Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Was Born Electric On...The First BMW i3 Owner Review:

A while ago I announced that I would be starting a new series here called, "I was Born Electric on...". I'll be featuring readers who are i3 owners and who are willing to share their thoughts on the car after taking possession. They will begin the post by introducing themselves and stating the date they were Born Electric, which is when they picked up their i3. Without further ado, I bring you Andy from the UK, our first i3 owner & Born Electric guest blogger:
Hi, my name is Andy and I was Born Electric on Saturday, January 11th,  2014.

I came to the EV party a bit late in the day, as I was a typical petrolhead and dismissed electric cars as an irrelevance - underpowered, no range, ugly, the usual stuff - and even when I first saw the i3 concept, it looked weird & the projected price seemed way too high (I think a projected £40,000 base price was mentioned at the time).  So I ignored it and carried on driving my gas guzzling M3, even though I wasn't enjoying the daily grind in it: mainly in traffic, 40+ miles a day, costing me around £350 a month in petrol. The only times I really got to enjoy the M3 was on my drives with the guys at Petrolhead Nirvana, who arrange trips to Scotland, Wales, the Alps, and elsewhere - amazing places where you can give a 400hp car a bit of stick. More about them later.

Then the i3 proper was launched in August, and at seemingly sensible prices (c£25,000 after the UK grant), with leasing costs at around £350 a month.  Hey, that number looked familiar - an idea began to formulate in my mind... and a few days later, early August 2013, I was putting down a deposit. My man-maths (or man-math for our American cousins) told me that the fuel saving, together with fewer miles on the M3 meaning lower depreciation, less tyre wear & fewer services, could make the i3 a “free” car!  A quick spin in an ActiveE in September blew me away and confirmed my thoughts that I was doing the right thing, then an actual i3 test drive in early November really sealed the deal.  Except the demo car was loaded with extras which I had a chance to play with, so my originally bare bones car ended up, if not fully loaded, at least three-quarters loaded. On top of the gadgets like Parking Assist & Driving Assistant, I liked the wood on the dash, but I also liked a darker interior that wouldn't show the dirt so much, so the Suite (Tera in US) interior was added in too. Suddenly my arithmetic wasn't adding up quite so well, but too late now!

Delivery was scheduled for late January, but you'll have gathered that I was hardly racing to be the first owner of an i3; I figured there had to be many UK buyers who'd been more far-sighted & quicker off the mark than me. So I was really surprised to be the first in the UK - or at least, the first in the UK on the mybmwi3 forum - to take delivery of an i3.  As I write, 10 days after, it seems there have been no more deliveries still, and there's even talk of further delays, so I don't know how mine beat the blockade, but I'm glad it did!

The Wallbox
Before the car was due at the end of January, I had to get one fitted at home, so after a fair bit of chasing, I took a call on Monday 6th January booking me in at short notice for the following Thursday - "we'd better get on with it as your car's at the dealers". Wait, what?! A quick trip down there after work confirmed there was a car matching my order exactly, sitting there quietly - but the dealer at first denied it was mine!  A bit of pushing from me finally established it was mine, but also that there was a mistake on my invoice, putting the dealer's £5,000 grant from the government in potential jeopardy. So while it was all sorted out, my car sat there doing nothing, just out of my grasp, and I eventually took delivery on the Saturday. Frustrating - but in light of the delays others are experiencing now, I should've been more patient!

It turned out my house, built around 1900, had electrics that weren't much newer, so neither the supply to the house nor the cable to the garage were up to the job of charging at the full 7.5kW. I've ended up with half that, but that's plenty to recharge the car from almost flat to 100% overnight. The BMW wallbox is a big ugly thing though, and I wish I'd gone for the smaller & cheaper option made by Polar, or one of its competitors. I think for the charging rate my house will support, it would've been free in fact.

