Friday, September 19, 2014

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Harold From California

My name is Harold and I was born electric on August 19th, 2014. 

There are two parts to my story here. The first is about my path to selecting and buying the i3, and the second is about my experiences owning and driving the i3.

PART 1:  

When it comes to global warming, I’m embarrassed to say that for far too long my wife and I were part of the problem.  We’re a two car family, and over the years we’ve driven a series of big, luxury, premium fuel guzzlers. As recently as 2007 we each had one of the full-size Range Rovers. Yikes, and yuck!

I gradually realized this was not tenable, but I found it very, very hard to give up the comfort (I’m 6’3 and don’t fit in most cars) and sportiness of a big luxury SUV. The very thought of shoehorning myself into the ugly and painfully boring Prius hybrid was enough to make me puke.

So my first tentative step in the right direction was to sign up to make annual contributions to one of those carbon-offset charities. I even got vanity license plates that said “I OFFSET.” Wow, how big and how brave of me!

Then BMW came out with a diesel version of their X5 so I dumped my Range Rover in favor of that on the theory that at least I would be burning a lot less fuel. As nice a car as the X5 was, it ended up only getting about 16mpg, and I also came to understand that the diesel wasn’t as clean as I had thought it might be.

Meanwhile, there were more hybrid cars coming on the market, but all still seemed to frumpy for me.  I’m sorry, but I live in California and I spend a ton of time in my car and I want it to look and feel great!

And then Audi launched their stylish little Q5, and I dumped the X5 in favor of this smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle. But even that only got around 20mpg. 

So about a year ago I started the search for my next car. I did my first exploration of EV’s. The RAV4 was too clearly a Toyota. The Leaf, which a neighbor of mine happily drives, drove like a turtle to me.  The Volt was claustrophobic – and a Chevy to boot. The Tesla was way cool, but I actually don’t fit very well in it and, at least in the San Francisco area, driving one has already become interpreted as a sign that you are an obnoxious snob.
So, I had resigned myself to getting the new edition of the X5 diesel, which promised to deliver significantly better – and cleaner – mileage than the original one. And then one day while I was checking out the new X5 on one of the BMW forums, I saw something about the coming of the i3. It looked weird as hell in the photo, but it sounded intriguing. I started to follow stories about it. 

I went to a car show in San Jose to see it in person. I fully expected to discover that I could not fit in it, but when I sat down in the model on display I discovered that it had more head room and leg room and better visibility than my Q5. (Of course at this point, BMW was showing it with a sunroof – more about that later….). Plus, the interior design was stunning. And the exterior, while weird, was weird in a sexy way.  So I was hooked.

When the test drives started happening in the Bay Area, I went to them at three different dealers.  Driving the car was a total blast (all the more so with the sunroof open…..) and I had to have one. I went to my dealer and said I’m willing to pay MSRP for one of the first ones you get, I just need to get two key options – the sun roof and the REX. Can you arrange that please?

And then things started to fall apart. For one, it turned out the sunroof was not going to be offered in the US.  No reason for this has ever been provided, but that alone was enough to put me off.  I’m claustrophobic, and I always felt I needed a sunroof to have the feeling of openness they give. And then some negative stories started to appear about the REX – a review in Europe said driving with the REX was like driving in limp-home mode, and then it was revealed that the REX was being modified in the US in ways that made it seem even less desirable.  And,  being new to EV’s, I was at that point too chicken to go the full BEV route.

So, I abandoned my quest for an i3. I signed off of the i3 forums and facebook group. I went back to my dealer and started haggling over prices on the X5 diesel again. But the x5 diesel remained in hot demand,  and I couldn’t get what I thought was a reasonable price. And then the i3’s actually arrived. I saw two in one day “in the wild.” I went behind my dealer’s back and went to another dealer to test drive an i3 again.  I found that even without the sunroof it still felt very open. And it was just as fun to drive as I had remembered. 

So I went back to my CA, said you’re not going to believe this, but I want the i3 after all. He laughed very heartily. We worked the numbers for a while. I ended up doing the two year version of “owner’s choice.” (Went with owner’s choice vs. lease to get the full advantage of the federal tax credit,  and went two years rather than three just because I expect the EV technology is going to advance pretty rapidly over the next couple of years and I may want to move to the next edition sooner rather than later.) And within just a few weeks I was driving my new Andesite Silver Terra i3, loaded up with everything except for the 20” wheels.  And, surprise surprise, I even got over my fear of running out of juice and went with the BEV instead of the REX.

PART 2: 

As I mentioned earlier, a key factor that kept me from switching sooner to a more environmentally correct car was that they all just seemed too ugly, too uncomfortable, and too boring. I wanted to do the right thing for the planet – but I wanted to still be able to enjoy driving at the same time.

