As noted at the top of Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, the idea for this series of articles came one night while discussing with Zach (Director of CleanTechnica) my upcoming trip to the US Northeast to visit relatives. He asked me:
Z – So, are you going to rent an EV while you are there?
J – Yeah, I thought about it, but it is really expensive, around twice as much as a regular Ford Focus rental…
Z – Really? Let me see if I can help you with that…
And so he did. After pulling some strings and connecting to the right people, Zach helped me to have not one, but two EVs for my two-week stay in the US, a red Nissan LEAF 30 kWh for the first days, followed by a blue BMW i3 REx with the new 33 kWh battery for the remainder of the journey.
By the way, my deepest appreciation to the people of Nissan USA and BMW USA for your dedication, professionalism, and sympathy in the vehicle delivery, assistance, and pickup process — you rock!
Day 11 — Running around New Bedford, Massachusetts
After visiting relatives and having coffee close by, I found two guys staring at the BMW i3.
“It’s electric, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but this one has a gas range extender”
“Really? How does that work?”
“170 horsepower? Nice. How much does it cost?
“I had seen one before in New Jersey. Looks cool!”
New Bedford was a welcome surprise. There were a number of slow chargers within the city limits and we saw a few EVs zooming around — two second-gen Chevrolet Volts and three Nissan LEAFs, one of them belonging to the town hall. No Teslas, though. Nevertheless, it was the first place in the US where I felt having an EV wasn’t something alien to the locals.
Day 12 – Back from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to Waterbury, Connecticut
The largest segment of this road trip, 158 miles (255 km), it would surely only be achieved using the range extender, but nevertheless I wanted to try to do it all in electric mode, so I stopped for a few minutes at the fast charger in Middletown. However, not much was added, as the top 20% of the battery takes too long to charge.
So, with 125 miles to go, after a I-95 freeway trip with climate contrl on, the last 15 miles were made using the gas engine.
In Waterbury, I noticed that the car in gas mode behaves like a regular hybrid — once the batteries have a minimum charge from regenerative braking, the car returns for a few seconds to electric mode.
Day 13 – Preparing for the return
In a day spent packing and preparing for the return trip, I found one lady in a Prius in the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot, who started a short conversation with me …
“You’ve got a funky little BMW!
“Thanks, it’s electric!”
“Really?” (Ear-to-ear smile)
“Yes, want to check it?”
(She came over and I explained it how it worked and the main features)
“You must have a lot of people asking for the car, right?”
“Great little car, I have to tell my husband about it!”
Day 14 – Waterbury, Connecticut, to Manhattan, New York
Saving the best for last, this was the trip I enjoyed most with the BMW i3. The last part of the 90 miles was done in the middle of New York City traffic, and in this environment the German hatchback excels. With its agile handling and swift lane changes, it left other vehicles in the dust at red lights.
After leaving the car, it was time to log the Likes and Dislikes of the BMW i3:
- Striking looks. I already loved the detailed design of the car, completely different from everything else on the road, and with a character that reminded me of something between Star Wars and an angry puppy. What I didn’t expected was that its design became a such a magnet, drawing attention everywhere it went, and allowing for a bit of EV education.
- Supple ride — small on the outside, big on the inside. It is a small car, but it doesn’t feel like it on the inside. Because the battery pack is flat on the floor, the interior space is maximized, and with the help of the high ceiling and large windows, you do not feel claustrophobic. With a surprisingly supple ride, you only realize the small size of the car when parking or changing direction.
- Power. While it’s not Tesla-fast off the line, it builds up speed like few hatchbacks can and feels like it can pull an airplane.
- Range extender. Range anxiety? What range anxiety? When the model came out a few years ago, I wasn’t really in favor of the REx thing, but after trying it, I have concluded that it allows you to run more miles in electric mode than if you didn’t have it, as sometimes you would have to limit yourself because of the electric range of your BEV. Not in this case — with an average 120/130 miles of electric range and fast charging availability, it does whatever other 30-something kWh battery EVs do AND you do not have to worry if you only have 15% battery charge, because you always have the REx safety net to pull you out of critical situations. As an example, of the 800 miles (1,300 km) I did in a week and a half, only around 30 were made in gas mode. Not bad, eh?
- Small size (for US roads). In Europe, this is not an issue, as similar-sized superminis abound, but on US roads, it feels rather small next to giant semi trucks, pickups, and SUVs, and it might be one of the reasons why the electric BMW hasn’t caught on in the USA as it has in Europe.
- iDrive. At first, it was really unnerving working with the button-based BMW multimedia system, now that we are used to use touchscreens in everything — from cellphones to cars. The large number of menus and submenus are not intuitive and take time getting used to, and even then, it was more distracting than the multimedia system on the Nissan LEAF.
- Price. It is expensive regarding its size, even considering it has a Premium badge. Still, now I feel tempted to buy one…