My first few miles
My first day as an EV driver was spent going round friends & relations, and blowing their minds. I'm sure this is old news to all you current EV drivers, but the whole experience is so alien, yet so pleasurable, that a huge grin is inevitable the first time you try it, whether driving or as a passenger. It’s a fantastic talking point too – friends, clients, even strangers are all eager to know more about what the future of motoring holds for us all.

My first long trip. Range Anxiety - what's that then?

Only 6 miles to spare!
Each month, Petrolhead Nirvana (the guys who organize the long distance driving trips) hold a meeting at the Ace Cafe, a famous venue for car & bike owners in northwest London.  January’s meet was only two days after I'd taken delivery, but I was keen to take my new toy to show off to my pals there, although it wasn't quite in the spirit of the occasion - people usually bring their Ferraris & Lambos, M-cars & 911s. I was fairly sure they wouldn't kick me out, but there was another hurdle for someone with a 2-day old pure electric car (I'd avoided the REx on cost, performance, and purity grounds - lugging a petrol generator around everywhere seemed to spoil the whole idea, and with a bit of planning, didn't seem necessary, for me anyway) - the Ace is about a 70 miles round trip, and at that stage of my ownership, a whole week ago, I really wasn't sure if I'd make it.  I know better now! A cold & slow EP+ drive up there left me with plenty of range (especially after borrowing some electricity from the cafe manager, thanks Nick!) to give some rides to my Petrolhead mates, all of whom raved about it - the more demo cars BMW can get out there, the more they'll sell, definitely - and to drive home in Comfort mode, and in comfort, with the heating on and a heavy right foot. I figured that if the range remaining got close to the distance to home, I could soft-pedal and knock it back to EP or even EP+ mode and still get home. Using this method, I had a fantastic fast drive back through London and made it home with 6 miles to spare - a close call, but I really didn't feel worried at any stage.

Range Reduction vs Miles Traveled
Since my epic(!) trip, it's been the usual commute for the last week, and as I know I'm going to do around 50 miles a day at the most, I drive it without thinking about economy at all. As a result, my iPhone's been telling me I have 75 miles at the start of the day (100% SOC), but then my spreadsheet tells me that my range reduces by about 13 miles for every 10 miles I drive, even though the car's had a few days now to predict it accurately. So if I drove normally (for me), I'd be stranded at about 60 miles. Don't be alarmed though - if I needed to go further in a day, I'd drive differently,  and get maybe 90-100 miles. I don't know for sure yet though, as driving economically is next week's experiment! 

As it is, one thing I'm enjoying immensely is coming home, plugging it in, and knowing that a few hours later I’ll have a full “tank” for minimal cost.  I'm certainly not missing my frequent visits to the petrol (US: gas) station, and it feels strangely liberating each time I drive past one. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you'll love it.

Performance - the i3 vs M3 race
You've probably seen this video of the drag race at Brands Hatch from the UK launch, where the i3 storms ahead of the M3 before finally being overtaken at maybe 50mph. After driving the i3 for a week, and being in the fortunate position of having both cars, I thought it didn't quite seem right, and once the weather improved enough to get the M3 out of the garage, I fired up my Dynolicious app (no, this wasn't going to be a properly scientific test!) and set off - to a test track near me, obviously.  The i3 was very easy to measure consistently – just put your foot down. The M3 needed a bit more finesse, and it was strange having to get used to driving it again after only a week. It turned out that, surprise surprise, the i3 was quick, but not as quick as an M3. To its credit, it was only a second off at 50mph (5.5s vs 4.5s), but then I wasn't really trying in the M3 as it was a bit damp and I had to be careful with the throttle.   If the M3 was properly driven by someone who knows what they're doing, the gap would be much wider I'm sure. Click on the pictures to enlarge:
i3 Stats
M3 Stats

