The i3 has caused quite a stir since its introduction, offering stylish electric-only or range-extender-assisted driving with the cachet of a BMW badge. But what is like living with an electric car day-to-day?
Our car: BMW i3S List price when new: £39,945 Price as tested: £45,810 Official fuel economy: 470.8mpg (EU Combined)
July 10, 2018
The i3S has gone, for the day, it not leaving me properly until sometime September. It’s been with us now since March, it away today as Mrs Fortune fancied a go in it. It’s not unusual for my wife to drive our long-term test cars, indeed, I really value her opinion, as she often flags up things that are an issue for her that haven’t even registered for me.
That it’s taken so long for her to have a drive has simply been down to a couple of things, mostly down to busy schedules, and the fact I wanted to be with her for the first few miles to explain a few things. Not that the i3S is in any way complicated, indeed, it’s simple enough, it’s just a little bit different - the column-mounted automatic gearshift being one example. A Sunday afternoon pub lunch with the kids in tow presented the perfect opportunity, and meant I could have a couple of refreshing cool beers in Britain’s heatwave.
Before setting off I did a couple of things, firstly I ran a hose and sponge over it. Having sat idle on the drive for a few days it looked a bit sorry for itself, and as we were meeting friends at the aforementioned pub I thought it should have a quick scrub. It’s a funny thing the i3S, everyone I see out and about looks immaculately clean, yet the black and red of ‘ours’ seems to pick up muck terribly. A quick rinse under the hot sun is apparently a no, no, among car washing obsessives, but it did the trick.
The second thing I did was to pre-condition the car, having the A/C on its maximum setting while still plugged in to allow for a cool getaway. It works, too, even in the fierce heat at the moment, it easily accomplished by the app on my phone.
As to my wife’s thoughts on it? Well, she’s yet to really say, but she didn’t hesitate taking the keys for it this morning, which can only be a good sign.
July 3, 2018
With a couple of other cars to test this week the i3S hasn’t been as busy as usual, it taking second place to a VW California and a Jaguar I-Pace. The California allowed a weekend away with the kids, it plugging at the campsite in not to charge its batteries, but to provide enough power to recharge ours - keeping some beer cold in our camping fridge in the fierce heat. The Jaguar was a shorter-term interloper, arriving for 24 hours for a quick test before heading back.
The I-Pace really interests me, as it promises more than 200 miles of range. Thing is, like the i3S, that’s limited by the type of driving and the conditions, and 30 degrees means the air-conditioning was on a lot. The result was something somewhat less than the promised range, and that bigger battery takes some charging - even at my decent output wall socket at home.
Two EVs might be the solution then, one shorter range one and another for longer journeys. I’ll admit I loved getting in the conventionally (diesel) powered California, unhindered by range, safe in the knowledge I could fill it quickly and easily whenever and pretty much wherever I liked. With an EV that’s still a novelty.
The Jaguar created a lot of interest, too, though when telling friends and family that around 200 miles is about its limit before it needs a full charge sees them all respond with the same puzzled look - doubly so when I explain that you’ll potentially be sitting waiting for hours for it to charge.
All that reinforced my assertion with the i3S that the range-extender model is the right choice for me. My ‘get out of jail’ means even if I’m down to the last few miles on the battery I can still get around with the little engine providing charge. Not ideal, I admit, but until there are more, and much faster chargers it seems like the way forward, for now at least.
June 18, 2018
I’ve become well-versed on the i3S’s capabilities as a motorway cruiser these past few weeks, as I’ve spent a lot of time getting to and from Heathrow. Oddly, despite the journey taking exactly the same route, and at roughly the same speed, the amount I arrive with in the battery varies tremendously. It’s been as high as 30 miles and as low as a couple, the return journey seeing me sometimes having to use a bit of range extender to get me the last few miles.
The only difference I can really ascertain is the use of the A/C. Use it and the range is punished, though I have found that pre-cooling if it’s plugged in does improve things markedly. I can do so now via the BMW connected App, something I’ve only recently just subscribed to, it giving me some useful details too, like the state of charge, its location, whether it’s locked or not, my consumption and recuperation.
Apparently I score a 3 out of 5 for efficiency, which I’ll take given I’m not prone to being light of foot in the car, my economy being 5.5 mi/kWh. I’ll keep an eye on that and see how it changes depending on my usage.
