BMW i3 Auto Show

The EPA Range of the BMW i3: A Prognosis


This analysis will attempt to answer the question, which appears to on the mind of every prospective BMW i3 buyer. What will be its EPA range? George Betak reports from San Jose, CA.

Whenever someone strikes up a conversation about the BMW ActiveE, which I have been driving for nearly two years now, the first and seemingly most important question is about the range. I usually say "The EPA range is 94 miles, but my personal best is 125 miles on a single charge". That seems to satisfy most people, although I often field additional questions.

Why is the range of an electric vehicle so important? Nobody seems to ask this question about a conventional car with a combustion engine. There appears to be a perception that charging an EV is inconvenient, and that it will take some time. The range on a single charge seems to determine the utility and perhaps even the value of an electric car in the mind of many prospects.

While charging infrastructure and the speed of refueling is certainly an important consideration, I will focus on the question, which appears to on the mind of every prospective BMW i3 buyer. What will be its range?

Although the official EPA figure is not going to be available for another couple of months, it's worth noting that BMW went on record to say that the i3 will manage between 80 to 100 miles, depending on driving conditions and style.

That narrows it down a little bit, but that's hardly enough. Range figures seem to be as important and as closely scrutinized like the MPG rating for conventional vehicles and hybrids. Will the BMW i3 have a range over 90 miles? And how will it will compare to the Honda Fit EV or the LEAF? I will do my best to answer these questions.

Before we delve into the specifics, it's important to realize that the EPA rating is determined by following a very specific test protocol. This involves a complex driving profile with particular speeds, ambient temperature settings and test duration. Although it will not be possible to take all these factors into account, and calculate a precise range figure, perhaps we can get a realistic estimate by comparing the i3 with other similar vehicles.

An obvious choice would be the 2013 Nissan LEAF. The LEAF has comparable outside dimensions and weight. Additionally,the LEAF has a similar aerodynamic profile, and it seems to consume approximately the same amount of energy at different driving speeds.

The 2013 LEAF has a rated EPA range of 75 miles. This is an average of test results achieved on an 80% and a full charge (66 miles and 84 miles respectively). The BMW i3 will not have a comparable charge setting, and it's very likely that the EPA will only test the car on a full charge.

Taking this comparison a step further, it might be worth to have a look at the NEDC range figures for both vehicles. This acronym stands for the New European Driving Cycle. The corresponding test protocol emphasizes moderate to low-speed city driving and is quite different from the test cycle the EPA uses on this side of the Atlantic. In short, it's a useful benchmark.

A direct comparison indicates that the NEDC range of the i3 and the LEAF is within 5% of each other. Assuming that he LEAF achieves 84 miles on a full charge on the EPA test cycle, this would put the range of the i3 between 80 to 88 miles on a single charge.

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Comments

Interesting article. How much weight does the EPA give the Winter (20°F) test cycle with the heater running? The REx's lack of a heat pump is going to eat into it's efficiency on that cycle. For Northern families with children, the apparent lack of optional heated rear-seats in all i3's is going to reduce range in cold-weather. This will probably not show up on EPA tests, but will translate to more energy use to heat cabin air.
Thanks for your comment. You might be surprised to hear it, but the EPA does not test the heater. It tests air conditioning, but not the heater. This is likely due to the fact that heat is a "free" byproduct of the combustion process in conventional vehicles. You can see all the pertinent details of the test protocol used on a DOE website. Please google "Detailed Test Information - Fuel Economy", and click on the "Detailed Comparison" tab. What is being tested is a cold-soak, which again has its origin in conventional engines. A cold engine could have higher emissions. In the case of an EV, the EPA does catch the effect of low ambient temperatures on battery performance and on range. This does not factor in heating however. The cumulative distance across all five cycles is 64.25 miles. The city cycle and the cold cycle are identical, with the exception of the ambient temperature. These two cycles constitute about 2/3 of the total distance driven. This means that the test cycle emphasizes city driving. The effect of a cold battery on range is reflected in about 30% of the total distance driven.
I am surprised that they don't take into account heater use, thanks for the information. It's odd that the DOE mentions, "EPA has established testing criteria for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids that are slightly different than those for conventional vehicles," yet doesn't provide a link explaining what the minor differences are.

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