Tech Stuff
I guess I’m a bit of a geek, although I don't profess to be any kind of computer expert. I do enjoy fiddling with technology though, and that's one of the things that attracted me to the i3 - I'm especially enjoying stuff like the Driving Assistant, almost making my commute enjoyable, and the Parking Assist just makes passengers laugh! The voice control is very good, much better than the old iDrive's in the M3, and the phone call sound quality over Bluetooth is much better too, helped by the quietness of the car I guess.  And coming down to a toasty car with a clear windscreen on a frosty morning is superb!  However, I somehow imagined the quiet peaceful surroundings of the car, and using the Active Cruise Control, would get me to work completely relaxed and happy, but that was expecting too much: it still takes me just as long, and there are just as many idiots on the road, after all.  Even an i3 can’t magic them away! Some of the tech is pretty tricky to figure out, even for a geek like me, and I wonder if BMW will lose some of their potential audience - people who aren't tech-savvy but who would otherwise be perfect for an EV might get scared off.

Waiting patiently at the dealer
There's also stuff that doesn't work so well, including both the things I've just praised. The Active Cruise Control, part of the driving assistant, intermittently (but quite often) switches itself off, saying it's outside its working parameters - even when it's in the same conditions it was working fine in a minute ago. I'm not sure if it’s a design “feature”, or if my car has a fault. The Parking Assist threw a fit last night too, just when I was showing it off to someone, naturally. As it began to reverse, it lost track of where it was and slammed on the brakes (it sounded like the ABS came on, even though we were going slow), with dire messages appearing on-screen about the system being broken and insisting the car be taken to a dealer ASAP.  I turned it off and on again (see, I do know about computers) and it worked fine.  I've dropped it in to the dealers today though, and they're sending the diagnostic report off to BMW to see what they say.

The rear doors can be closed quite gently before you close the fronts - but if you do, a warning appears on the dash as you drive round corners saying they're open! A proper slam to close them does the trick; the dealer's looking into that too. Finally, some of the connected drive stuff is pretty poor (not unique to the i3, I realize); Facebook & Twitter don't give you enough of each post to be useful, email doesn't work at all unless you have a Blackberry apparently, and the apps like Napster & Audible are very clunky to operate.
Andy's stable is worthy of envy!
So, it's fair to say that overall I'm really pleased with my i3. It's quick, interesting, cheap to run, well made (niggles aside - but it feels solidly put together), and superbly designed inside. I'm still not 100% keen on the exterior looks, but she's growing on me. The Andesite paint looks great in some lights, a nice technical shade of grey, possibly with a very slight hint of brown to go with the dark brown leather interior & the wood on the dash - and in other lights it just looks like old man's beige! I rather wish I'd gone for a different colour, but unlike Tom, I like the contrasting black hood & roof, so the dark greys are out. And I don't like white or silver - so bright orange is what I should've gone for. Next time, eh? For now, I'm looking forward to many happy miles in this futuristic vehicle which seems to get everyone talking.  I might be a latecomer to this particular party, but hey, I’ve got the perfect ice-breaker!

If you own an i3 and would like to participate in the Born Electric series here, you can email me at:


  1. Excellent review Andy, my i3 arrives in 9 days, cannot wait!!

  2. Wonderful review!
    Thanks for sharing!
    It makes us really eager to have the first deliveries in France!


  3. I'm actually trying to decide on a secondary car to go with my i3, I've had two M3s including the convertible version of the M3 pictured above. The M4 convertible is on my list so I really liked seeing the i3 parked next to the M3 so thanks for the visual. @ Tom, one thing I'm still not clear on, and I know you've probabley been asked this before but, the BMW wallbox or home charger what is the amperage? I'm thinking of getting the Bosch power max at 30 Amps, but is BMW's better? And how long is the cord?
    Thank You, CDspeed

    1. The BMW "Wallbox Pure" can deliver up to 32 amps. Personally I share Andy's opinion that it is unnecessarily large. I have EVSE's from four different manufacturers, some that can deliver 50 amps and it's not nearly as large as that.

    2. I agree BMW's wallbox is way too big, and I can't see any reason why it is so big. The top of it reminds me of Frankenstein's head. But what brand do you have that delivers 50 amps that would be great to have you wouldn't need to worry about upgrading that for a while? So far I'm still thinking about the Bosch, it's small, nice looking, and nicely equipped at competitive prices.