What all those motorway miles have revealed is the different driving modes recuperation. All have it, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ feeling like you’re braking if you step off the accelerator. Indeed, it slows you so much that the brake lights actually activate. It’s less obvious in Comfort or Sport, oddly, as you’d think you’d want more ‘engine braking’ in Sport mode. I’m surprised there’s not a coasting, or ‘sailing’ mode as is increasingly normal in both conventional and hybrid cars; my old long-term Alhambra happily gliding down hills thanks to gravity, getting a free mile or two on longer trips.
That’s not possible in the i3S, it needing a touch of acceleration to move it, even descending the steepest hill around me, which has a gradient of 14%, the i3S will slow to a stop if you’ve not got your foot on the accelerator. That seems a bit daft to me, as it’s recuperating when doing so, the drag slowing it down the hill, lessening its ability to glide down. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, that bigger brains than mine can comprehend, but to me it just seems like I’m missing out on a free ride…
June 11, 2018
I’ve covered more than 400 miles in the i3S this week, all relatively hassle-free, too. A couple of back-to-back trips to Heathrow Airport, some 90 miles door-to-door, accounted for the majority of that, though both trips did see me having to compromise on my car parking to allow me to charge up while it was parked.
NCP Flightpath has become my car park of choice at Heathrow. Actually, if at all possible it’s my preference anyway, simply because it’s appreciably cheaper than the rest of the Heathrow parking goldmines. It only serves Terminal 2 and 3 which, given that most of my travel is via T5, is a bit inconvenient, but not impossible given the free Heathrow Express transfer.
The first visit saw me stop for a charge en route just in case, the Holiday Inn at High Wycombe becoming a familiar stop, a charge from about 36% to full taking around an hour on the Polar rapid charger. Time for a quick fried breakfast and a read of the paper (The Telegraph, naturally) - electric motoring good for the planet, perhaps, if not my arteries.
As previously, arriving at Flightpath saw the shared disabled/EV space occupied by a blue badge holder. Quite rightfully, though it means that I have to pretty much abandon the i3S and have the cord stretch to reach the three-pin socket. It worked, but I’ve yet to arrive there and actually be able to use that shared space.
I’d be back within 12 hours of leaving, though my second trip to Heathrow had timings not conducive to a rapid charge before I arrived, meaning I’d be relying on that socket being available. Fortunately it was, which allowed a full charge again, though had it not been - the same car still parked in the disabled bay, as it happens - I’d’ve been relying on the range extender and stopping at High Wycombe on the way home.
Thankfully, I didn’t need to, which my arteries are no doubt thanking me for. This brave new electrical world does work, then, but it’s not without some issues.
May 30, 2018
Modern Life is Rubbish, claim’s Blur’s 1993 album cover, and back then I didn’t agree. I’m more inclined to do so today, particularly when it comes to the chorus of electronic bings, bongs and chimes emanating from modern cars. Perhaps it’s my age, increasing impatience or just good old grumpiness, but I do get rather irritated by the incessant noise that cars now produce.
The i3S has its fair share. There are the useful ones - the parking sensors are fine - but the one that chimes at me if I engage a gear before putting my seatbelt on is most irritating. Yes, I know it’s probably bad practice to move the car without my belt on, but it’s more often than not when I’m juggling the i3S around the driveway to get the most suitable spot so as not to create a trip hazard with the charging cable.
To the usual, needless chatter of beeps and chimes this week was one that served to remind me that I needed to fill the washer bottle. The fact it did this after I’d pulled into the road is a bit silly, and more than a little bit distracting.
Anyway, it’s filled now, and I’ve one less irritating sound to deal with in the otherwise wonderfully quiet i3S - if anything the silence of the i3S’s drivetrain only exacerbates the warning chirps, bongs and chimes further.
Usefully, too, having lifted the bonnet to do the washer top-up I think I might have found somewhere else rather than the boot where I can keep the charging cable, as there’s a little bit of space under there.
May 22nd, 2018
The i3S has been relatively quiet of late, being used for the shorter, day-to-day grind rather than those longer trips that highlight its shortcomings.
