The electric revolution is coming soon and the future is here now with the BMW i3. It’s energy-efficient, offers a unique driving experience like non other, and it’s fun-to-drive. It offers the driver and passengers a calming and quiet ride in the noisy city traffic and it’s the most energy-efficient car sold in the U.S. The i3 now offers less range anxiety with its new Range Extender option. We’ll check out the all-electric BMW and see if it’s less radical than previous examples and find out why you might even buy one now.
What’s new for 2017?
The BMW i3 is available with more mileage for 2017. It’s a big step up from previous models. The i3 now comes with a 2-cylinder gasoline engine Range Extender. A new lithium iron battery with 33 kilowatt hours yields 114 all-electric miles, more than the 81 miles from the i3 with the standard 22-kilowatt-hour battery.
The 2017 BMW i3 with Range Extender ($47,450) adds the two-cylinder gasoline engine. We’ll drive the i3 Tera World package ($2,600) that comes with full-leather upholstery, heated front seats, HD satellite radio, automatic climate control, navigation, LED headlamps, and DC fast-charging capability using the Combined Charging Standard connector. Other options included Sport 20-inch alloy wheels ($1,300), and a Harman/Kardon premium sound system ($800). Total MSRP including destination: $54,695.
The electric vehicle revolution is coming on slowly, and the cabin of the BMW i3 is also futuristic with its innovative design cues. Its like looking at something that should be in a concept vehicle still years away from actually reaching production. The Germans have crafted the i3 using simple tight textures and real leather gives the upper trim Tera World a bit of elegance. It doesn’t feel as business-like as many of its snooty stablemates.
Stepping inside, we were greeted with a shelf-like dashboard with a tablet on it, and a 10.2-inch screen controlled by a knob on the center console. The front seats are thin to save weight, but bolstered well for more spirited driving, and they kept us comfortable in the city commute. You sit up higher and more upright, affording us a good view of the road. Its easy to find the perfect driving position with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
The front feels roomy and there’s plenty of leg and headroom for taller adults, but the backseat is a different story. Adults who do squeeze back there, will sit very upright because of the battery pack underneath the rear area, and they will not have as much legroom. We would consider the i3 a two-seater with room for kids and the backseat useful for carrying cargo. The trunk is small too with not a lot of cargo space. Go to Page 2.
Electric battery and gas engine specs
The BMW i3’s main power comes from a new lithium iron battery with 33 kilowatt hours yielding a range of 114 all-electric miles. New for 2017, the i3 with Range Extender comes with a two-cylinder 650cc range-extending (REx) engine, making 38 horsepower and 40 pound-feet of torque. This enables the i3 to run on gas when the electricity gets drained. The i3’s backup engine has a 2.4 gallon gas tank, but it doesn’t power the wheels, but rather a generator that charges the battery. Using electric and fuel, the car’s range now reaches 150 miles. The gas engine with two-cylinders may be the reason why more people will consider buying an i3 now. You can go further now in the i3, and you can always stop and fill up the gas tank adding extra miles if you need it.
BMW i3 acceleration is smooth and quick, with its all-electric motor producing 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It’s eerily quiet inside the cabin with almost zero mechanical noise, and very little road and wind noise after we were underway. The only sound comes from the hum from electric motor unless the gas-powered range extender is running.
The unique sensation from the regenerative braking system takes getting used to. The pull is so strong, the brake pedal is only needed to bring the car to a full stop. The system will slow down the car without the driver ever touching the brake pedal. The i3’s brakes are radical and the electric car doesn’t coast smoothly or decelerate gently. These are sacrifices so the battery keeps it charge longer.
We drove the i3 up and down the mountains west of Denver, where it’s less than ideal. The EV is better suited for city driving where there’s only small hills. Pushing hard up I-70 to keep up with traffic drains the battery quickly, but going down, the regeneration from the brakes actually added battery power. There are Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ modes on the console to increase range that add 12 and 25 percent more miles. Eco Pro+ reduces the heating and cooling significantly, and the modes are overridden if you need quick acceleration.
The handling is well suited for the city streets with its nimble and crisp driving dynamics. It’s easy to maneuver in tight spots and parking is easy as it has a small turning circle of just 32.3 feet. The ride is relatively smooth but we noticed it was a bit firm over the bumps likely due to its high-mileage tires. Go to Page 3.
Range anxiety is a real thing and we experienced this as we drove a fair distance from the city back home to the mountains west of Denver. We were constantly looking at the range meter and watching the miles go down faster as we traveled uphill using up considerably more battery life. The Tera World’s Range Extender 2-cylinder engine does have limitations. As we pushed hard going up I-70 into the mountains at 70 mph with the A/C on, the system gets maxed out quickly and doesn’t generate enough current to deliver full power.
The BMW i3 with Range Extender is ideal for those who live in the city and close to a charging station. The 2017 Tera World with the 2-cylinder gas engine adds more range overall and reduces range anxiety. The i3 with range extender may be the reason why more people will consider buying the EV now. You can go further, and you can always stop and fill up the gas tank adding extra miles if you need it.