    3. It's a Clipper Creek CS-60 and it actually will draw 48 amps, I just rounded up a bit :) Clipper Creek makes top quality EVSE's. They are a bit expensive but you get what you pay for.

    4. Hi again Tom, I decided to look into the "wallbox pure" on BMW's UK website. It says it's 32 amps but the down side is the cable at only 13 feet long (4 meters). The Bosch I spoke of and the Clipper Creek which I'm looking at have 25 foot cables, BMW i's Wallbox Pure doesn't seem worth it, it's case is too big, and it's cord is comparatively too short. I'll still have to decide between the Clipper Creek and the Bosch, but the Wallbox Pure is definitely out.

    5. The Wallbox Pure will have a 25' cable here in the US, I asked Rob Healy (BMW i infrastructure manager) and he confirmed that to me. Still, I agree it's probably not the best option and it looks like Frankensteins head.
      They do have a different version of it coming soon called "Wallbox Pro" though, It's the same enormous shape, but it has a touchscreen display and you can access data like charging rate, how long the car was charging, how many kWh's it sent to the car, etc. That is nice information to have, but I don't know how much that unit will cost. I's still likely go with a ClipperCreek unit. They are the best built EVSE's around and their new pricing is aggressive. I have 5 ClipperCreek EVSE's and they are bulletproof.

    6. I'm leaning toward the Clipper Creek HCS-40 I like the 3 foot "ponytail" on it. I live on an island in Florida, my house like most newer houses has the main floor set 10 feet off the ground due to building codes. So my ground floor is all garage space, in the garage electrical sources have to be mounted 6.5 feet up on the wall. So with that ponytail on the Clipper Creek I can have either a plug or junction box mounted a bit higher and it won't interfere with the ESVE placement as much. That's another reason Wallbox Pure's size may not work, it could have an issue with the ceiling in my garage.

  4. I really enjoyed reading the review!
    Scottsdale, AZ

  5. This is a great post! What a wonderful idea Tom. I can't wait to read the next borne electric installment

  6. The BMW i3 is an electric car revolutionary compact and very spacious. It has a 170 hp engine and a range of about 160 km, so it is ideal for urban use or to go from home to work. This is a very unique and comfortable car to drive. Congratulations for the blog!

  7. Andy, you said: "... if I drove normally (for me), I'd be stranded at about 60 miles."

    What is normally for you? As you would drive your M3? An aggressive 70-75mph?

    I also fell in love with this car when I test drove it at the dealership in US -- and I didn't even want to go see it! I'm thinking about ordering it whenever they make it available, but I would need about 70miles range at times and i definitely have range anxiety.

    1. Yes, I've been driving it like I drive the M3, and it's very easy just to put your foot down at every traffic light. The acceleration is really smooth, and it's all so quiet you aren't drawing attention to yourself like you would in an ICE car.

      For balance, I drove like Miss Daisy this morning in EP+ mode, and immediately the range went up to 86 miles, and stayed there all the way to work 10 miles away. So immediately I had a c100 mile range if I'd needed it.

  8. Thanks for sharing the experience Andy. The idea of guest blogs is superb! I had the opportunity to test drive the i3 twice and I love the car, looking forward to read the reviews and make a decision :)

  9. Thanks a lot for your review!

    I like the i3 a lot. I think BMW really stands up with the CFRP and clean production process. But..the car comes out 3 years after the Leaf, with a dedicated BMW team. It’s light and thought through and the range is about 75 miles…
    Normally people do not cross shop between a BMW and a Nissan. But in these early days of EV driving, people cross shop for range as this is still the biggest bottleneck. I’m truly a bit dissapointed with this. Maybe I had my hopes to high (90 miles).

    Now I’m even eye balling the KIA Soul EV, which has a 27 KWh battery, which arrives in the autumn of 2014.

    1. Don't expect the range of the Soul to be any more than the i3 robster. it will weigh 600 - 700lbs more and have worse aero.

