Test Drove the BMW i3 today...3 times
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Thread: Test Drove the BMW i3 today...3 times

  1. #1
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    Default Test Drove the BMW i3 today...3 times

    So, as I've posted in this sub-forum, BMW has been carting a number of i3s around to their dealerships and doing test drive "events". The events for the Dallas/Ft. Worth area dealers were all this week. I signed both my wife and myself up for the event at Autobahn BMW about a month ago and the event took place this morning. And now for one of my classic novella length reviews:

    The event itself and road course
    They had 4 or 5 of them on hand. They were all "European" spec cars (i.e. some had sunroofs, interior trim options did not match exterior wheel options, etc.). None had the range extender engine of course (if you've followed any of the i3 events, you understand that's just the way it is for now). I purposely chose Autobahn BMW in Ft. Worth because they have really bad roads around that dealership (we bought our SUV next door at Autobahn Volvo) - this would allow me to gauge the ride quality of the car which some reviewers have noted as being a bit harsh. The course consisted of a 2.1 mile loop with nothing but right turns (did have three roundabouts in there). They gave us a 30 second introduction to the car, we hopped in and drove off on our own...no chaperon (which is always nice). No pressure. I drove first, then my wife took a turn and after climbing in, and around the one on display, I asked if I could have another drive - no problem. - There were two of us in the car for each test drive, and of course NO FREEWAY driving.

    My History (I'll just cut-and-paste most of this from my Tesla review)
    I am a self-labeled "car guy" and my last two cars (prior to acquiring my Volt in July 2012 - now with 21K miles on it) were an '02 BMW M5 and an '05 Pontiac GTO. I've had a couple other 3 and 5 series BMWs along the way and various muscle cars. We also own a '12 Volvo XC60 R-Design (325HP, 354 ft lbs of torque) and a neglected 67 Firebird with a 455 is sitting in my garage. Oh, and I still have a 97 M3, but my son drives it. In short, I like sporty cars and am fond of European sport sedans. The Volt has been (and continues to be ) a great car, BUT I do miss the power, solid feel, and handling of some of my previous rides. I am willing to PAY MORE for a car that is more "engaging/powerful/fun/etc"...how much more is dependent upon the car, my budget, and general value.

    Enough with the chit-chat....the car:

    Acceleration
    The i3's acceleration is pretty nice. It is torquier than the Volt (not in lbs ft numbers, but in acceleration result), by a decent amount and is a bit of a hoot to drive as a result. This is one of the things I was most interested in validating. Like the Volt, there is some softness on the first application of the throttle pedal, but it doesn't appear to be as extreme. There are three modes on the i3: Comfort, Eco, and ECO+. Comfort is like "Sport" mode on the Volt only more so. Unlike the Volt, Eco and Eco+ did not neuter the throttle response as much as "Normal" mode does in the Volt (which was a surprise). 0-60 time for the Volt is about 9.0 seconds whereas the i3 is around 7-7.2 - that's a pretty big delta, especially since EVs already feel faster than their ICE counterparts even when the "numbers" match. As I would almost assuredly have to get the range extender model, I would definitely want to test drive that version since it adds several hundred pounds of weight and 0-60 will be closet to 7.9 seconds. In many ways, it does feel like it splits the difference between the Volt in Sport mode and the awesome Model S in terms of acceleration (at least for the EV only i3) which is nice. (note: the Model S is still in a class by itself).

