Carbon dating in our BMW i3 REX

Published: 17 April 2017

► CAR reviews new BMW i3 REX
► We live with i3 Range Extender
► 94Ah EV battery range on test 

Diary update: carbon dating with our BMW i3

Every time you climb into the BMW i3, you'll notice something rather special: its carbonfibre construction. You can't help notice it, as you open the door and swing your legs over the composite tub.

This isn't exactly a flyweight small car, at 1440kg in range-extending REX form, but using space-age materials in its core is a useful counter to the heft of battery.

The i3's design leaves an exposed strip of the dark grey plastic visible on the sill - its high-tech weave is not quite McLaren-polished, but it's a fabulous reminder of why this city runabout costs three times a conventional petrol city car.

Advantages? As well as giving your BMW a touch periodic table intrigue, that carbonfibre core makes the i3 exceptionally stiff. You can feel it in the way it rides, steers and responds to crests and bumps in the road. This really is a small car unlike any other.  

By Tim Pollard

Browse BMW i3 cars for sale

Month 2 running a BMW i3 REX: the slippy-slidey narrow tyres

Our i3’s optional, big-but-skinny 20in wheels wear Bridgestone Ecopia tyres. Designed to cleave the air with minimal drag, they don’t put a huge amount of rubber in contact with the road, so we’ve been pussy-footing around at this chilly, slippy-slidey time of year.

Super-skinny Bridgestone tyres on our BMW i3

Why the caution? I had a big, unintentional skid on a mucky country lane in a different i3 last year. Nothing untoward has happened in this i3, thankfully...

By Tim Pollard

More BMW reviews by CAR magazine

Logbook: BMW i3 Range-Extender

  • Engine 125kW electric motor (equivalent to 168bhp, 184lb ft), with 647cc 2cyl petrol to top up battery  
  • Gearbox Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive  
  • Stats 8.1sec 0-62mph, 93mph, 13g/km CO2  
  • Price £31,560  
  • As tested £37,009 (prices quoted after government Plug-in Grant)  
  • Miles this month 540  
  • Total 2953  
  • Our mpg Haven’t refuelled yet!  
  • Official mpg 471mpg 
  • Fuel this month £0  
  • Extra costs £0

Diary update: learning to live the BMW i life

Time to talk through the nitty-gritty of living with BMW’s pioneering plug-in hybrid. We chose the REX version of the i3 because CAR is based in Peterborough and I live in the wilds of the Midlands countryside. Wouldn’t a pure EV be riskier in rural driving?

That was the thinking, and BMW reports that most i3 buyers agree. In the UK, 70% of sales are of the Range Extender version, countering the earlier launch trend for the battery-only BEV car.

It’s easy to see why. I’m enjoying the reassurance the tiny petrol engine provides. In the past month, I’ve driven our BMW i3 190 miles to Heathrow and back for my flight to the Geneva airport, Ben Miller took it to Thruxton for some racing tuition and Parkers editor Keith Adams and I resisted the urge to go ICE by going EV when we visited Ferrari and Fiat in Slough.

That speaks volumes about our faith in the i3’s real-world range. On longer trips, the tiny 647cc twin-cylinder engine starts up when the range drops to single digits, quietly buzzing in the background as it recharges the battery. At anything other than creeping urban speeds, it’s imperceptibly quiet - though you’ll occasionally notice a clattery start-up when stationary (the twin engine is pretty thrashy compared with a three- or four-cylinder motor).

Keeper Tim Pollard and his BMW i3 REX

When fully charged on CAR’s workplace Podpoint, the i3 typically manages 110 miles before the range drops to REX mode. That is disappointingly lower than the 195 miles claimed by BMW, but we accept that we do a lot of motorway miles (our offices are just off the A1) and we have been warming the cabin and seats over the chilly winter months.

We expect better range in the summer. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to adapt to life on the electric superhighway.

By Tim Pollard

Month 1 running a BMW i3: the introduction

Has the electric car come of age? You’ll surely have noticed range creep, as the claimed journey distances achievable on a single charge become ever longer. Renault’s Zoe and the pioneering Nissan Leaf have both been given substantial battery boosts in recent months – and now it’s the turn of the trendsetting BMW i3 supermini.