Thankfully, my i3 has solved all three of those problems for me. 

While I will admit that the exterior is a bit of an acquired taste, there can be no denying that the interior is stunning. Yes, the materials are all very environmentally friendly, but more important to me – they are gorgeous. The design is very fresh,  very high tech,  and yet very simple. Among the features I like most are the floating high definition screens (one for the instrument cluster stuff, one for the navigation and multimedia stuff) and the eucalyptus dash. I also really appreciate the openness of the cabin and the great sight lines.

The interior is also quite comfortable. I was initially skeptical about the thinness of the seats.  As a veteran business road warrior, I have equated the steady thinning down of airline seats over the years with an equally steady decline in the comfort of those seats. Well, I can only hope that the designers at Boeing and Airbus get to drive an i3 soon so they can see how to make a thinner seat super supportive and comfortable.

And as for the driving experience, well, I haven’t had so much fun driving a car since the very first one I owned.  First comes the peppiness. As the folks at BMW are fond of saying,  the i3 is the fastest car they make from 0 to 30 mph.  And I believe them now!  Zipping in and out of city traffic is as easy as can be – aided by how tight the turning radius is. Likewise, accelerating on to freeway ramps and passing at freeway speeds is also quick and easy. When we had a meet up of Bay area i3 drivers recently,  I had t-shirts printed up for everyone that carried this message: “I drive a BMW i3.  So you can eat my dust, not my exhaust. You’re welcome.” Trust me, the message is appropriate: this car hauls ass.
It's hard to see in the picture, but the blue T-Shirts everyone is wearing are the shirts Harold made up for the Crissy Field i3 meet. He was even gracious enough to send me a couple in the mail. Photo credit: Dino Ignacio
The steering is also very tight. I’m sure it has some degree of electronic assistance, but it doesn’t feel in the least bit mushy or vague. If anything it’s too responsive – you have to be attentive or it’s a bit too easy to oversteer.

The ride is firm, but in a good, BMW way. If you don’t want to feel the road at all, then this is not the car for you. But if you like to get some feedback from your driving, you should like this.

I really like the quietness of the car. If you keep the windows rolled up, it is super quiet; there is of course some wind noise at higher speeds, but I have not found it to be objectionable. And, at the same time, if you drive with the windows open, you can actually hear the sounds of nature!

I’m still learning all the fancy new tech tools.  Love the Harman Kardon stereo, love being able to use apps like Pandora and TuneIn. Appreciate that iDrive has gotten clearer and more manageable, though it still requires a learning curve. Love the collision avoidance system and the adaptive cruise control.  Haven’t yet tried the self-parking thing – but haven’t felt the need either, as this is the smallest car I have driven in ages and I would feel like a total wimp if I couldn’t park it by myself.  : )

As for downsides of the i3, anyone who buys this car has to accept that they are on the bleeding edge of technology and that things may go wrong. And they have for some of the early owners. But, knock on wood, after just about 1,000 miles, the worst thing that has happened to me so far is that one morning while I was driving along a nearly empty six lane freeway a warning message popped up on my screen that said something about “Danger – objects detected in roadway.” There were no objects to be seen, so I ignored the message and kept on driving and the message ultimately disappeared.

Also, if you choose as I did to go with the BEV instead of the REx, you will probably find yourself being more than a little bit paranoid about monitoring how much charge you have left. I have been running somewhere around 75 miles per full charge – a little less than what the EPA says, but then I drive with a bit of a lead foot and I leave the AC on all the time. So far I’ve only once gotten the dreaded verbal warning “you have 15 miles of range left,” and thankfully that happened when I was only about a mile from my house.

One other downside is that, to my way of thinking, the i3 is not practical as a family car. The “suicide”  doors (aka coach doors) make access to the back seat just too awkward for regular use, especially if you are trying to cope with child seats.

OK, so the i3 is good looking, it’s comfortable, and it’s fun to drive. But how does it do on my original overall reason for getting it, which is to help address the problem of global warming?

Well,  for one thing I have not been to a gas station since I got the car. And will never have to go to a gas station with it. Take that, Exxon and BP and the rest of you big oil companies! (The vanity plates I have on order for my car will read: “I86DGAS”) And, at least according to the i3 mobile app, so far I have already saved 530 pounds of CO2 from being pumped out into the air.

So,  in sum, thank you BMW for giving birth to the i3 so that I can at last do my part for solving global warming – but do it in a way that fits my own selfish needs for style, comfort, and fun!

PS- The i3 may not be right for everyone, but there are now plenty of EV’s on the market – surely one of them will be right for you!

Thanks for participating Harold! If you drive an i3 and want to share your Born Electric story here, just send me an email and we'll set it up!

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