As David patiently awaits the battery swap on his cheap BMW i3, the cogs in our brains have been turning. While a small electric hatchback doesn’t sound like an obvious vehicle to modify, the devil on my shoulder is urging David to look beyond stock. Whether livability upgrades, handling upgrades, or things that just make the i3 look cooler, let’s look at some of the most interesting out there for BMW’s incredible little hatchback.
Coding The Range Extender
One of the great perks of the i3 is that despite having a fairly low electric range, it was available with a range extender to quell range anxiety. However, to qualify as a zero-emission vehicle in America, BMW had to artificially restrict the fuel capacity of the range extender’s tank. The physical tank is the same size around the world, but American i3s carry around a half gallon of fuel that can’t be used due to regulatory reasons. With a bit of coding, that half-gallon can be unlocked to offer a longer total driving range.
In addition, the range extenders in American i3 REx models can’t be manually toggled on; it only fires up when your battery is really low, and when the battery is drained, the range extender can’t really keep the vehicle going 70 MPH, especially not uphill. The way around this is to run the range extender before the battery goes flat. That way, the car can drive much farther on the battery (which allows you to drive well over 70 MPH, even uphill); the battery will drain a little since the power needed to propel the car will exceed the power input to the battery (plus inefficiencies) from the generator, but it’ll take a very long time.
You can do this with a bit of coding. The end result is a more usable, more flexible powertrain. Nifty, right? All you need to unlock the full potential of the REx is a coding app like Bimmercode and a suitable phone adapter, which sounds like a small price to pay for huge usability gains. Oh, and to quickly turn on the range extender, you can store that function as a radio preset.
Rolls-Royce Warning Chimes
If you’re used to combustion-powered BMW ownership, the typical BMW warning chime can make the pit of your stomach drop. Thankfully, the BMW i3 uses a different warning chime, but an even nicer option exists. As Rolls-Royce is a BMW subsidiary, i3 owners can code their cars to play the Rolls-Royce warning chimes, which are soft, classical tones that feel like a gentle ahem as opposed to a blaring alert. Have a listen to the video above. As with fiddling with the REx settings, Rolls-Royce chimes can be added using a coding app and a suitable phone adapter. Wicked.
Extra Storage (Won’t Fit David’s i3)
The i3 is already a practical car but if you have one without the range extender, you can make it even more practical for around $300. A German company called Wokeby offers a new trunk floor for i3 BEV models that adds 35 liters of luggage space — there’s no internal combustion engine there, so you may as well use the leftover space, right?. It sounds great for storing charging cables and other vehicular flotsam. It’s a great way to take advantage of space otherwise used by the range extender and really optimize cargo room. Best of all, it’s made of recycled plastic, so it’s a feel-good sort of mod.
[Editor’s Note: I hate when not choosing a certain option means you just waste space. Like a smaller battery pack for example — what a waste of packaging volume! -DT].
Because the BMW i3’s frunk isn’t sealed from the elements, dirt and grime can contaminate whatever is inside. Apparently BMW really just saw this as a place to store charging cables and maybe other outdoor-friendly items. But that’s okay, because that aforementioned aftermarket parts company, Wokeby, offers this:
It’s basically a big foam cup that you tape to the underside of the hood using velcro tape (see above). When the hood is down, the rubber seals on the lip of the cup keep debris out of the storage area.
AC Schnitzer Kit
What if you want your i3 to look really sporty? Well, good news: Legendary BMW tuner AC Schnitzer has a full kit for these tiny plug-in hatchbacks. It’s expensive at $5,795, but it includes lower springs, new bump stops, wheel spacers, some interior trim bits, and a complement of spoilers. Okay, so it won’t make your i3 quicker and the chin spoiler doesn’t fit pre-facelift models, but the kit looks really cool and is high-quality stuff. It imbues this very green car with some hot hatch personality, not a bad thing to gain.
