Back in February we featured Steven from The Netherlands as a Born Electric guest blogger. At the time he mentioned to me that he was planning a road trip with his i3 REx that would take him on a fantastic journey from The Netherlands through Germany and France to the final destination of Switzerland. The funny thing is, I almost was able to meet him along the trip because I was actually in Switzerland the week before he arrived and my wife and I even spent an afternoon at the same lake in Zurich you see pictured below! In any event, once I heard Steven was about to engage upon this 1,100 mile road trip I asked him if he wouldn't mind sharing the details here once he returns and he was kind enough to do so. I get a lot of questions about the range extender, and many people want to know if it is possible to take it on a long trip. This post doesn't answer every question, but it does give some insight into how the car will perform on sure an extended road trip. I haven't read any story of an i3 doing a road trip over 1,100 miles yet, so this may be the first account of such a journey.
To begin with the conclusion: yes and no. It will go outside the city and beyond, with quite an aplomb at that, but its driver needs some commitment and perseverance to get there. As stated by Tom elsewhere: it is not a go anywhere, do anything car. With a normal to brisk driving style, it excels on local trips with perhaps a charge or two along the way. But when taking it easy, tourist style, it can haul you much further than your cities limits.
|Once you get used to its unconventional lines the design grows on you.|
Our i3 in the Appenzeller mountains.
The first hurdle is Europe not being the United States of Europe. Different plugs, different chargecards, you name it. Totally unfunny. Luckily, one of Hollands energy suppliers is owned by RWE, a large German energy supplier, so we could apply for a German charge-ID. You’ll need an app on your iPhone to start the charger, but that’s ok. For France and Switzerland, we’re out of luck. A lot of local/regional initiatives, so charging possibilities are limited to free chargers or, in Switzerland, chargers mounted in parking garages where charging is complementary or at a cost, payable at the checkout machines. And these have to match our Mennekes plug as well.
As you’ll understand, planning took a while, especially while I was not only looking for locations to charge, but also for roads worth driving and places worth visiting while charging. Not much fun to be stuck on an industrial estate for three hours… In the end, I planned our trip so that it would take us three days to reach Switzerland, leaving much of the motorway behind after crossing the Dutch border. Slow tourism, like our parents did with their 2cv, before Europe was shrunk by the proliferation of the Autobahn.
Smoothly gliding away, to not disturb our neighbours, is uneventful in itself. EcoPro is on, but so is the heat, for it was freezing during the night. Damn, we’ll need those electrons! Well, not entirely, to be truthful, for our first stop is at a 50 KW fast charger. The residual charge doesn’t seem to matter much at the fast chargers’; it’ll charge to 90% in 30 minutes anyway. But there seems to be a catch. We left the charger with ~94%, but the charge dropped right down to 86% in a matter of minutes. Something we have observed more than once after a fast charge. A pity in this case, because the next station should have been reachable with a margin. A margin worth having, for we were able to reach our designated charger with only 5 km (3 mi) on the clock. But hey, it was supposed to be an adventure !
This is the point where I have to admit we are driving the i3 ‘chicken version’, with the little REx in the boot. The upside: unlimited mobility. The downside: REx wakes at 5-6 km, no matter what. So we were at the threshold of failure to do the E-thing, and that only two hours into our journey! But we made it. We had lunch, walked the totally unremarkable town, takin’ it easy as promised, until the car was charged enough to reach our next goal. The ability to use your smartphone to monitor the car is invaluable.
The next goal: Monschau. A quaint little town, picture book stuff. Flocking with tourists of a more advanced age when in season, it is actually very nice when not. Coffee, apfelstrudel, you’ll get my drift how we passed the time.
At this hotel, we had the first experience of the friendly cooperation we would encounter along the way. We were fully prepared to have to drive the car to a charging station nearby and to walk back, but the hotel owner promptly offered us a spot in his yard where we were able to plug in under the carport. Sweet.
Day two took us through Germany to France. Our second hurdle: the designated electrospots in Saarbrücken were occupied by gas-burners! A Zoe was already double parked and charging, but i3’s cable is not long enough to do this. Damn. Now what? Time for friendly cooperation example #2: the receptionist of the adjoining offices came out to ask us if everything was ok, noticing of course it wasn’t because of me standing there with a large blue cable in my hands, looking lost. The solution was easy: one of the owners of the damned vehicles didn’t mind to take a hike, so we could charge, albeit with a little delay. The upside: the German owner of the double parked Zoe turned up, so we had an opportunity for a nice conversation about the future of the world.