Which is why we’re running the new i3 94Ah model in 2017, to see if the plug-in car has suddenly become a whole lot more viable. We’ve a sneaking suspicion that it has, as battery technology improves, charging networks expand and range anxiety dwindles. That’s the theory, at least…

To be on the safe side, we’ve plumped for the i3 Range Extender – the one with a tiny 647cc two-cylinder petrol engine snuck under the boot floor to act as a mobile generator and keep you going if you can’t hook up to the mains. Isn’t that the best of both worlds? The ability to drive a pure EV day-to-day, but keep the safety net of extra range just when you need it? Living in the rural Midlands as I do, I find BMW’s quoted 276-mile range tremendously reassuring, giving an extra 90 miles over earlier i3s.

We have electric points at the work CAR park, but I don’t (yet) have a plug in the driveway at home. I’ll investigate residential charging in the coming weeks. This degree of logistical fine-tuning reflects the ground-up rethink that driving an electric car requires from all of us.

It’s clear the old order is being disrupted from all sides. You only have to look at the i3 to realise this is a radically modern car. Its short, squat dimensions and tallboy silhouette still look like a futuristic transport pod, despite being a four-year-old design – it’s quite unlike any other small car. Ours wears the £1080 optional, super-skinny 20-inch alloys (below), lending it a cool, desirable chic, even though I do wish we had chosen a brighter paint colour than the optional gunmetal Mineral Grey (another optional extra at £530).

Optional 20-inch allow wheels for our BMW i3

The interior is equally progressive. Ours has the £1000 Loft cabin trim applied, bringing Sensatec artificial leather in Carum Grey and metallic-looking dashboard trims. It’s crisp, distinctive and very modern – especially the exaggerated hippy style of the recycled dash-top materials, flecked by chunks of old newspaper and 8-series of yesteryear. Probably.

Despite its compact dimensions (it’s just 3999mm long), the i3 is roomy in the front for two and visibility is excellent all-round, making it easy to thread along tight city streets. We’ve yet to swing open the suicide rear doors and test the back seats, but it’s useful to know we can transport a family of four without needing a big diesel X5 in convoy to carry the kids.

Will anyone actually use an i3 for family duties? Or will it remain consigned as a city hopabout for well-heeled urbanites? Be sure to drop us a line if you’re running an electric BMW, as we’d love to hear how you’re getting along.

If you own an i3, tweet me here

Chances are, owners will be early adopters unafraid of splashing some cash on a premium product. For the i3 is not cheap. Prices today start at £32,380 after the £4500 government subsidy, which is a heck of a lot for a small car, if not too shocking for a carbonfibre-based electric shock-and-awe machine from BMW.

Of course, many customers will in fact lease their i3, and a main dealer should be able to get you in to a £37k Range Extender like ours for around £306 a month on a Select PCP. This requires a £3999 deposit and a two-year term, with interest charged at 2.9% APR. Suddenly, that nearly £40k list price looks a whole lot more tempting.

Whether you should be tempted or not remains to be seen. I can’t wait to find out if the range is as good as it’s claimed to be. If the ChargeNow network is as readily available and operational when we need to plug in. If the carry-along, range-extending engine can keep us going when we can’t. And how running costs compare with the BMW i8 sports car we’re testing in parallel.

Stay tuned for our regular updates as we find out if the road to iSalvation is a saintly stroll with lashings of feelgood factor or an uphill slog fraught with range anxiety. Let’s hope Electric Avenue’s not a dead end...

Logbook: BMW i3 Range-Extender

  • Engine 125kW electric motor (equivalent to 168bhp, 184lb ft), with 647cc 2cyl petrol range-extender to top up battery
  • Gearbox Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
  • Stats 8.1sec 0-62mph, 93mph, 12g/km CO2
  • Price £31,560
  • As tested £37,009 (prices quoted after Government Plug-in Car Grant)
  • Miles this month 31
  • Total 2413
  • Our MPG TBC
  • Official MPG 471
  • Fuel this month £0
  • Extra costs £0

Click here for more BMW reviews by CAR magazine

The interior of our BMW i3 Range Extender

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

  • Carbonfibre tub is basis for BMW i3 construction
  • Super-skinny Bridgestones: not much grip
  • Our i3 REX: so like a regular BMW, and yet so different
  • Digital editor-in-chief Tim Pollard and his BMW i3 Range-Extender
  • The cabin of our BMW i3: modern, light and airy
  • Super-skinny 20in alloy wheels on our BMW i3 to cleave air better