    The drive/ride/handling
    I posted a question on the BMW i3 forum asking the owners (all in Europe as of now of course) if their i3s inspired them to drive it like a classic "hot hatch" (i.e. GTI, Focus SVT/ST, etc.). I wanted to find out that answer for myself (as best as I could with two short test drives). The ride is definitely firmer in the i3 than in the Volt - by a healthy margin. BMW does a good job here with IMPACT harshness though so it isn't horribly jarring. You do, however, get jostled around considerably more and in a particularly bumpy section I fell into the "OK, this would get pretty old if I had to drive on a road like this in this particular car on a regular basis" mode. Beyond a suspension tuned more for more sport than the Volt, the car's wheelbase is 4.5" shorter (Volt: 105.7" vs. i3: 101.2") - that's quite a bit. Read the GTI forums and you'll see this can be a challenge for owners sometimes (the mark 6 GTI is similar - and as an aside, the mark 7 GTI's wheelbase will be about 4" longer). The i3's suspension does feel more "sophisticated" than the Volt's - with a bit more of that "solid" feel you get in the European sedans. This isn't just hype. I used to think all the raving about BMW handling in the car mags was BS, until I bought a 97 328i sport years ago and was sort of like "Oh...this is what they are talking about"). If I could change something here, I would add BMW's adaptive suspension as an option with the usual comfort/normal/sport settings to try and get the best of both worlds. I will say this as a warning. I was already hearing rattles in ALL THREE of the i3s we drove over these bumpy roads over the sharpest bumps. I immediately drove my Volt over the same course afterwards...almost no rattles in comparison. There is no free lunch folks.

    As to the handling and fun-to-drive aspects, it was definitely better than the Volt in terms of general tossability. You can just immediately feel that this car weighs 1000 lbs less than the Volt (OK, maybe you can't tell the exact number, but you know it is a lot less). I did a few quick left/right maneuvers (as best I could on this short drive), and even used a roundabout as my personal skidpad at one point (no traffic on the roads behind the dealership) and it felt nice and light. The tires are the weak link. Normal and even normal sporty driving are fine, but push a long sweeper or transition a bit too sharp and you hit their limits, and then you feel the roll, etc. The car is NOT suspended for full on go-karting either so, despite the firm ride, understand this is not a sports car, etc.
    Finally, we drove cars with the 19" rims and the optional 20" rims. On these particularly bumpy roads, I noticed ZERO handling benefit with the larger rims, but did notice a drop in ride quality. So it comes down to "looks" - and a conundrum there (see my exterior section).

    The Interior Tech and Controls
    Really, this is almost no different that what you'll see in most new BMWs and EVs these days. No special points for a "phone app" since most of them have all that stuff now too for preconditioning, unlocking doors, downloading navigation locations, etc. I think the BMW may have active cruise control, etc. and I understand the nav can tie into your driving (to a degree) and understand when you need to look for charge stations, etc. All i3s come with navigation as standard, but there is the regular nav and professional. The screen size on the latter is considerably larger (well, actually they have the same physical dimensions but on the "free" one, half the screen is covered on either side with plastic). Anyway, the i3s we test drove all had the larger professional navigation/idrive - very nice screen and bigger than the Volt. Very well done. I don't think it is a touch screen as the idrive setups use the console mounted idrive controller (note: it does have a touch pad, but few practical uses for it I would guess). There are a decent amount of physical knobs and buttons so you don't need to dink around in idrive to do the basics (hooray for knobs and buttons).

    The Interior(s)
    The i3 has three different interiors - that's it. They are tied to what BMW calls "worlds" (aka trim levels). The three trims are mega, giga, and terra. (cheapest to most expensive). The cars we drove had the giga and terra trims. Giga is a mix of leather and cloth (sort of mustard colored leather and grey cloth), and Terra is a dark brown leather. Surprisingly, both looked OK. Normally, I would balk at the Giga interior, but it is sort of a "context" thing. In the context of a funky looking i3, the Giga interior just seems, well, normal. The terra interior definitely felt the most upscale, and the leather appeared to be of the Dakota-durable style (as opposed to Nappa). I could live with either one. The seats themselves were firm, and while generally comfortable I might have liked a touch more padding...of course, I am doing a good job adding my own personal padding these days, so this may not be an issue soon.

    The exterior
    OK, the i3 is NOT a particularly attractive car. I'm not going to budge on this or dismiss it as simply "new" or "unconventional". I might even go so far as to say some things are contrived. HOWEVER, I've mostly gotten over it. I could live with its funky looks because I also like cars that have some element of "unusual" or "out of the norm", or "what the heck is that?". Call it vanity, or whatever...it is what it is.