Charged and fed, off to France we went. One possibility to charge with no alternatives. Gold or bust! Golden it was. Free of charge as well. Very good of the Cora supermarket to lure crazy dutch electrotourists to their store :) With enough cheese and charge, we took off through the Alsace, an area we always quite enjoy for a lot of reasons.
One of the reasons is that it has some nice drivers’ roads with not to much other people on them. We already enjoyed some nice, but not too quick, driving in the German Eifel yesterday, and the Alsace didn’t disappoint. Nor did the i3, so it is time for some car stuff, for this is supposed to be a car blog last time I checked….
Now for the gold: Do we enjoy it when it is going where no i3 has gone before? Oh yes! Yes! It is fast and nimble, which is good in itself, but it is the smooth as cream comfort that is the hammer. The suspension is firm, you already know that, so that is not the unique selling point comfort-wise. It is the easy, creamy-smooth instant power, the effortless recuperation, the relaxed one pedal driving that makes it so enjoyable to drive on your winding Alsacien roads! Take it out, that i3, if you have it, I’ll think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do !
With plenty charge left, we arrived in the quaint Alsacien winemakers’ town to fill up us and the i3 again at the B&B, a winemakers establishment. My advice: go there, drive the roads, drink the wine. Just do it in that order!
Not much to tell about day three, this being a car blog. Only that the leg to Basel was 106 km, mainly motorway, so we kept it between 90-100 (55-60) in the right lane to reach our destination with some electrons to spare, for alternative usable charging stations are sparse around there. With plenty of charge to get us to our next B&B we left sunny Basel and the river Rhine. 40% charge was a luxury I could enjoy for the 10 km (6 mi) drive to and fro from the B&B to the evenings’ restaurant later. This little drive was, besides enjoyable, also a good reminder for me to keep driving carefully during the day to make the most of our E-range, for the battery had only 16% remaining when plugging back in at our B&B at night. Do the math if you like. In our defence, we had the heat on on the way back…
|Goal #1: Make it to Zurich using only electric power|
|Goal #2: 1,000 km all electric|
I can understand that a lot of people question the execution of BMW’s REx solution. On the risk of repeating myself: I think they did a wonderful job, for it feels nearly sinful to start the REx after driving on electrons. So smooth. So quiet. So soothing for the conscience. You really get the feeling of doing the wrong thing when firing up ye olde’ ICE. And this is how it should be. It is an electric vehicle extended, mind you! Besides from this, the little bugger does its best to keep you mobile. We here in Europe have it easy, sorry about that American brethren, for we can engage REx at will, so we don’t have to motor through towns and countryside, but we can plan our REx extension to happen anywhere along the way. The added bonus is of course that you can keep a nice safety cushion in the battery to get it up that Autobahn-slope, although it has to be said I was quite taken with the ability if the REx to keep up the battery when doing 120 (75) on the cruise with A/C to boot. On those not to steep but long slopes (climbing ~250 meters in ~35 km (~820 ft/~22 mi)), the battery level drops a little bit, of course, but I would say that a cushion of around 5% could just about, or just about not, suffice for most journeys. One thing I have noticed is that is seems that the car allows for a bigger battery-drift if you engage the REx earlier. One advantage of this is that it doesn’t have to run at top revs all the time to keep the state of charge on the small marker on your dash-display. Once the state of charge is low, it works very hard to maintain the 5% and prevent very low charge. To end this intermezzo about the REx something on fuel consumption. Exactly economical it is not. Doing 120 (75mph) on cruise gives you something of 15-16 km per litre (35-38 mpg us). Not too bad, not great. Taking 10 km (6 mi/hr) off the speed does wonders to this consumption however, but we kept it at 120 (75) where allowed.
|Driving on the Autobahn: Speed kills - consumption rate that is!|
|Final stats of the journey|
|Map of journey|
1780 km (1,104 mi), plugging in 16 times during the trip
Approximation of route travelled (source: Google)
Disclaimer - We have undertaken this trip and I have written this article on a strictly personal basis. I am not affiliated to BMW or anyones business mentioned in this story. Please mind that everything you’ve read here are my/our personal experiences and opinions and should be treated as such. Also, bear in mind that the English language is not my native one, so be patient if I’ve made some mistakes or used clumsy language. Any offence is unintentional.
|A postcard from Steven to summarize his charging efforts along the way!|