What if you just want to get rid of wheel gap on your i3? No worries, H&R has springs for you. On a range-extender model, these will drop ride height by 1.2 inches up front and 0.8 inches out back for a sweet-looking rake effect. Will it affect the handling? Probably, although whether that’s a good or bad thing is largely subjective. However, if you prioritize looks, this is a great bang-for-the-buck option that should set your i3 apart from the rest. If you really want to focus on handling, tuning company Evolve has a full set of springs and dampers that I’ve been told work a treat.
i3s Anti-Roll Bar
Shopping the factory parts catalog for go-fast bits is a time-honored tradition for car enthusiasts, and the BMW i3 can still benefit from an OEM upgrade or two. BMW geeks will likely remember the short-lived i3s, a hot hatch version of the i3. It gained a litany of upgrades focused on improving the i3’s fun factor, one of which is said to be a beefier front anti-roll bar. Looking at the parts catalog, the bushings, mounting brackets, and end links are identical between i3 and i3s models, so this is a great piece to swap onto older i3 models. The part number is 31306887535, and it seems to retail for between $200 and $250. Not bad.
Drop-In Audio Upgrades
One nice thing about the i3 is that despite being a sensible hatchback, it’s still a luxury vehicle. This means that its audio system isn’t bottom of the barrel, and it was even available with a very okay Harman/Kardon premium audio system. However, if you’re like me and want more, a variety of aftermarket vendors can fulfill your desires. For instance, BavSound sells high-quality drop-in replacement speakers that offer a marked improvement in sound quality without requiring any cutting, drilling, or soldering. Plus, these speakers are matched to the factory amplifier.
If you have a 2018 or newer i3, you’ll either have Apple CarPlay or be able to activate CarPlay with a cheap Wi-Fi antenna and a bit of coding. However, Android owners get left out in the cold, and earlier i3s didn’t even support CarPlay. Once again, the aftermarket provides with a variety of modules that can get phone mirroring going in your i3 through the factory infotainment screen. These aftermarket multimedia interface (MMI) boxes retail for a couple of hundred bucks and are a great way to bring your early i3 bang up-to-date.
From cosmetic bits to handling goodies to tech, the BMW i3 is more tweakable than you might think. While electric vehicles will force us to change the way we think of modifying cars, many of the upgrades we already like transfer over regardless of powertrain. After all, electric cars still have suspension, still have interiors, and still have bodies. Whether you want your EV to go further, corner harder, or simply be more livable, there are mods out there for you. The future doesn’t have to be dull, now does it?
(Photo credits: AC Schnitzer, Wokeby, BMW, BavSound, Bavarian Automotive)
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The i3 range extender itself seems like one of the dumbest automotive ideas I’ve heard in a long time.
Why would you add a combustion engine and all the hardware to support it, just so your plug-in EV can have a limp mode to get it to a power outlet?
That being said, I really like the styling, design and construction of the i3. I think the pure EV is the one that makes sense though.
I think they did it to extend the range.
We ALMOST skipped the REx on our 2nd one (an i3s)…but we live in the open countryside so until cows can deliver mobile DC fast charging we still kinda need it.
That AC Schnitzer kit slaps, not gonna lie.
Range might suffer a bit, but I think some aftermarket wheels would be a good mod too, so you can run normal tire sizes (i3’s use a weird tire size that’s expensive and hard to get).
If i owned one this would be my first mod! There’s no way i’m paying au$370 for one tyre
And it’s because of mods that run the extender in advance and people not plugging in as expected, the EU stopped the tax breaks for plug-in-hybrids and ‘range extenders’.
I expect the same thing to happen in North America and other places eventually.
And that’s also why the sales of hybrids have dropped recently in the EU while pure-BEV sales have continued to climb.
But nonetheless, this is a great article for anyone looking to get the most out of their i3.
On my 2014 i3 REX I’ve coded the range extender and installed the MMI box, highly recommend both. Didn’t know about the frunk seal, might have to get that
Woof, a harder suspension with less travel is extremely not what that thing needs. This EV enthusiast and driver was just not able to get there on another cheap i3 after I drove it on a few city roads.
Only thing I can think of to do to that monstrosity is cut the body off the lower chassis and mount an older body onto it. Or just crush it….either way it sucks.
If you want to be super cool, you’ll plaster the i3 in //M badges for +10 hp.