    Now, the coach (aka suicide) doors are just stupid and short-sighted. This car is really a coupe with awesome rear seat access. If you have little kids, do yourself a favor and don't buy a coupe (been there, done that), especially if you want them to OPEN THEIR OWN DOORS at some point w/o you having to get out of the car. Now, for me and my wife, well, that isn't an issue. Our kids are grown, and we only occasionally have a rear seat passenger. In one respect, this is a slightly better model as I put my laptop case in the back seat area when I drive to work and the i3 would allow me to do that slightly more efficiently than the Volt...a pretty specific use-case though. Anyway, you can decide if the i3 doors are an issue for you. They are not a "problem" for me so their shortcomings are mostly irrelevant.

    I do hate, hate, hate, the location of the dang charge door. I have already confirmed my existing Blink Unit's cable will NOT reach back to that spot! I mean c'mon BMW, have you actually looked at, um, virtually every other EV? Front is best, front quarters are second best, and anything at the back (on either side - that include you Tesla guys too) is a distant third. Sadly, I think the rEx actually has the gas cap location in the front right fender? If they want to accommodate Europeans and Americans differently, then just change the architecture to support both locations.

    Now to the wheel conundrum. As noted, you get to choose from three trim levels. Each trim level includes a different interior and different wheel rims. On ANY trim level you can pony-up for the $1300 20" rims, which look good, but do have a ride penalty. Unfortunately, the wheels on the base mega trim are hideous. Giga level rims are "tolerable" (barely), but the Terra rims would be my preference...which means you'll be getting the darker leather interior (which I am OK with, but the price starts getting up there quick on an i3). Any way you look at it...decent rims will cost you.

    Yeah, Yeah...would you buy one?
    I've read a lot about the i3 and I had a feeling I would come out of this test drive on-the-fence, and that is exactly where I am at. The i3 is the "cool" (if perhaps unattractive) new kid on the block with a carbon fiber body, and its light weight makes it "fun" to drive. Conversely, the Volt feels a bit more "grown up". It errs to the side of luxury in terms of its ride and general feeling. The i3 is more on the sport side of the equation. Honestly, tossing my car into sport mode and driving the same course as aggressively as I had driven the i3 reveals the benefits of BOTH cars as compared to the other. i3 = more fun. Volt = more luxury. Now, by "luxury" I am talking about the plusher ride and, I think, greater isolation in the Volt (not things like grades of leather). I swear I even heard more wind noise in the i3. The problem for me is I value BOTH sides of the equation (that's one of the reasons I wish the i3 had the adaptive suspension). At an identical price point, I would buy the i3 over the Volt. I would even pay MORE for the i3 because of my desire for something more sporty or at least more powerful. However, I am having a hard time coming to grips with the i3's price premium. It is uber easy to get an i3 into the low $50s....Terra trim, Nav and heated seats...whoops you are at $52K for an i3 with the range extender. Ouch. Part of the "problem" here is that the Volt is REALLY GOOD in so many areas, and is actually "undervalued" (despite the sales numbers).
    My Volt lease is up in 15 months by which time we'll have the official performance stats from the big car mags on the i3 and i3 w/ rEx, and some more real-world info from U.S. owners as to range, reliability, etc. In addition, Volt 2.0 will be out at almost that exact same time. Dang first world problems...

    And if you just want to punish yourself, my reviews of the ELR and Model S here on GM-Volt.com:

    http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread....oday...(short)

    http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread....-Tesla-Model-S
    2012 Blue Topaz Volt - Loaded
    2012 Volvo XC60 T6 R-Design
    1997 BMW M3
    2002 BMW M5 (Sold to buy Volt!)

  2. #2
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    Awesome write up. Thanks for all the detail. Alas it hasn't changed my mind on the car. Too ugly, too expensive, too restricting (have to fill the gas tank every hour on a long trip), thus not for me.
    LLninja

    2013 White Diamond TriCoat (personal flying debris electromagnet)
    2014 Subaru Crosstrek (in Boston away at college)
    2004 CTS w/ rare 5 speed manual (my ride - wife stole the volt)
    2000 Jetta VR6 (son's - replacing alternator)
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    Way too many cars in my driveway...

  3. #3
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    Thanks for the review. As a volt owner who will likely get an i3 next, I had a couple of (superficial) questions:

    1) subjectively, how much did the dark leather reduce the "open" and "airy" character of the cabin (vis-a-vis the giga trim)? I say open and airy only because i've heard reviews describe it as such.