I have never run a long-term car that’s caused such conversation. Friends and colleagues are all interested to see how I get on with it. “How far can it go?” is the most common question, even among those colleagues who have had electric cars on a week-long loan. Rarely is the charging time a question, more the availability of places at which to do so.
The answer to that first question varies, so it’s not that simple to answer. It varies, the trip computer with a full charge and a full tank of petrol for the range-extender engine suggests about 160-180 miles but, like the anticipated range on a conventional car, you have to drive like a saint to get anything like that.
Realistically, then, and without the get-out-of-jail range-extender, the battery allows a range of about 80-90 miles, particularly if there are motorways or you use the air-conditioning.
And that second one about the charging? Yes, there are places to charge it, but you need to be prepared to do a fair bit of forward planning to be sure you can top up the battery. It, obviously, depends on where you are, too, a recent drive up in the very north of Scotland in my own, petrol-engined, car had me wondering if there were any places where I could plug in had I been in the i3S.
No, is the short answer, or at least anywhere obvious. I’d say that 95 per cent of the electricity flowing into the BMW’s battery comes from my own wall charger at home.
That’s the limitation of batteries, not the car itself, something the engineers of Mercedes-Benz’s prototype EQC, its first big volume electric production car due in 2019, discussed with me recently. They’re talking about a realistic range of 200 miles, which I genuinely see as a tipping point for acceptability - and they add that there’ll be the infrastructure to support it.
If that’s the case then bring it on, as charging difficulties aside, I genuinely enjoy driving the i3S. It is guilt-free on those short-hop trips to the shops or school, and quick, comfortable enough on longer journeys within the limitations of its range. It’s even done boring old things like nip to the DIY store and pick up loft boards, the seats folding flat easily, the i3S usefully practical as a daily runaround.
It is just a shame that it’s still somewhat stymied by the difficulties/time to charge it – with about 100 miles more range it’d be pretty much perfect.
May 1st, 2018
After my challenging 240-mile round trip to London last week, I’ve actually managed to enjoy a motorway journey in the i3S at normal speeds. With the heating on, too.
In truth, the heating was on for short bursts only, as any attempts to warm the interior seriously punishes the potential range. Warming the cabin to a toasty 24 degrees or more chops about 10 miles of range, fine when you’re pottering about but not when you’re going the distance.
Flicking between EcoPro and Comfort modes has become the norm when driving on longer journeys (choosing the speed of Sport locally), in a bid to maximise how far I can stretch the battery. Sometimes I enjoy the challenge, on other occasions I feel strangled by the limitations of the battery’s range.
On almost every journey I’ve undertaken I’ve always had - just about - enough charge to make my destination. The problem, it seems, is getting a top up when reaching it.
Sunday night was a case in point. While I realise I’m probably unusual in requiring lengthy runs from Warwickshire to Heathrow airport every few weeks, it is within the i3S’s range. What it does highlight is the issues regarding charging, as I’ve found car parks at the airport somewhat lacking in providing opportunities to plug in.
This week, thanks to a super-early start I’d be staying at the Sofitel at Terminal 5. A quick check of its website didn’t reveal anywhere to plug-in, leaving me with the possibility of having to abandon the i3S without the opportunity of a charge while I was away.
In anticipation of this I decided to arrive prepared, pulling off the M40 at High Wycombe Holiday Inn for a rapid charge. It did mean sitting in the hotel bar nursing a coffee for an hour while the battery was topped up. I can’t fault the speed of the rapid charger, or the ease, but I’m lucky I spotted the need to input the BMW’s number plate into the computer system at the hotel reception to avoid another kind of charge altogether; with the car park privately owned, had I not done so I could have been liable for a £100 fine.
Fully charged, an hour added to my journey, I was at least satisfied that I could get home after my trip even if I wasn't able to plug-in at the airport, although I ended up looking for somewhere to park that was within a cable-stretch of a three-pin plug - figuring I might as well ‘brim’ the battery to ease my journey home.
I did find one, not a dedicated plug-in spot for cars, but simply a socket for staff to use. A slow charge, then, but having only used 13 miles or so since the rapid charge at High Wycombe it’d be enough to give the battery maximum range in the time I was sleeping – unsure what the etiquette is regarding plugging in your car at random sockets.
Still, I was safe in the knowledge that I could get home without having to stop. I might even put the heating on the way back… although it’d be nice not to need it. Any chance Spring?
