Our cars: BMW i3 range-extender - September

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    Rapid charger at Cobham services topped our i3 up to 94% charge in 40 minutes

  • Charging point at Canary Wharf was just a 13-amp three-pin socket - but at least it worked

    Charging point at Canary Wharf was just a 13-amp three-pin socket - but at least it worked

  • Eco Pro mode is terrific around town, but why can't the i3's software default to this setting?

    Eco Pro mode is terrific around town, but why can't the i3's software default to this setting?

  • Heated seats, air-con and stereo all on at the same time means John's efficiency score plummets

    Heated seats, air-con and stereo all on at the same time means John's efficiency score plummets

  • This PR image shows the scale of the BMW wall charger

    This PR image shows the scale of the BMW wall charger

  • i3 is great around town, but the trade off for decent body control is a ride that's a little too firm

    i3 is great around town, but the trade off for decent body control is a ride that's a little too firm

  • BMW's smartphone app is surprisingly easy to use, and a worthwhile element of i3 ownership

    BMW's smartphone app is surprisingly easy to use, and a worthwhile element of i3 ownership

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BMW i3 range-extender

Week ending: September 29
Mileage: 7150 
Miles driven this week: 100 


Read the full BMW i3 review


We had the BMW i3's big brother in town last week, so I scooted up to the West End for an evening function in the i8. It's a very different creation, with a different sort of hybrid set-up - but it does share the i3's carbonfibre construction.

The weird thing is that the i3 is a city-focused runabout, while the i8 is supposed to be a Porsche 911-rivalling supercar with a conscience - and yet, the low-slung two-seater actually manages to be more comfortable at low speeds.

After the thick end of six months with the i3, this is the one area that still niggles with me on a regular basis. It's a tall, narrow vehicle, and the engineering brief was clearly to make sure it doesn't just topple over - but the knock-on effect of that is that the suspension is surprisingly unyielding. At speed it's less of an issue, but over urban potholes and speed bumps there's just too much of the surface below transmitted through to the cabin.

Would it stop me buying or leasing an i3? Not quite - but it'd persuade me to have a good look at VW's e-Golf, and to steer well clear of the larger 20-inch wheels on the BMW's options list.

John McIlroy
john.mcilroy@whatcar.com




Week ending: September 26
Mileage: 7050 
Miles driven this week: 120

Our time with the BMW i3 range-extender is nearly at an end; in less than a month we’re going to swap it for a pure-electric version, but we’re only keeping that for a few weeks to get a sense of contrast before handing it back, too.

By means of a proper farewell, I’ve been considering a challenge that could celebrate the i3 - or frustrate in equal measure – and I think I’m going to go for it. I’m going to drive home to see my parents for dinner – which doesn’t sound much, apart from the fact that the journey will begin in Teddington, south-west London, and finish in County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

I’ve always broken the journey home into two days, mainly because the overnight boat isn’t a long enough crossing for you to get some proper sleep. So on day one I’ll head to Liverpool, my old college town, meet up with chums and (crucially) get an overnight trickle charge.

Day two will be even more of a challenge, because Angelsey looks like the Wild West of charging zones. Let’s just say there’s an Asda in Bangor that I’m counting on. A lot. I’ve also procured an ESB eCars charging card, hoping to use some of the newly installed charging points on the newly installed motorway between Dublin and the Northern Irish border. I just hope everything’s connected and working.

Oh, and the rule is that I’m going to try to do the whole trip on no more than one tank of petrol. That’s nine litres, or just under two gallons, to take me more than 450 miles. I’m reasonably confident that I can make Liverpool without using much range-extender power at all, mainly because there’s no real time limit there, so if it takes me all day including recharges, so be it. However, that run on day two to the car ferry – which won’t wait for me, after all – is going to be more of an issue.

I do have one trick up my sleeve. I’ve discovered that the charging point listed in Holyhead isn’t actually in Holyhead at all – or at least, it isn’t permanently. In fact it’s on the Ulysses car ferry that sails to and from Dublin twice a day. I’m already in contact with Irish Ferries, who say they happily take EVs and allow them access to juice while they cross, as long as they specify ‘need to plug in’ on their booking form.

So we’re all set. I’ll be posting live updates here on whatcar.com during the journey, mainly because if I just sit there and drink coffee during every recharge, I’ll give myself a caffeine headache. It should be an adventure, tell me lots about the i3 before it goes back, and hopefully prove that the UK’s charging infrastructure is getting there.

By John McIlroy
John.McIlroy@whatcar.com




Week ending: September 15
Mileage: 6800 
Miles driven this week: 500

We've pushed the i3 right out of its comfort zone recently. The daily grind, you see, has generally been a run down and then back up the M3, with a few hours of 32A charging at our offices in between. In other words, we've always had charge to spare (around 11 miles still left in the batteries every day, basically).

Not this week. A couple of back-to-back day trips out of Heathrow forced me to drive the i3 to and from long-term parking, without so much as a minute of charging in between (I'm not able to charge at home). All of a sudden, we were forced to rely on the range extender functionality.

The good news is that it worked fine – but by that I mean that we were able to keep motoring by sticking another nine litres of petrol in the fuel tank. The bad news is that we needed a couple of visits to the filling station, highlighting the fact that when you're running on the motor, the i3 isn't exactly efficient.

Still, the range-extender is designed as a failsafe, and in that respect it delivered. I'm glad we've gone back to charging up every day, though. The cost of nine litres in the tank didn't exactly break the bank, but you certainly notice the inconvenience of having to queue up at the petrol station when you haven't had to do so for several months.

By John McIlroy
John.McIlroy@whatcar.com




Week ending: September 1 
Mileage 6300 
Miles driven this week: 200

It might carry a price in excess of £30,000 (or, in the case of our option-laden car, £40k) but the i3 is very much a city car. Sure, the rear doors have that trick opening mechanism to improve access, but even if four adults can get aboard, the boot is barely the size of a regular supermini’s, so the grown-ups had better be travelling light.

Still, I managed to put the i3 to a practicality test this week, when I went to pick up a sandpit for my young son. The pre-formed plastic unit came with a couple of 15kg bags of play sand; it was the sort of load that simply wouldn’t fit into the i3’s regular boot space.

Fortunately, lowering the rear seats is really simple; there are a couple of fabric pulls at the base on either side of the boot, and you just need to tug them and push forward on the seat to lower it.

Once I’d done that, the sandpit slid straight in, and I had enough space to load up the bags of sand between it and the edge of the boot.

It was a relatively modest test, but I was pleased with how easily the i3 coped with the temporary change to load-lugger. Cars like this have a very specific mission statement – around-town use, principally – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to deal with occasional special circumstances, too.

By John McIlroy
john.mcilroy@whatcar.com

Our cars: BMW i3 range-extender - August

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