BMW i3 Test Drive Review And Used Buying Guide

Should you go with the standard i3 or the REx? Which model year?

A certified-pre-owned 2018 BMW i3 is a half-price bargain that provides excellent driving dynamics, quick acceleration, and, most importantly, around a three-year bumper-to-bumper warranty.

After the redesign in 2018, the BMW i3 REx arrived with a starting price of $49,300, but today, the used prices are lower, considerably lower. This review model, provided by Hendrick BMW Charlotte, is a 2018 i3 REx with the “Giga World” interior and the optional sunroof. Since it is the range-extender model, expect to pay a little bit more, specifically in the region of the low to mid $20s. Without the range-extender, prices can go as low as $20,000. Since the price difference is roughly several thousand dollars, it is essential to understand the differences.

Editor’s Note: Andrew Lambrecht is a high school senior who runs an electric cars news website (thecurrentreview.com). He has always been very interested in electric cars, and since he will be applying to colleges soon, electrical and environmental engineering are on his mind. Congrats to Andrew for the nice website and hard work.

Gallery: BMW i3


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Which one should I go for?

The answer is quite simple: will I ever need to drive my car on a long trip? If the answer is “yes,” then a REx will accommodate this need better; if not, then you may as well save some money and go for one without a range-extender.

The EPA rates the REx model at 97 miles on electricity alone and the BEV variant at 114 miles. The lower electric range on the REx model is procured from the added weight of the 2-cylinder gasoline generator. However, this generator can propel the vehicle an additional eighty miles after the battery wilts, cumulating to nearly 180 miles of total range. In real-world use, expect these estimates to be more conservative as the “guess-o-meter” in the REx review model shows 110 miles at around 80%.

Regardless, every pre-September 2018 i3 contains a 33kWh (94Ah) Li-ion liquid-cooled pack with DC fast charge capability. There are two powertrain options; a 170 or 181 horsepower motor mounted about the rear axle. The 181 horsepower motor comes with the “S” variant, which will most likely cost several thousand more in the used market. Additionally, the “S” variant features snazzier wheels, black rather than silver trim, and slightly lowered suspension. I have never experienced the driving dynamics of an i3S, but I can assure you that a base i3 has a very sporty ride.

Adding a further complication to the buying process, four interior trim levels and an optional technology package are available. The four trims essentially contain a different array of materials and color combinations. The interior trim names are derived from data storage sizes, like “Deka or Giga World.” The more premium materials are present in the higher levels, like the Tera World Package with Vernasca Leather. Besides the incredibly peculiar trim level names, the Technology Package option is straightforward.

Visually, the Tech Package is characterized by a larger infotainment screen without a gray plastic border. Included in this package is ACC Stop & Go, BMW Active Driving Assistant, automatic high beams, a real-time navigation system, and a garage door opener system. Like the “S” trim, models with this package will generally sell for a few thousand more than ones without it.

Interior:

After I inundated you with the specifics of the trim situation, I transpose this review to something more lucid. Ever since 2014, the BMW i3 has had an upscale, bespoke interior. The interior is a great place to stay, and the material quality is superb. According to BMW, 25% of the interior materials are derived from recycled plastics. Up to 100% of the textiles are emanated from recycled fibers. This i3 includes the “Mega World” model, so it does not have that distinct posh slab of eucalyptus wood; instead, it has a rather dull graphite-colored piece of trim. Regardless, any “World” will have the same layout and look premium. 

Overall, everything feels quite substantial, specifically the turn signal stock and the drive selector. The doors create a satisfying “thud” when closing, and I especially dig the front frameless door windows. Keyless entry, power-folding mirrors, and heated textile seats are standard, and frankly, expected on a car priced at nearly $50,000 new.

What should be expected on a $50,000 car is power seats, and this feature is not even an option. While it may add weight and, I concede, not exactly essential, it would be nice to have a power option for a driver sharing with another person. Ending on a positive note, the cabin layout feels very spacious, and the large windscreen provides a great viewing area.

Driving:

Having driven many EVs ranging from the first-gen Nissan Leaf to the Model 3 Long Range, I can confidently declare that the i3 drives more on par with a Tesla than anything else. For starters, the i3 has a fantastic one-pedal driving system. The regen feels strong, but calibrated exceptionally well, providing a seamless transition from “E-Power” to “Charge.” What also feels strong is the acceleration, and candidly, it’s quite surprising. Unlike most EVs, there is a small lag from when you mash the “gas” to receiving the power. 

After the lag passes, all 184 ft-lbs of torque surge from the motor, providing a zero-to-sixty time of about seven seconds. What’s more impressive is the thirty to fifty mile an hour time of just 2.7 seconds. This is what sticks you in the back of the seat, and it feels much more powerful than other similarly priced EVs. Concerning the lag, I assume it regards adapting the TCS with the skinny, pizza-cutter tires, but I am not too sure. The delay is exceptionally brief, but a test drive could give you clarity if you are hesitant.

If you proceed with a test drive, you will notice the car feels planted to the ground. While the i3 is technically a “light” vehicle at around 3,000 lbs, it still has a hefty battery pack residing under the floor. Counteracting this weight is a carbon fiber reinforced frame, and to us enthusiasts, it is visible when the coach doors are open (hip-hip-hooray)!

As a result, the i3’s multistory demeanor turns into something more of a sports car. The skidpad is around .8gs, the steering is extraordinarily precise, and the turning radius is comically excellent. Pair this with the stiff suspension and quick acceleration, and even the base i3 REx becomes a very entertaining car to drive.

Range:

Possibly the most crucial factor in buying an electric car is how far it can go on a charge and how long that charge will take. Every i3, 2015 and newer, is equipped with a DC-Fast package, yielding a 0-80% charge in just thirty minutes. Since the 2018 battery is around 33kWh, expect about 75-85 miles in thirty minutes of charging – not bad. Since either model delivers around 100 miles on a single charge, commuting or even driving on short trips may require zero charging or gasoline stops.

If this will be your only vehicle, then a REx may prove more useful in certain scenarios. Either way, 100 miles is ample for in-town driving, and this figure can increase upwards of thirty percent using “Eco Pro +” mode.

Verdict:

In my experience with i3s, I have acknowledged that you should exclusively stick to ones with at least several months left under the basic warranty. Earlier this year, I was looking at a 2015 REx with 45,000 miles for $12,000. This i3 had a passenger restraint malfunction and, since the basic warranty expired, it would cost upwards of a thousand dollars to repair through BMW.

Issues like this are not unusual in older models, so I would undoubtedly recommend 2016 or newer because it may come with some basic warranty remaining (if it was a leftover). BMW provides a 4-year / 50,000-mile warranty, so add this to the purchase date to determine when to proceed with caution. 

If you are looking for something a little more expensive, I’d go for a 2018 Certified Pre-Owned i3, like this review model at BMW Charlotte. One similar to this will come with two years left on the factory basic warranty, followed by the CPO warranty, a one year / unlimited mileage bumper to bumper. Still in effect are the powertrain and battery warranties for four years / 50,000 miles and eight years / 100,000 miles, respectively.

With nearly three years under a basic warranty, you will have time to locate any issues and have peace of mind. Certified Pre-Owned or not, the BMW i3 is a remarkable underrated car, and with depreciation, it is a superb used value!

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