April 24th, 2018
I took one big trip in the i3S this past week, besides the usual brisk running about doing short-drops on school runs, swimming clubs and the likes. I thought I’d see just how far I could stretch the i3S, planning a trip into London, ExCel specifically, to pick up my running number for the London Marathon.
An hour or so of research beforehand had me scratching my head as to what chargers I could and could not use, so I decided to wing it, safe in the knowledge that I’d found one certainty roughly near my final destination.
I say roughly, as the plug-in point at East Ham Fire Station meant a 2.8-mile stroll to ExCel, though I figured that as it was a lovely day, and as I was in no real rush I’d walk there and back to allow as much electricity to charge up the battery as I strolled. That changed, as the journey itself took the best part of 4 hours, the 127 miles possible with battery and range-extender, with a bit of planning. EcoPro+ mode was selected, limiting my top speed to 56mph and leaving me with no A/C. Not great on such a hot day.
Heading down the M1, I figured I’d check out the possibility of a quick top up - the electrical equivalent of a splash and dash. The first services had a pair of Ecotricity chargers. Great, I thought, but after about 10 minutes of App downloading and account creating revealed neither was of any use. The next one had three, one of which I could use, but on a slow(ish) charge afforded me just 10-12 miles or so of charge in the 40 minutes I took to grab something to eat.
Increasingly mindful (read worried) that I may be stuck without any charge, I decided that with 50 miles of battery remaining - and about 40 miles of my journey to London still to complete - that I’d hold what charge I had by using the petrol range-extender. Easy enough and, usefully, my snail pace along the inside lane with the lorries meant I actually gained a mile or two of battery power.
I found my Fire Station plug-in, did exactly that and headed off on foot to ExCel. I say foot, but it took me so long to get to London at 56mph on the motorway that I took public transport to get to ExCel. On returning to the i3S I’d gained about 30 miles of charge which, combined with the range extender, would be enough to get me home. Just.
As per the journey there I took it easy, braved no A/C on London’s hottest day yet, constantly juggling settings to maximise my mileage. I did stop at services on the M40 to see about getting a little charge, again to be confronted by ‘incompatible’ Ecotricity chargers - which appear to have some sort of motorway monopoly. I reverted then to the good-old technique of filling up, putting £10 of petrol in to brim the range extender’s tank to ensure I got home easily. It’s just as well petrol isn’t restricted by brands or nozzles (read plugs) like electricity appears to be.
To say it was a bit of an ordeal is an understatement; I would have shaved at least a couple of hours off the day had I been in a regular petrol or diesel car, though I’m told by those more au fait with electric mobility that there are rapid chargers if you know here to look.
The thing is, they’re not in obvious places like motorway service stations, or even petrol stations, parking areas in towns - at least not ones I could use weren’t. Which is a really rather frustrating and confusing, there really seems to be a bit of a lack of joined-up thinking out there, requiring a lot of planning and knowledge in advance.
I’ll persevere, though I’m hoping the difficulty in picking up my marathon number itself might be a precursor to an easy(ish) jog around the capital city on Sunday*. Fingers crossed…
(* If you’re wondering why you’re reading this after the London Marathon, Kyle filed his report early - in anticipation of taking a much-needed day off on Monday.)
April 17th, 2018
I’ve a confession. I burned some petrol. Quite a lot actually, though not in the i3S but Mercedes-AMG’s ancient G63. Fun as a V8 is, the 15mpg I got out of it was a sharp reminder of how saintly the i3S is in comparison. For all the V8’s burble and drama I rather missed the i3S’s quiet, but shocking, performance.
A longer run to Gatwick airport resulted in my blotted environmental credentials, as I took the fossil-fuelled AMG, leaving the future parked outside. I’m sure my family, not to mention the planet, would have preferred me taking the i3S as it would silently drive away at 4am; the raucous V8 of that G-Class certain to have woken a few people at such an ungodly hour.
That trip really highlighted the i3S’ biggest shortcoming, which is range. Yes, I could have made it to Gatwick, the 138 miles possible on battery with a bit of range-extender intervention, but the fear of not getting one of the four parking places that served the North Terminal saw me chicken out and take that AMG.
