Published on August 20th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan


BMW i3 REx Review From Former Chevy Volt & Ford Fusion Energi Owner

August 20th, 2014 by  

As the title states, a former Chevy Volt owner and Ford Fusion Energi owner has now bought a “fully loaded” BMW i3 REx. He put up a post on the GM-Volt Forum that is sort of a BMW i3 REx review with comparisons to the Volt, and he also gave me permission to share that here. It’s pasted below, but to see the questions, comments, and answers that followed, head on over to the Volt forum post.

BMW i3

By cnicholson

Hello all.

I picked up a fully loaded BMW i3 REX last week. I owned a Chevy Volt for about 18 months ending about a year ago. I subsequently owned a Ford Fusion Energi.

I will try to point out some comparisons to the Volt as best I can.

Looks: Obviously subjective, but the i3 is more “distinctive” looking than the Volt (versus generic ICE cars). I think it is uglier than the Volt, but the boxy shape offers some advantages. I kinda like the suicide doors too. Functional and unique.

Interior: Feels very roomy and spacious inside. Much less dash clutter than Volt. Fit and finish is much better (at least on the top trim model– not sure about base versus base). LCD screens seem bigger and brighter. iDrive system (despite what detractors say) actually feels refined and elegant compared to Volt UI– but does take some getting used to. Seating position feels awkwardly high up, but does provide excellent visibility.

Gadgetronics: Stereo sounds great, but up-optioned Volt system sounds great too. I like the more techie information displays in the Volt in terms of inner workings of EV versus ICE. BMW display is very high-level information only. I really like the i3’s adaptive cruise control with start and stop. Very nice in heavy traffic. The i3 will parallel park itself. Pretty cool “wow factor” demo for friends, but that’s about it. Outside the car, but worth mentioning: there is no BMW provided web interface to the car. I really miss the Volt’s website. So much great info there. BMW’s integration with iPhone apps is way better. The eyes-free Siri integration is really handy (perhaps newer Volts have this too).

Overall Comfort: Very compliant ride. Very little road/wind noise. Feels like it is sprung softer than Volt, but higher seating position might be tricking my brain. Can feel a bit twitchy on the highway, which I think is due to skinny front tires and high profile.

Handling: You really feel the lighter weight in fast corners. Big advantage to i3. Much more neutral than Volt. Fun to push the car and get a little four-wheel sliding and then a bit more throttle tucks in the nose to scoot you around the turn. Too much fun! The Volt would understeer under similar abuse. Again perhaps due to higher seating position, but the i3 feels like it takes forever to shift the weight from side to side in the turns. I have not carefully explored limits here, but it doesn’t inspire confidence. Volt may be the better S-turns car, but I suspect the lower CG point would make i3 handle better than first appearances suggest. Definitely more fun on backroads.

Acceleration: Squirts away from red lights much like the Volt in L/Sport @ WOT, but holds the thrust for a bit longer. The Volt seems to lose steam around 35MPH, but the i3 pulls hard through 50MPH-ish and gets to freeway speed much faster. The i3 has no Sport or L mode, so you can’t avoid a heavily dampened/smoothed throttle mapping, making the car feel less responsive than the Volt. But, with an assertive right foot, it will show its superior power/weight ratio. Nonetheless, passing power in the i3 is nothing to write home about.

Range: I have a lead foot and still get about 70 miles of EV range. I am sure >80 miles would be the norm for most drivers. Transition to REX is smooth and full power is available as long as you keep you average speed in the 70-75 MPH range on flat ground. Sustained cruising about 75MPH and/or sustain hill climbs will quickly deplete the SOC reserve and cut power A BUNCH. In an intentional stress test, I drove the car on REX over Highway 17 to Santa Cruz and saw speeds of 25MPH (in 50MPH zone) before pulling over. This car NEEDS a Mountain Mode (long story here). That said, with some planning and self control, I think most moderate grades can be handled even in REX mode. On EV, the car will happily go 85+ up any grade I have encountered.

Charging: charges at 7.4kW on Level 2 (about 20-25 miles of range per hour) or via 50kW SAE Combo DC fast charge at about 60 miles of range in 20 minutes (I’ve tried it, it works). Unfortunately, they are sorting out a thermal failure issue and temporarily patched the SW to reduce max charge rate on Level 2 to about 5.5kW which is a bummer, but still get full charge in 4.5 hours. On L2 it takes about 21kWh to fully charge (18.8kWh usable charge window I think).

