Thursday, September 15, 2016

The 2014 (60Ah) i3 REx vs The 2017 (94Ah) i3 REx

255 miles of combined range? This range estimator is probable a little more optimistic than real life, but I definitely believe 200 miles is possible with the new 2017 i3 REx. 
What a difference three years makes.  I was able to secure one of the first 2017 BMW i3 REx cars that made its way into US dealer inventory, compliments of Chris Chang, Sales Manager at BMW of Bloomfield here in New Jersey. The vehicle is mostly the same as my 2014 i3 REx, the one big exception is it has the new 94 Ah battery cells, which increase the overall battery capacity from 21.6 kWh to 33 kWh without increasing its physical size. That was necessary, since this isn't a redesigned i3, so the battery modules had to fit in the existing battery tray.
The 2017 i3 REx in Fluid Black next to my "Moloughney Red" wrapped 2014 i3 REx
As much as I wanted to check out the moonroof option that this car had (finally the moonroof is available in the US!), there is no denying the single most important improvement I was interested in was to find out how much more range the new model has. The EPA range rating for the 2017 i3 REx is 97 miles per charge, and BMW claims 180 miles of total range when combined with the added miles from the range extender. The full 2.4 gallons of gas is now available for the REx. Previously it was software limited to only 1.9 gallons so the vehicle would qualify as a BEVx vehicle. My 2014 i3 REx has an EPA rating of 72 miles per charge, and BMW claimed a total range of 150 miles including the range extender miles. So the new i3 REx should offer about 35% more all-electric range, if the EPA test results are accurate. One thing to note is the auto manufacturers do the range testing in house, and reports it to the EPA. I think many people are under the assumption that the EPA tests the cars, and they do not. Manufacturers have been known to "massage" these numbers to fit their needs.

Range Testing

I wanted to perform three tests. The first was to fully charge the car and drive it easy. I didn't hypermile, but I took it a little easier than I usually drive. It was 83 degrees, which is favorable for good range, but I did have the A/C on the entire time. I drove in Comfort Mode because that's pretty much the only mode I ever drive in. I took a combination of highway and secondary roads and basically drove the speed limit with moderate acceleration from stops.

After 100 miles of driving, the car still had 26% state of charge and was estimating an additional 37 miles available. I've driven my i3 long enough to know how far it can go, within a couple miles, and I'm sure if I were driving my i3 in those same conditions it would have gone about 72 to 76 miles before the range extender would have needed to turn on. This new i3 REx easily beat the 35% range increase expected by the EPA range rating. In fact, based on these results I think it would be hard for me to get less than 100 miles per charge even if I tried. So that's what I did for the next test.

This time I was going to drive it harder. Not Autocross hard mind you, but I'd punch it from all the stops, drive 75 - 80 mph on the highway and not concern myself with using the regenerative braking to their fullest advantage. Basically, I'd drive like I was late to an important meeting. Halfway through, I realized my efforts weren't making much of a difference. At 50% SOC I had driven 62 miles and the range estimator still showed 62 miles to go. I did noticed that the gas range estimate had dropped from 85 miles to 75 miles though, even without using any. That's because my driving efficiency was much worse than it had been on the first 100 mile drive.

Seeing how I was still on my way to 120+ miles of range, I stepped up my assault on the tires, and really thrashed the car around a bit. It worked, and I further reduced my efficiency. I finished up this 100 mile trip with only 13.5% SOC and estimated 16 miles remaining. I was able to reduce the single charge range by 21 miles, but I couldn't manage to get less than 100 miles of range, which was my goal. In my opinion this is great news. Honestly, I don't know how this car is rated at 97 miles per charge; that's nearly impossible to attain unless it's being operated in cold weather or perhaps being driven at a very high rate of speed. I'm sure once the winter months roll in and the temperature drops it won't be hard to get less than 100 miles of electric range. However in moderate temperatures, I think most people will always be in triple digits. Based on the experience with my car, I'm guessing this new i3 REx will probably average about 85 to 90 miles of all electric range in the winter. My car only averages about 60 to 65 miles of electric range when the temperatures are below 30 degrees Farenheight, therefore 85 to 90 miles sounds about right for this new, longer range model.
Even with trying to get less than 100 miles, I still managed 100 plus an estimated 16 miles remaining. 