Actually, it’s not really the i3S’s fault, more infrastructure and my reluctance (given the early start and late return home) to stop for an hour or so to and from the airport to get a top-up charge at the motorway services.
Thus far, then, my i3S experience has been exclusively on battery power. That changed briefly on Sunday, when the range extender had to automatically cut in as part of its ‘maintenance’. It does so after a prolonged period of not being used. It was odd having the little petrol engine thrumming away in the back, upsetting the usual quiet of the i3S’s drive.
I’ll be pushing the i3S’s limits and, likely, using that range extender this week, as I plan a trip into London to pick up my race number for the London Marathon. My range anxiety is going to take an altogether different turn, then, from that of the circa 170 miles combined the i3S offers, to me covering 26.2 miles on foot…
April 13th, 2018
It struck me over the weekend when we all got in my wife’s car that all my motoring this past week has been purely electric. No use of fossil fuel at all - except perhaps up the supply chain for the power to charge it - my plug-in experiment going fairly well.
It does, admittedly, require something of a change of mindset, particularly if, like me, you’re the sort of person who gets agitated when the fuel gauge in a conventional car is under the half way mark, or the charge on your phone is similarly depleted.
With the i3 I’ve yet to run out of charge; I’ve got as close as 10 miles remaining on battery power, and I felt entirely comfortable with it. I put it down to the fact that I’ve got a generator on board in the shape of the range-extending petrol engine.
It’ll be genuinely interesting to see how often I need to resort to combustion power to top up the batteries when out and about; certainly longer journeys need a bit of planning to find places to plug in. Indeed, the reason that we were in my wife’s car at the weekend was because we were off to Legoland, and despite thousands of parking places there a bit of digging online beforehand only revealed one place to plug in.
That’s quite a gamble to take given I’d be arriving almost fully depleted of battery power. That made me wonder how people manage with an EV as a sole vehicle, as while I’m prepared to put up with a bit of hassle personally, having a four- and a six-year-old along does inevitably change things.
On shorter trips it’s been perfect, I love the way it drives, the acceleration is hilarious, not least because its silent, the way it picks up speed when you push your foot to the floor quite addictive.
Even so, the arrival of a test car may see the i3 S parked for a couple of days, as because as much as we’ve all grown to love the plug-in BMW, my six-year-old boy can’t resist a big, ancient SUV with a V8 and side exhaust pipes. The future might be electric, then, but it seems the little people might still need a bit of persuasion…
April 3rd, 2018
Two weeks into the i3S’s tenure and I now have now the exact specification. I’d guessed at about £5,000 of options added to the £39,395 list price, and was only £85 out. That brings the total price to about £10,000 more than something like Volkswagen’s e-Golf, though if I’d chosen a regular i3 (rather than the S), and been brave enough to do without the range extender, that gap would drop significantly.
Those options include the Melbourne Red paintwork (£550) which seems to be BMW’s preferred colour for the S. Inside it’s got the Suite trim, with dark oak matt, that adding a not insignificant £2,000 to the price. The i3S ‘Plus’ package brings sun protection glass, jet black wheels, Harman Kardon hi-fi and online entertainment for £1,100, all of which I could arguably do without; the £360 reversing camera and £170 Park Distance Control would be must-tick options, if they hadn't been already.
There is also eDrive exterior sound, an £85 addition that emits a sound outside to warn pedestrians of its presence. Unsurprisingly I’ve never heard it, but presume it’s working - I’ll have Mrs Fortune drive past sometime and listen out for it. There’s Apple CarPlay preparation for £235, and enhanced Bluetooth with USB and voice control for a further £350.
Another £790 is down to the addition of Driving Assistant Plus. It brings Active Crusie Control with Stop&Go function, Steering and lane control assist, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist with active side collision protection, Approach control warning and Person warning with city braking and cross traffic front warning. I’ll admit to being massively sceptical about such systems, often creating more distraction than assistance, so it’ll be interesting to see whether this suite of ‘driver aids’ works well enough to win me over…
Pressed immediately into service outside what could be its comfort zone, the i3S took me to Heathrow airport last week. With the satnav suggesting 91 miles, and the cool map showing it would be possible on battery power only, I set off. Slowly, my cruise down the M40 mindful of battery consumption, sitting at around 60-65mph in the inside lane rather than at the greater speeds I’d usually travel at.
