Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tested - 2017 BMW i3 with bigger battery and range extender

Let the test begin
The other day, BMW of Bloomfield in Bloomfield NJ - ask for Chris Chang - offered to allow me to test the new 2017 BMW i3 with the bigger battery and range extender. Color was fluid black.  Let me think about that....ok guys!!  Thank you!!

I jumped at the chance because this was not just a quick run around the dealer block, this was to be a full real world test on the open road over a couple of days.  My open road can consist of quick jaunts that tally 8 miles to the daily commute to my daughter's school totaling 88 miles round trip across some of the worst highways our country has to offer to 100s of miles into the deep NJ wilderness and back.

I chose the middle scenario as this is what racks up the most miles overall on my current 2014 BMW i3 REx or range extender.  My Daughter's school is a haul, it is the only Japanese school close enough to us so we do it.  It is nearly 88 miles round trip, and starts in a beautiful area of NJ and ends up at the George Washington Bridge, all during rush hour and 80% of it on the highway.  A safe, comfortable and economical car is paramount.  We try and drive the i3 as often as possible, especially during warmer weather when range is the best.  Winter we switch to our all wheel drive car which is not an EV.

With our current i3 if we really try we have occasionally made the round trip without the REx kicking on, no mine is not coded and no plans to do so. Getting this range of course is during good weather with a nice flow of traffic. Halley's comment happens more frequent and because of that we usually get a boost at a known spot near the school or stop at one of the DC Fast stations half way back.  Of course, this is why we have a REx, so we can do this without the stress of eeking out every electron and spending hrs at chargers, we focus on going all electric but sometimes time does not permit that.  Can the new bigger battery in the 2017 change that?

Bigger battery - 33kWh

Enter the 2017 BMW i3 with bigger battery.  This battery is 33kWh where our 2016 and earlier i3s were 22kWh - now I'm not going to get into all the technical details of battery chemistry, charge rate, etc, I'll leave that to other reviewers. I'm going to just talk about real world use.  How far can we go and what is it like to drive, and not just me but the Wife and kid too.  After all my current i3 is the family car.

Looks really good in Fluid Black

I'll jump to the chase, I can tell you with confidence this is a 125 mile EV.  I had the family in the car, we had the heat set to 72 and was on eco-pro with one seat heater on, outside temp was low 50s.  I drove 65 to 70 mph and still had oodles of range left.  Just look at the pic below. We were all impressed especially because we usually have 45 miles left after just one way in our current i3, how about that!?

One should easily get 125 miles regularly

How does it drive, well, glad you asked.  The pure electric i3 or BEV is the lightweight being under 3,000 pounds, add the range extender and you've added more weight, like another passenger but the i3 still felt nimble and light.  This 2017 i3 with larger pack and REx is the heaviest of all since you have a denser pack which adds weight, it is also like another passenger.  More weight is not always a bad thing as we soon found out.

With that said, this is not as tossable as my 2014 i3 REx and not as quick off the line or scoots when you punch it, but still plenty quick.  I also noticed the brakes work harder but still grab and regen is less pronounced but only slightly - all due to weight.  I live in an area with lots of hills and twisty's so the tires were definitely working harder on those curves. Range also dipped once on the hills after coming off of the highway, that was new to me since range would increase after exiting the highway on my old i3.   With that said on the highway it was a dream.  That extra weight makes it glide.  It felt more planted on the bumps and whoop-de-doos, my daughter even commented that it was more comfortable for her and my Wife said the same.  The weight has made this more of a GT than sprinter.  Huge plus for a family like us with a long highway drive.

I am also pretty certain BMW added some more sound deadening in places.  With the windows up this is a quieter i3 than mine, it just sounds and feels more cocoon like.  The doors even close with more of a thud - when you are at the dealer try one.  This test car had the optional sunroof.  I have mixed feelings on it, it has a beam in the middle almost like a T-Top.  It does let light in though cuts down on the head room, it is nice to tilt it up for some extra air but it only slides back half way.  The sun shades I also find to be a mixed bag, they are manual and independent of each other.  The ceiling, even with the sunroof, is high, my Wife would not be able to reach up to close the passenger side sunshade while driving if it were left open. The roof is not carbon fiber on the outside, at least in the US with the sunroof.  Overall I would most likely still want this option so I am glad to see it.

Sunshades are independent of each other and manual

Interior is basically the same except for updated iDrive buttons, the knob also felt a little more robust. I did notice that the KENAF fibres along the dash and door panels seemed to have a thicker clear coat on them giving it a smoother feel than my 2014 and less 'Earthy' - I like 'Earthy' - moving on.

iDrive buttons and knob have been upgraded

I even had the opportunity to try it out on a 50kW charger, I am on the $99 all you can eat ChargeNow/EVGo program which gives me 30 min prepaid sessions on many of the 50kW chargers.  It is a bigger battery so the 30 mins did not get me to 90% from close to empty like my older i3 but who cares, it got me over 100 miles ;)  Additionally, while I had the car the REx did go through a maintenance cycle - because it had been sitting at the docks awhile - felt the same and sounded the same.

Got to try it on a 50kW DCFC

Other than that this is the same i3 we have all come to love, but with more range and smoother highway ride - the family approves.  I also want to point out I'm pretty confident even in winter we could make this trip on all electric and still have some miles to spare.  I did nearly 130 with the heat on, it was not 20 out but with proper pre-conditioning round trip should be possible.  This is an i3 game changer

Family approves of the new 2017 with bigger battery and smoother ride
So, should you consider one?  What about the new EPA rated 238 mile Bolt?   Shop them, I will but I am pretty certain I will be leaning toward the i3.  The range is not 200 at least not EV only but I am pretty confident the Bolt won't drive like the i3 and the interior in the i3 is higher quality, it is a BMW and feels like one.  I'm a car guy, I like driving the i3 tremendously and so does my family.

So yes, the new 2017 i3 with bigger battery is on our list, I'll probably still opt for the REx since I still do those 100s of miles into the wilderness drives - more on that later.

You shall be missed...for now