The REx Test

The final test was to see if the range extender performance was any different. Much has been made over the fact that the i3 REx can enter Reduced Power mode, and slow down under certain strenuous driving conditions. So I depleted the battery, drove it for 50 miles and made sure to take it up some hill climbs at highway speeds. The first thing I noticed is the range extender operates the exact same way as it always has. It doesn't turn on until the battery state of charge reaches 6.5%. The "Hold State of Charge" option is still disabled here in the US, so if you want that feature, it will still have to be unlocked by coding the vehicle, as before. There was some speculation that the automatic turn on point of the REx might be at a higher SOC with the new model, but I can confirm that's not the case. However, there were two observations that I noticed that were positive.

First, the range extender seemed quieter from inside the cabin. In my car, the REx motor is pretty quiet and unnoticeable until it kicks into it's highest output mode. At that point you can definitely hear the scooter engine revving up high from underneath the rear seats. It's kinda like you're being chased by lawnmower. On long highway trips it will operate at its highest level for most of the journey and the noise is noticeable. I'll usually turn the radio up a notch to cancel it out. With this new car, driving at a constant 75 mph to 80 mph the motor seemed much quieter than it does on mine. My wife was with me for part of this test and she also noticed. She actually asked me if the REx was even running. It seems to me that BMW improved the REx soundproofing. It does sound just as loud as before from outside the vehicle, but it's definitely quieter on the inside.

Secondly, (and I've reached out to BMW for confirmation on this but haven't received a response yet) it does seem like the REx motor has been tuned for a slightly higher output. I took the vehicle on highway roads that I drive on regularly, and have on occasion done so when the REx was operating. The range extender was able to hold the state of charge higher, and under more strenuous driving conditions than my 2014 REx can. There's one particular long incline that I drive every day. With my car, if I start at the bottom with 6% SOC and drive 70 mph up to the top I'll deplete the battery to about 2.5%. I did this same test with the 2017 car and I reached the top of the climb with 5% SOC remaining. I repeated the climb with the same results. I also noticed that I could drive at about 75 mph on flat ground and maintain the 6% SOC. My car can maintain the SOC on flat ground with a constant 70 - 72 mph, but not any higher or the charge will slowly deplete.

I know the 6.5% buffer is now larger, because it's holding 6.5% of 30 kWh instead of 6.5% of about 19 kWh, so that extra energy is definitely helping, but to me it appears that the REx motor has a higher output for the 2017 model. The REx motor in my car is rated at maximum power output of 28 kW. I wouldn't be surprised it we find out the power has been increased to about 33 kW, but I don't have any official confirmation on that. I'm just going on what I've experienced with the previous REx cars and how this new one compared to it. Another hint that I may be correct is the REx is now rated at 35 mpg, down from the 39 mpg which the previous models were rated at. I don't think the extra 170 lbs alone would cause a loss of 4 mpg. I believe it working harder now to produce more energy, which was I'm guessing was achieved through a software adjustment.
After driving 42 miles on the highway I still had 70.5% SOC and an estimates 93 miles or range remaining. My 2014 i3 REx doesn't even go 93 miles per charge!  The range of the 2017 is a substantially greater than previous i3s, even more than the EPA rating would seem to advertise.  

Faster Charging With A New Profile

Previous model year i3s were capable of charging at 30amps which, at 240 volts, gave a maximum draw of 7.2 kW. The new i3s can accept 32 amps which translates to 7.4 kW. Not a huge difference, but it can help if you're waiting for the car to charge to a certain SOC so you can unplug and drive. I should note that most public charging stations are limited to 30 amps, so it won't make a difference on those units. However at home, I have charging stations that can deliver 32 amps so I was able to monitor the difference. My car usually accepts 7.1 to 7.2 kW (depending on the voltage supply) but this new i3 was consistently drawing 7.3 kW to 7.4 kW, so I can confirm the onboard charger upgrade.




















The charging profile of my 2014 i3 REx is on the left, and the 2017 i3 Rex is on the right. 
Both charged from 6.5% to 100%. The 2014 car charges fully in about 3.5 hours and the 2017 in about 4.5 hours.