Preliminary conclusion: A better car than the Volt for people who rarely drive more than 70-80 miles a day, as you can do that all EV and have more luxury/fun. When the DC fast charge network is built out a bit more (free until 1/1/2016), maybe I would expand that to 100-120 miles a day max. If you need more range freedom, the Volt is better. But this would be if the cars were priced the same. They are not. For now, you pay full MSRP ($55K for mine– a loaded one) with only the Fed/State rebates ($7500 + $2500 in CA) knocked off the price. I think the Volt is a MUCH better value for almost everyone, so net-net will be the better choice for anyone who is price sensitive. The superior performance is noticeable, but not night and day. I paid up to be an early adopter and to try something new, so I am not complaining.

I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone has.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • owlafaye

    I find it hard to believe anyone contemplating a BMW at $55,000 is not going to get a Tesla. The BMW will never pay you back…might as well get a long term guaranteed, high resale item like Tesla. Anyone who can’t sit still for a 20 to 25 minute recharge is living at a heart threatening pace in life.

  • RSR

    geez, easy does it. The REX is perfectly servicable on non mountain passes using the REX (75 mph) and for the majority of us will be unneeded give the ~ 80 mile battery range available. The REX allows for flexibility–driving does not have to be managed and range anxiety can be avoided. The Volt gets only 35 miles battery and the expected “upgrade” is maybe an additional 10 miles. These vehicles should be chosen only after careful consideration of your driving needs–if you drive 60 miles a day then a Volt will result in considerable ICE use, if you need to be driving up hills and relatively long distances then the i3 is likely not a good choice. For the remaining 80 % of us I think it comes down to cost, aesthetics, and drive quality which is determined in an individual and idiosyncratic manner, no hate for either model needed, they offer more choice in a small market and may increase EV appeal overall.

    • stun ned

      I’ve always looked at non ICE urban vehicles as upgraded golf-carts. For californians, I would rather pay for the roof to be a solar panel, so that you can drive all day saving the environment. Can someone agree?

  • mike

    This BMW Rex EV looks as if they took my silver volt, trim colors and all, pumped it up like a balloon and put a BMW grill on it. Only it would have served them and the consumer better to have made a plug in with REX that simply generated power back to the electric drive train for near identical performance in either mode… i test drove one at a local BMW dealership.. I am quite disappointed to say the least.. From being told that the charging station is only for BMW customers when I went to plug in my superior Volt, to dealing with sales people who understood the volt less than my 4 year old son yet claimed it’s superiority to my volt which easily runs me 2000 miles between gas fill ups… i got 196 avg mph over 31,000 miles and I drive constantly. The volt was truly a genius release and the new car feeling never left me as I stealth right past the gas stations on my way to near or far destinations.. BMW will only create sales with this based on brand recognition. Certainly not off performance or practicality… The Volt is much nicer and I was shocked to get back into my volt with a sudden ironic realization… The BMW was the flimsy GM car and the Volt is the sophisticated ultimate driving machine.

  • burgerboy77

    As a Volt owner I’m not sure I understand the i3. As others have mentioned, yes- its got an engine. But as also pointed out the engine is basically for “emergency use only” since it can only propel the car 25MPH or so. So with that in mind this totally negates the entire reason why one would buy one of these over a Volt: The Volt can go from New York to California at a cool 65-70MPH the whole way if you really wanted to. The i3 might as well be any number of other all-electric cars out there like the Leaf and hence its usage is strictly limited to local driving.

    As far as the fit and finish, well whats rather interesting is that I’ve encountered a number of ex-BMW drivers who own Volts and its their claim that the Volt’s fit and finish is actually better.

    But in any regard the new Volt is coming out in 2016 and given the outright pleasurable experience I’ve had with my Volt ( currently at 191 MPG ) I will happily wait until the next generation comes out. Some rumors suggest the range for the upcoming Volt will be significantly more than it is now, which if that becomes the case will totally make the i3 obsolete because you would not only have the EV range but still retain a competent 4 cylinder engine to boot.

  • CaptD

    RE: “Unfortunately, they are sorting out a thermal failure issue and temporarily patched the SW to reduce max charge rate on Level 2 to about 5.5kW which is a bummer, but still get full charge in 4.5 hours. On L2 it takes about 21kWh to fully charge (18.8kWh usable charge window I think).”

    This tells me that BMW rushed the i3 and early adopters are not really getting the Perfect Driving Machine they hoped, when they placed their orders. BMW should give all of them a healthy discount on their next upgraded model to make up for this “flaw”.