    2) i've read the 20" rims have black painted fins around each spoke, presumably for aero purposes. How goofy did this look in person?

    Finally do you happen to know what percentage of the battery the i3 uses?

    thnx

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    Quote Originally Posted by kj7 View Post
    Thanks for the review. As a volt owner who will likely get an i3 next, I had a couple of (superficial) questions:

    1) subjectively, how much did the dark leather reduce the "open" and "airy" character of the cabin (vis-a-vis the giga trim)? I say open and airy only because i've heard reviews describe it as such.

    2) i've read the 20" rims have black painted fins around each spoke, presumably for aero purposes. How goofy did this look in person?

    Finally do you happen to know what percentage of the battery the i3 uses?

    thnx
    With regard to the dark leather, you have to remember a couple of things. First, the base interior has light colored carpet, but the "wood" dash piece is black. So the "dash" is actually darker on the base interior with the light seats, and I recommend black floor mats on the light carpet (Whatcar? in Europe is doing a long term test on an i3 rEx and their carpet already looks dingy). On the middle and top trims,the dash gets the wood. Regardless, the Terra trim does darken things up a bit, but not as much as you would imagine compared to the other trims since the cabin itself is airy. The dash and doors are the more noticeable difference since they are dark instead of light. I don't think the Terra dark leather "ruins" the i3 effect.

    Regarding those rims, they did look a bit goofy. If they had gone with a true M-sport style w/o the black aero they definitely would have been more compelling. Honestly though, the average person might not even notice. Still, I actually pointed out exactly what you are describing to my wife (and then compared it to other M-sport cars on the lot) - this makes the upgrade less compelling to me too. If those wheels were half-price I would probably still consider the upgrade...at $1300...ouch.

    Sorry, not sure about what the % of battery used is for the i3 (I'm going to assume around 80-90%). BMW's use of carbon fiber does seem to have been at least somewhat wasted here. For all the weight they saved, they could have given at least some of it back by installing a bit larger battery while still being light enough for fun driving.
    Last edited by cab; 04-19-2014 at 05:24 PM. Reason: battery %
    2012 Blue Topaz Volt - Loaded
    2012 Volvo XC60 T6 R-Design
    1997 BMW M3
    2002 BMW M5 (Sold to buy Volt!)

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    cab - thank you for your awesome review. FYI, I would put a short disclaimer to "copyright" your review just in case click-whoring i3 bloggers steal your review without your permission.

    Your driving impression summary is more thorough than what I thought in my two separate drives, first in the rain (and through puddles) with i-genius nanny, and second drive on a sunny day without chaperon which also included couple of turns at a roundabout.

    One observation, I thought the skinny tires actually helped plowing the i3 through puddles, and it cornered much better than I expected in wet condition. Did BMW people at your drive event try to explain (?) contact patch on these skinny remaining pretty much unchanged compared to normal tires because they are no "longer"?

    I agree 100% with your observation on pi$$ poor location of the charge port. The rear right has to be THE WORST possible location. That charger port guarantees one to park rear-end first at SAE DC Combo EVSEs.

    And I'm convinced Tesla Model S drivers who park nose first are guilty of premature wear on J-plugs of public ChargePoint EVSEs. Model S is significantly longer than other rear chargeport EVs (Toyota RAV4 EV, PiP, smart ED, Fiat 500e, etc.), and when a Model S driver has to stretch out the heavy cable and use their J1772 plug adapter, too much weight is put on the plug, leading to stress on contacts and leading to failures. And the combination of J1772 plug and adapter becomes a bumping hazard to the adjacent car and people. Sorry about my rant.
    Last edited by Edju; 04-19-2014 at 07:16 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cab View Post
    With regard to the dark leather, you have to remember a couple of things. First, the base interior has light colored carpet, but the "wood" dash piece is black. So the "dash" is actually darker on the base interior with the light seats, and I recommend black floor mats on the light carpet (Whatcar? in Europe is doing a long term test on an i3 rEx and their carpet already looks dingy). On the middle and top trims,the dash gets the wood. Regardless, the Terra trim does darken things up a bit, but not as much as you would imagine compared to the other trims since the cabin itself is airy. The dash and doors are the more noticeable difference since they are dark instead of light. I don't think the Terra dark leather "ruins" the i3 effect.