I did observe something interesting while monitoring the charging profile of the new i3. Instead of the charge rate gradually tapering off as the SOC reached 90%, and slowing down for the final 40 minutes of charging, this car took the maximum rate nearly right up to the end of the session. I charged it three times to monitor this and it behaved the same way all three times. I've never observed this on any other EV. Normally, the vehicle slows down the charging rate considerably as it approaches the end of the session to slowly balance the cells. This takes place once the vehicle is over 90% and the final 5% to 10% of charging takes much longer than charging at lower SOC. That's not happening with this vehicle. It only slows down slightly, and only for a couple minutes at the very end. The charging rate doesn't gradually lower until it shuts off, it more closely resembles falling off a cliff. Interesting.

Finally, a Moonroof


This is fully opened
The moonroof is a new option for the US. It's been available all along for i3s outside of North America, and now it's available here also. The moonroof is a $1,000 option and is a split version, having two openings separated by a solid center section. Each opening has its own manually-operated sunscreen, but the moonroof itself is one piece, and slides back with a push of a button. However it only opens about eight inches, slightly more than half of the actual opening in the roof. It's not even large enough to stick your head out of it - not that you would want to do that; but the point is, it's a small opening. The moonroof does accomplish two things, though. It allows more light in the cabin, giving the feeling of it being more open. It also allows you to eliminate side window buffeting by simply tilting the moonroof open.



Available Battery Capacity - Surprise!

BMW states that the new battery is 33 kWh, and 27 kWh of that is usable. That's only 81.8%  of the total pack, much less than the ~90% they allowed to be accesses on the 60 Ah battery pack. When I read that I wondered if it was perhaps sign that the new 94 Ah cells were less tolerant to deep discharge than the 60 Ah cells were, so BMW was going to be conservative with them. So when I fully charged the battery after the first 100 mile test run, I checked the hidden diagnostic menu and to my surprise it was showing a full 30 kWh accessible. So BMW is allowing access to roughly 90% of the overall pack, just like they do with the 60 Ah cells. That explains the extra range I've witnessed but it doesn't explain why BMW's official stance is that there is only 27 kWh accessible. Perhaps it's for battery capacity warranty claims?
While the "Batt.Kapa.Max" isn't an exact measurement of the available capacity, but it is very close. Close enough to prove there's much more than the 27 kWh that BMW claims is available.


Gained Some Pounds

The only negative I've found is that the new battery is heavier, and adds 170 lbs to the curb weight (3,064 lbs to 3,234 lbs). This does effect performance a bit. The car doesn't feel quite as responsive as my 2014 does. Without testing the performance times, I'd say it's probably close to a half a second slower from 0 to 60 mph. Handling didn't seem quite as crisp as mine either, but that might not be this car's fault. It has the 19" turbine wheels, and my i3 the 20" wheels with the sport tires, which are wider and have a larger contact patch. I also recently lowered my car with sport springs from H&R which have improved the handling, so it's not fair to compare the handling to my car.

My i3 before and after installing the H&R Sport springs. It dropped the car 1" in the front and .8" in the rear.
The other performance change I noticed is the regenerative braking seems to be blended in differently. When driving slowly, it seems pretty much the same as my car does. However at higher speeds the car will coast more when releasing the accelerator. The regenerative braking doesn't initially come on as aggressively as is does on my car. It will get progressively stronger if you continue to coast, but initially upon releasing the accelerator, the car freewheels a lot more than previous versions do. I like this for highway driving, as freewheel coasting improves efficiency. If you slightly depress the friction brake pedal, the friction brakes aren't used, instead the car used first uses only regenerative braking, until you depress the brake pedal harder.

Summing Up

After a couple days and driving over 300 miles I feel it's safe to say that I believe most people will find the average usable range greater than the EPA rating of 97 miles per charge. I almost wonder if BMW purposely underestimated the range a bit in an effort to under-promise and over-deliver. On my 2014 i3 REx, I've found the range to be pretty close to the EPA rated range of 72 miles per charge. I do average a few miles more than that during the warmer months, and about 10 miles less per charge during the winter when it's cold. But this new i3 has unexpectedly trounced the EPA range rating by a healthy margin. I think most people should average well over 100 miles of pure electric range on these vehicles. The range increase will undoubtedly push some people deciding on whether to go BEV or REx into the BEV camp. I know if I were buying one today I'd go BEV also. Getting this kind of range with the REx, I'm certain 125 to 140 miles per charge would be easy to attain with the 2017 BEV. That, combined with the ever increasing CCS DC fast charge networks, would really be all I need for all my driving needs.










