Rabie's issues: The lack of grip on some fast curves (he attributes it to the skinny low-rolling-resistance tires), lack of a spare tire, and some connectivity problems with his Android phone.

The First REx?

New Jersey restaurateur Tom Moloughney is Mr. Electric BMW, having enjoyed both the Mini-E and the ActiveE. With delivery a week ago, he appears to be the first REx range-extender owner in the U.S.

BMW i3

Tom Moloughney's i3 was one of the first with the REx option. (Tom Moloughney photo)

“REx is absolutely silent when the car turns on,” Moloughney said. “I thought it wasn’t working at first. But on the highway I saw the range was holding so I knew it was on. As you drive faster it seems to rev up a bit, with perhaps three levels. At the highest level you can hear a kind of hum, though it’s not annoying—it’s inaudible with the radio on. That’s a relief, because in some of the videos make it sound like a raging lawnmower.”

Moloughney was impressed that, on a 140-mile highway trip, the REx didn’t kick in until 89 miles had elapsed. He thinks having a range extender means he’ll take the car on more longer trips, and end up (as some Volt owners have discovered) getting more electric miles out of it. For his 140-mile trip, 131 miles were electric.

The Lost Gauges

For complaints, Moloughney said the loss of AM radio is “a bit baffling.” And he mourns the loss of “proper state-of-charge and battery charge gauges. I’m having a hard time coping with having to go by the provided bar graph. I’m hoping they keep what’s there now, and add those gauges in later versions.”

But, like Jennings, he’s “thoroughly pleased” with his i3. “It’s faster than the ActiveE at any stage of acceleration, handles better, and has much more interior room,” Moloughney said. “It’s a definite improvement.”

In Europe, where delivery started sooner, customers are getting used to their cars. Andy, a British early adopter, says he’ll get only 60 miles of range in aggressive driving, but 90 to 100 if he takes it easy. “One thing I’m enjoying immensely is coming home, plugging in, and knowing that a few hours later I’ll have a full ‘tank’ for minimal cost,” Andy said. Since he also owns a BMW M3, he took them out for performance runs, and the gas car won, but not by that much.

“It exceeds my expectations,” said “JFK,” an owner in the Netherlands on the My BMW i3 forum. “I [also] drive a Model S, and it uses about twice the energy. I’m very happy with the i3.”

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