    Regarding those rims, they did look a bit goofy. If they had gone with a true M-sport style w/o the black aero they definitely would have been more compelling. Honestly though, the average person might not even notice. Still, I actually pointed out exactly what you are describing to my wife (and then compared it to other M-sport cars on the lot) - this makes the upgrade less compelling to me too. If those wheels were half-price I would probably still consider the upgrade...at $1300...ouch.

    Sorry, not sure about what the % of battery used is for the i3 (I'm going to assume around 80-90%). BMW's use of carbon fiber does seem to have been at least somewhat wasted here. For all the weight they saved, they could have given at least some of it back by installing a bit larger battery while still being light enough for fun driving.
    Thanks very much for the thoughtful response.

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    Great review. Thanks for taking the time to post. Very informative.

    In a thread this week several posters voiced the opinion that if BMW had come out with the Volt in 2010 and GM was coming out with the i3 now, GM would be crucified for being several days and dollars short. The i3 may cost more than the Volt but it's hardly competitive. The ReX is just a hacked crutch that gives you a limp home mode if you run out of range. Plus the car is just plain ugly, most closely resembling the Pontiac Aztek, which admittedly I don't think was the total loser most people think it was. Still, not a comparison you want to make.

    The i3 is really in the class of the Spark EV and the Fiat 500e. It may be better than those cars, though probably not any more fun to drive, and certainly not much faster than the Spark. So it competes well on features. However, it costs so much more the value proposition is a joke. This is especially since you can lease an ELR for the same money as you can lease an i3, and the i3 is not remotely competitive than the ELR.

    I'm glad when people buy an EV. Any EV. But the i3 just seems like a very lame entry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kj7 View Post
    Thanks for the review. As a volt owner who will likely get an i3 next, I had a couple of (superficial) questions:

    1) subjectively, how much did the dark leather reduce the "open" and "airy" character of the cabin (vis-a-vis the giga trim)? I say open and airy only because i've heard reviews describe it as such.

    2) i've read the 20" rims have black painted fins around each spoke, presumably for aero purposes. How goofy did this look in person?

    Finally do you happen to know what percentage of the battery the i3 uses?

    thnx
    I'm pretty sure the I3 uses 94% of the battery as the engine comes on with 6% battery buffer remaining, at least in the Rex version in the states...

    MrEnergyCzar
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    Thanks for the review. I'm doing the test drive event next Friday. I can't wait. Double the Volt range with REx backup works for me.


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    2012 Blue Topaz Volt - VIN:#C-8909 - Leather Seats Black with Dark Trim, Rear Camera 9/15/11 Ordered, 11/18/11 Arrived Volt Stats

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    Great review. I took a test drive today, too. In my less sophisticated opinion, I came away with a better opinion of my Volt.

    It is not a great looking car. I dislike its looks less than I used to. Quirky can be OK, though. It reminds me of a pug.

    The interior feel and layout felt rather average to me. Probably takes some getting used to. I applaud the use of more sustainable materials, but much of the material on the dash reminded me of fiberglass. The power button and shifter on the stalk are probably a better solution than on the Volt.

    The rear leg room felt hardly better than the Volt's. I didn't like the suicide door layout.

    The ride was very harsh. I felt every bump in the the road. I am not used to that and I am not sure I liked it.

    The motor whine was rather loud and annoying.

    Acceleration is very quick. I liked the strong regeneration.

    7.2 kW charging is great. The DC fast charging is great, but I doubt we will see any of the combo chargers here in DFW for a while. I agree that the charging port is in just about the worst place.


    If I were in the market today for a short range BEV, here in Texas the options are the i3 and the Leaf. I think I would take the i3, although it looks to be about a $20k premium. I could probably live with the i3 with the REx. It would cover my commute. In-laws are 75 miles away so I would be limping home on the REx. Trip to Dallas and back is 90+ miles, so I would probably have to count on charging a little there. The trips I've taken to Lubbock would be out of the question, though.

    So the advantages over the Volt would be the longer electric range, quicker acceleration, strong regeneration, and quicker charging, but there are some substantial disadvantages. It kind of made me appreciate my Volt a little more.

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