Thanks again to Chris Chang and BMW of Bloomfield for providing me with the use of this car for three days of testing.

9 comments:

  1. How did you find the headroom with the moonroof? My experience with every car I've owned with one is that it has an impact. Maybe not an issue for anyone but the 95th percentile, but for better or worse, I fall into that category as being fairly tall, and having a lot of it in the torso. In my current i3, I don't have a whole lot of headroom, so losing any would be an issue.

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  2. Tom: Another really great post, with tons of useful info. Question for you on one small aspect of the post: the springs. Where did you get them, how did you get them installed, and roughly what was the cost? Did you do shocks too? Are there good shocks available? Handling is my one complaint about my 1st gen i3. Thanks!

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  3. "It only slows down slightly, and only for a couple minutes at the very end. The charging rate doesn't gradually lower until it shuts off, it more closely resembles falling off a cliff. Interesting."

    Not quite. Based on the 2 pics you posted, your scales are different. The 2017 i3 power taper is compressed in time by about 3x compared to the 2014 charge rate. If you stretched it out by 3x it wouldn't look like it dropped off a cliff.

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    1. I have some other screen shots where I disconnected soon after the charging session was complete and it demonstrates the same thing, in fact they even showed less of a slow ramp down.

      I've completed over 1,500 charging sessions with my car now, I know what the charging cycle looks like with and without thermal management running simultaneously. The 2017 i3 definitely has a different charging profile, it clearly charges at a higher rate for a longer period than the 60 Ah battery does.

      It could be a result of BMW changing the onboard hardware. In previous models, there were two 3.7kW onboard inverters. One in the EME and the other, the KLE, a separate component. From what I understand, BMW departed from that system, eliminated the inverter in the EME and all the charging equipment is now the unit that they call the KLE.

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  4. I'm currious how to access hidden menu to increase battery usage up to 90% on 94Ah REX version. Since the car has range extender engine the battery will hardly get deeply discharged ever. Would be possible for BMW to find out that this setting was re-adjuated sometimes in past? Thank you for sharing info.

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  5. We're debating 2017 BEV vs. REx and we're not sure what to do! The i3 will be my DD, and I have about a 62-mile roundtrip commute during the week, about 50% highway, 25% city-type, and 25% country backroads-type. The car will be garaged at home, so preconditioning and such isn't an issue. However, at work the car will be outside without access to charging. We're in the greater Philadelphia area, so real winters are a factor. The car will also be used for running errands and short-ish day trips, as we both love the i3 and driving! I don't want to compromise (i.e., Comfort mode all the time, normal heat and cooling temperatures, and definitely A/C in the summer). My driving style is moderate, with occasional heavy acceleration ('cause it's fun!), though I do tend to adhere to the speed limit on the highway. Is it realistic to expect the BEV to be more than sufficient for normal use? From your blog post it sounds like real-world experience with the increased battery capacity might say it is. But the REx gives a sense of security to ensure that the no-comprises is truly possible. So confused on what to do!

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  6. I have a 2017 i3 Rex as my DD my winters are mild in NorCal but temps drop to low 30s in winter. My commute is 62 miles and I have a couple big grades 80% hiway and 20% city. I easily average 3.5miles per kw/h. Could go 2 days without charging but usually charge and precondition every night. Rex never kicked in yet. The car also lives outside (i8 in the garage....) The advance cruise control is awesome in traffic. My favorite commuter by far.

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    1. So from what I've previously written, it sounds like we don't really need the REx. We want an electric car because it's...electric, so if we can forego the REx we'd be thrilled. I don't want, however, to be turning down the heat in winter or turning up the A/C in summer to conserve every last mile of charge. As I mentioned, the i3 will have access to Level 2 charging at home every night, if it needs it, but will be outside all day at work during the week without access to charging.

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  7. Fantastic article (if confusing the this i3 newbie) on the real world numbers, which is really important to me to know before I commit. I've been scrolling through your older posts and I am learning a lot (I found you via your link on the BimmerPost forum). I still have 5 months (or less if I decide to order the i3) before I need to buy a car (moving from London, UK to Seattle, WA in July) and I am really interested in the i3. So thank you for the very helpful blog!

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