    2. The i3 robster... wait! Is that a new unannounced trim level? ;)

      I think there are good indicators that the i3 will be able to get 90 miles/charge range with moderated driving and reasonable weather conditions.

    3. the i3 robster, I wish:-) You're probably right on the Soul EV (although 27 KWh battery seems impressive).

      It's just that I'm dissapointed that three years after the introduction of the Leaf, the most anticipated EV in years is not taking a step forward on range. Or I'm just dissapointed that BMW chooses a relatively small battery. The magic 100 miles could be psychological, but perception is truth

  10. Thanks Tom for adding this great new feature.

    And thanks Andy for getting it off to such a brilliant start -- you've set a high standard for subsequent writers to try to live up to.

  11. Hi Andy,

    Thanks for great info.. I currently have leaf and once lease ends in 3 months I am thinking about leasing i3.

    Did you buy or lease the i3?
    if leased what is the residual value after 3 years and what is money factor?

    I checked with my dealer in CA bay area and they are quoting residual of 41% which makes the payment of base without any option at $725.

    I can get 3 leafs for that price... :)


    1. Jigar:

      BMW Financial Services hasn't provided the dealers with the official financing details yet, so the figures they quoted you were preliminary. The residuals will be low, just like they are on the LEAF, which currently has about a 40% residual on a 36 month lease also.

      Still, the i3 is certainly going to be much more expensive than a LEAF to lease, just as a 3 Series costs much more than an Altima. A loaded i3 REx is $60,000 including sales tax and you can get a LEAF S for under $30K.

      Still, wait until the OwnersChoice with Flex rates for the i3 come out, they will be much lower than $725/mo

  12. Tom I commented a few hours ago but it seems to have been lost in the eithers.

    Here's my question: Andy's i3 seems to be the Tera (Suite in Europe) model with the dark brown leather but he seems to be showing the 429 Giga wheels while here in the US the Tera comes with the 428 multiple curved spoke wheels. Do they have a different oder in Europe or can you order anyone of the four wheel types with any of the three levels (Mega - Giga or Tera) ?

    1. You are correct, good catch. I know you can order the 20" sport wheels with any level (and pay $1,300) here in the US but I'm not sure if you can switch between the standard wheels. I'll ask Andy how he ordered his, but that doesn't mean it will be the same here in the US. I'll also ask my dealer contacts to see if they know, but the dealers here have such little information rom BMW that I bet they don't know how it works yet.

    2. In the UK you can order any wheels with any interior, but they all have the (imho horrible) dinner plate ones as standard no matter what interior world you pick.

  13. Here is a Russian version of the text:
    Тут есть русская версия текста:

  14. Tom, 60 miles range without being careful is on the edge of acceptability for me, but I have more motorway driving than most. Can you tell me what your energy consumption rate is at 75 mph please?

  15. I'm sorry that question was aimed at Andy rather than Tom, although I'd be interested in anyone's experience. Thanks for the blog Andy.

  16. Hello Andy, That was an amazing review of the i3. Its quite articulate and proper English. Tom: I come from a texting and messaging background, I am quite intimidated to do a write up! I just picked up a black i3 ( only 1 left for the deal ) couple of weeks ago in Long Beach, CA. It was a good deal - $5K down and $375 a month for 36 months at 15K miles a year. I also installed the BOSCH 30 Amp wall unit and its simply amazing. The drive is quite intense; but other than that ( like Andy mentioned), there are simply some unBMW things happening! Perhaps coming from a Lexus ES background and CIVIC CNG, every small non-ergonomic issues are bugging me. Its almost as if, a robot drove this before it came to the market; I don't think regular people actually drove this car for long periods. Everything is quite clinical and straight out of a lab! None-the -less, the competition has a Leaf and a Tesla. This falls in-between the 2 mentioned cars; and I am having a blast! BMW - Thank You! This is not the Ultimate driving machine, but hopefully it will get there in couple generations. Like some where I read; its like your past 700, I am hoping by the time, my lease is up we will have a new version for me to switch over! MAX