Test Drive Reviews 

2017 BMW i3 (with Range Extender) Test Drive Review

You are not hallucinating. This is not a joke. You are not living in an elaborate test of your sanity or the world’s most intricate practical joke. The reality you live in is the same one everyone else lives in. This is not “The Truman Show” and your name is not Truman Burbank (we’re assuming).
You are actually living in a time in which cars have two clutches, Ford pickups have 10-speed transmissions, Jaguar and Maserati make SUVs, and BMW makes electric cars.

Actually, BMW manufactures two electric cars: the i8 sports car and the i3 compact. BMW introduced the original i3 as a 2014 model and offered it as a pure electric car and an electric car with a range-extending gasoline engine.

The materials BMW used to construct the i3 were just as green as its fuel consumption. For instance, the Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) used for the exterior was half the weight of steel and 30 percent lighter than aluminum. In an October 2013 press release, BMW stated, “The interior is made using high quality renewable sources and recycled materials. The BMW i3 has the Next Premium interior, which blends sustainable resources with a premium feel for the same interior quality as the BMW 5 Series Sedan. 25% of the plastics in the interior and 25% of the thermoplastic parts on the exterior are made from either recycled materials or renewable sources.”

For the 2017 model year, BMW offers three varieties of i3. The base model is a pure electric car with a 60 amp-hour battery pack. In the middle of the lineup there’s the 94-amp-hour model. The top i3 model pairs its electric motor and the more powerful battery pack with a 2-cylinder range extender. That’s the one we tested for a week. We drove it around Austin and even took it down to the Texas Coast for a weekend at the beach.

2017 BMW i3 Exterior

When it comes the design of electric cars, there’s a fine line between futuristic and garish. BMW walked it perfectly. The i3 stands out, but in the best way. Given that there was no engine up front to cool, the signature twin-kidney grille was given a 25th century makeover and filled in with glossy black panels. Those sat between a pair of LED headlights. Our media loaner’s Protonic Blue Metallic panels were cheerful and made us even more eager to kick our feet up by the water. The roof seemed to float above the ample greenhouse area. All of the 19-inch turbine-style wheels were pushed out to the corners, making the i3 look athletic and ready to zip down the road. Out back, red LED light emerged from the U-shaped elements set in the black rear hatch. We’d never seen anything quite like that. We’re glad to know that what we were looking at was indeed real and not a figment of our imaginations.

2017 BMW i3 Interior

The i3 with Range Extender is available with four (largely) interior schemes, known as Worlds in BMW parlance. There’s Deka with its dark paneling, grey cloth, and blue accents. Then there’s Mega, which has what BMW calls “Mega Carum Spice Grey Sensatec [vinyl] & Carum Spice Grey Cloth.” Tera World combines Dark Oak Wood Trim with Tera Dalbergia Brown Full Natural Leather upholstery.

Our test vehicle came trimmed with the Giga World Package. That includes Giga Cassia Natural Leather, Carum Spice Grey Wool Cloth, and Light Eucalyptus Wood Trim accents. What a handsome combination. Every time we drove the i3, it felt as if we were in an upscale modern furniture store that sells sofas and chairs you enjoy sitting in, not flashy fabric and metal sculptures that are long on style but short on comfort. After driving the i3 to and from the coast for a total of more than seven hours, we were completely ache-free. We had no problem setting up the manual driver’s seat to keep us completely comfortable. The back seat was equally pleasant and offered plenty of space.

Our i3 was equipped with the optional Technology + Driving Assistant Package. That gave us navigation and Advanced Real-Time Traffic Information. BMW Online and BMW Apps kept us updated about business and stock market news, and weather conditions. The package also added the convenience of Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go and the safety of the Active Driving Assistant suite of features.

2017 BMW i3 Performance

The i3 may be a small car, but BMW packs a lot of hardware into it. There’s an eDrive electric motor with 170 horsepower and 184 lbft of instantly available torque. That’s connected to a 33-kWh/94-Ah lithium-ion battery pack. A 1-speed automatic converts that power into forward motion. When the i3 needs to go a little further, a 2-cylinder gas range extender kicks in.

According to BMW’s stats, the i3 can cover an EPA-estimated 180 miles on a full charge and a full tank of gas, which is only 2.4 gallons. The EPA says the i3 with Range Extender is good for 111 combined MPGe and 35 combined MPG.** While we were in Austin, we used the i3’s 1.4-kW occasional use cable to put juice in the batteries. Based on the slowness of our experience with that, we’d recommend using a Level 2 or DC Combo Fast Charger whenever possible. The former can fully charge the battery pack in 4.5 hours; the latter can give it an 80-percent charge in about 45 minutes. Just keep your eyes open for one of the 28,000+ stations in the ChargePoint Network.

When the batteries were run down and we were using the range extender, we got about 70-90 miles out of it – and plenty of chances to stretch our legs at gas stations on the way down to the coast.

2017 BMW i3 Safety

Out of the box, the i3 comes with front and seat-mounted side-impact airbags in the first row, BMW’s front and rear Head Protection System, and an impact sensor that disconnects the starter generator, fuel pump, and battery; unlocks the doors; and turns on the hazard and interior lights.

The Technology + Driving Assistant Package’s Active Driving Assistant included Lane Departure Warning, Frontal Collision Warning, City Collision Mitigation, and Pedestrian Protection. The Parking Assistance Package allowed us to park easily and safely.

2017 BMW i3 Overall

Prices for the 2017 BMW i3 with Range Extender start at $48,300* – before an available tax credit of up to $7,500. The i3 BMW loaned us had an as-tested price north of $54,000. Trust us, this is not a joke. BMW does make an electric car. You can get one at an AutoNation-affiliated BMW dealership.

*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

**Based on 2017 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.

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