  • CaptD

    We need to understand that our basic mindset of a commuter car ineeds to be changed to describe “just” commuting and not “also be used when needed as a long distance traveling vehicle”. Once that happens, then the miles per charge will become much more important to daily commuters that just need to “commute” to work and/or shop locally.

    What about longer “trips” you ask, I believe that Dealers will offer “discounted” rental programs perhaps using low mileage pre-owned BMW’s for those i3 (and other eVehicle) owners that want to take a “trip”.

    This would be a great marketing ply since these owners would be coming to the Dealership and could then be re-introduced to the latest things that BMW has to sell!

    • Bob_Wallace

      Right now we locate many of our car rental offices at airports.

      In the future we might want to locate some on the major routes “going out of town”. Give them large, secure lots with outlets where people can park their commuter cars while they use the rental.

      • CaptD

        Bob – I think Adopt-A-Highway of the future will be sponsored by Rental locations that include charging stations and/or solar panels to offset their costs or just generate revenue. Highways lined with Solar could provide huge income streams that would then help reduce the cost of maintaining our highway systems and or dependance of non-Green Energy! Center dividers of the future should all be lined with Solar collectors.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I think that within a couple of years we will have 200 mile range EVs for less than $40k, possibly less than $35k. At that point all of us will be shifting our thinking. And the sales volumes of those $35k to $40k EVs will push costs down below $30k and on below $25k.

          I suspect charge time will be down to 90% in 20 minutes. And we’ll see ‘superchargers’ popping up at all the fast food joints along our major travel routes.

          Right now we’re trying to solve problems with soon to be outdated tools.

          • CaptD

            Bob I agree.

            I think where we are now is similar to the situation people used to be in about the expense of how to add an extra phone jack, before wireless phones made adding extra hard wired jacks a thing of the past.

            I even expect to see vehicle parking meter/charging stations installed in all new construction and quite possibly even a new type of smaller capacity charging stations for eBicycles and similar personal transportation devices located near storage “lots” if not individual “lockers” for them so that they are not subject to theft and/or vandelism.

  • Marion Meads

    This 2,500 Watt range extender would be better and way cheaper than BMW’s i3 Range extender. Only $429, and simply tag it along if you think you will go beyond range.

    • liuping

      You’ll get at most 20 miles charge per hour with that generator, so it not really ideal…

  • hackinsat

    I found the same thing. I took an I3 out for a long test drive, and when in REX mode, I quickly found myself in the slow lane, and pulling over. It is rather embarrassing when big rigs are passing when going up a long incline. Thanks but no thanks, I am sticking with my volt thank you.

    • i think the thing is that people need to view the i3 as a 100% electric with an emergency gas tank for… emergencies. how i see it.

      • Matt

        Also is the i3 really intended more as a commute car. That is get around town car, I didn’t say city car. So they didn’t place high importance on doing 70mph up hill; high of the trade off list. I’m just guessing. Yes, you will use it for the weekend drive also, but …

        • Kyle Field

          I’m really surprised at the performance degredation in REX mode vs EV mode. I would have expected it to be transparent. Being able to do 85+ up the grade on EV vs only 25 in REX is crazy.

        • Yeah, I think BMW must have assumed that i3 owners would have another car with enough range for those occasional long-distance trips.

          • jglenn

            If you don’t have another car for those occasional long trips, BMW will put you in a loaner, an X1 I believe.

          • Vincent

            Does it cost money for the loaner?

          • jglenn

            No, the loaner, an X3, is free of charge, no pun intended. Well, maybe it was…

      • Marion Meads

        Limping back at 25 mph to the nearest charger is a disaster waiting to happen especially when you are on a freeway with the next exit several miles away. You don’t get what you paid for, and deserve the Darwinian award for buying BMW i3 and using it beyond its range, even with its REX engine.

        • I honestly think BMW should have just built the all-electric i3. However, that said, a lot of people go ahead and by the REx out of some illogical sense of need.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The engine = the training wheels on their first bike. The ones you really didn’t need….

        • owlafaye

          Sorta sums it up…this car is a costly pig as far as I can tell from the article and comments. The VOLT has always been an expensive joke and manufacturers that followed its lead? indeed, have fouled up the bottom line.

      • CaptD

        I see BMW using REX in order to game their proformance numbers to make it look like their eVehicle is much more robust than it really is.

        Blending electric with the REX only shifts how owners of these vehicles will have to interact with gas stations, instead of allowing them to get off their gas habit, much like using eCigarettes instead of actually just quitting to smoke.

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