Flicking between the modes makes an appreciable difference to the potential range, EcoPro mode working best, as EcoPro+ is speed limited. Using the heating and ventilation impacts heavily on the range, so my jacket was kept on, the heated seats used in an attempt to keep me toasty, though, obviously, not keeping my feet warm. Thicker socks on my next early morning airport run, then, or, just the hope that summer eventually arrives.
It turns out Heathrow was no trouble at all to get to, arriving with 10 miles electric range remaining, though what was problematic was finding somewhere to charge for the return journey.
You’d think such a major UK transportation hub would have plenty of EV points, but sadly that’s not the case. I did a lot of research beforehand and did find one car park offering the ability to plug-in, though it served Terminal 2/3, rather than Terminal 5 that I was flying from - necessitating a bus and train transfer.
Those two EV spaces at NCP Flightpath that did exist were also shared with disabled badgeholders, and on arrival both were taken. I managed to plug in regardless, somewhat abandoning the car around the back, with it charging via a slow three-pin socket accessed by my Chargemaster card.
Apparently it’s bad etiquette for EV drivers to leave cars taking a space when they’ve charged, but I had no alternative. Speaking to the staff at the car park they didn’t see any problem either, saying one Tesla driver often leaves their car parked plugged in for weeks at a time. I’m glad they weren’t there when I was, then, though I guess that’s the gamble.
Arriving back at Heathrow after two nights away to a fully, free, charged i3S was very pleasing, the run home being more brisk, sitting for the most part at 70mph up the M40, and with the heater on more of the time. I still managed to get home with around 10 miles battery range remaining. All that means the i3S has already passed its most significant distance test in the first week of my ‘ownership’, which is something of a relief.
March 27th, 2018
I must admit that I’m more than a little bit giddy with excitement about running an i3S. Ever since the i3 was introduced I’ve used any excuse I could to borrow one, and with the new S model being added to the line-up it gave me an excuse to ask for one on a longer-term basis.
The i3 is BMW’s take on our electrified future, the more earnest i3 sitting alongside the glamorous i8 sports car and pushing electric mobility under the BMW “i” brand. I say earnest, but, the i3 is cool, in how it’s built, looks and drives. BMW really has gone for an all-new design with its i models, rather than taking regular production cars and fitting electric motors and batteries underneath their more conventional bodies.
The i3 is distinct, then, a clear visual statement of electric intent, the bold styling making the most of its electric vehicle packaging - which places batteries under the floor, has an electric motor driving the rear wheels and, as mine is a range-extender, a 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine that works as a generator to charge the battery pack and add to the potential range.
I’ll try and avoid using that, but with the NEDC maximum battery-only range being 137 miles, and my job often taking me further than that, I like the peace of mind it provides. BMW says that about 60 per cent of i3 buyers opt for this range-extender version (abbreviated to REX) for much the same reason.
It will be particularly suited to my daily schedule, which is largely urban driving, short hops with the kids to school and back. Indeed, it is on precisely these journeys that electric cars make the most sense.
The longer trips I’ll be using it for means airport runs of about 90 miles from my home. It’s then I’ll be testing the motorway services charging network - and occasionally relying on the extra distance that REX petrol engine brings.
The "as tested" price above is currently not available, as I’ve no idea what additional equipment has been added. Extrapolating from the BMW’s configurator, it has about £4,000 of options added to its £40,125 price. I’ll list those properly when I get the exact details of its specification in the next few days.
What I can tell you is that being the S it’s the more sporting, driver-focussed i3. Allowing that is a small hike in power to 181bhp, sitting on suspension that’s both 10mm lower, with wider tyres riding on 20-inch alloy wheels and Dynamic Stability Control that’s been re-calibrated to suit all of that.
A more engaging, brisker i3, then, with a corresponding dent in the potential range, but that’s a compromise I’m prepared to live with. The 0-62mph time is a rapid 7.7 seconds, its pace up to 30mph enough to make my old long-term 911 feel tardy, thanks to the instant torque.
Not that I’ll be driving it like I did the Porsche, at least not until I’m fully tuned in to how far it’ll travel depending on how it’s driven. It’s going to be interesting finding out, sometimes challenging, but then that’s kind of the point.
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