Home » I Bought The Holy Grail Of BMW i3s Even Though It Was Probably A Terrible Financial Decision

I Bought The Holy Grail Of BMW i3s Even Though It Was Probably A Terrible Financial Decision

David Tracy Bmw I3 Grail Balloon
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Sometimes you have one shot at the grail, and you have to decide whether or not to take it. That opportunity came last month when I saw the ultimate BMW i3 go up for sale as a lease turn-in; I knew I had to act immediately or it would be gone, and I would never find it again. Should I pick up the phone and spend an exorbitant sum on the Holy Grail BMW i3 or should I let it pass? I picked up the phone. Here’s why.

You may recall a few months back that I was deliberating whether or not to buy a 2019 BMW i3S — a vehicle that, at the time, I considered The Holy Grail of i3s. I passed on that car and regretted it for months. Why? Because the BMW i3 — especially the range-extended model in the right trim — is more than just a car to me. As someone who has engineered cars and driven pretty much every EV on the U.S. market and some from China, I still find myself enamored by this carbon fiber wonder from Leipzig even 10 years after it launched.

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The i3’s story is a car-geek’s dream. About 15 years ago, the Bavarian automaker handed over $2.5 billion to its engineers and designers and gave them the chance at a moonshot. What they delivered was a concept car called the “Mega City Vehicle,” which BMW introduced in February of 2010, writing in a press release:

The BMW Group is once again breaking new ground with the Megacity Vehicle (MCV), due to come onto the market in 2013: “The Megacity Vehicle is a revolutionary automobile. It will be the world’s first volume-produced vehicle with a passenger cell made from carbon. … Indeed, this concept allows us to practically offset the extra 250 to 350 kilograms of weight typically found in electrically powered vehicles.” says Klaus Draeger, Member of the Board of Management for Development.

[…]

The LifeDrive concept consists of two horizontally separated, independent modules. The Drive module integrates the battery, drive system and structural and crash functions into a single construction within the chassis. Its partner, the Life module, consists primarily of a high-strength and extremely lightweight passenger cell made from CFRP. Furthermore, the new vehicle architecture opens the door to totally new production processes which are both simpler and more flexible, and use less energy.

The BMW Group is also aiming to be the force behind the best drive systems over the years ahead – systems boasting outstanding efficiency, performance and smoothness, even if it is electricity rather than fossil fuels that are converted into propulsion. To this end, the BMW Group is vigorously driving forward the technical development of electric powertrains. The BMW Group’s centre of expertise for electric drive systems brings together development, manufacturing and procurement specialists under one roof. All their efforts are focused on the implementation and typically BMW interpretation of the new generation of drive systems. Ultimately, electric vehicles not only provide a zero-local-emission and low-noise form of propulsion; their ability to deliver a totally new and extremely agile driving experience is also impressive.

The new architecture of the MCV also gives the vehicle designers additional freedom when it comes to creating a new aesthetic for sustainable urban mobility solutions.

Here’s what the concept looked like in 2010:

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Within a year and a half, BMW had a physical concept car:

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BMW i3 Concept (09/2011)
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BMW i3 Concept (09/2011)
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BMW i3 Concept (09/2011)
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BMW i3 Concept (09/2011)

And then within two years BMW blew everyone’s mind, showing off a machine that looked very much like a concept car — a weirdly-designed carbon-fiber bubble with a crazy interior featuring all sorts of sustainable materials including a eucalyptus dashboard. Except it was a production car.

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It was a moonshot in every way. The way it was built, the exterior styling, the cabin design, the powertrain with an integrated range extender. It was, according to engineering expert Sandy Munro, the Model T of our time:

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Anyway, enough about the i3’s story. Many of you have heard it before. The real question is: Why buy another i3 if I already have one?

Well, after having owned my 2014 for a year, I realized that the i3 is going to be my forever car. You see, the i3 blends my long-held love for gasoline with a new inevitable electric reality, especially here in California. I’ve driven EV after EV — R1T, Taycan, Model S, Lightning, Ioniq 5, Cybertruck, EV6 — and while they’re fantastic machines that I’d recommend to many, none of them truly stir my soul. Only one electric car has done it for me, and that’s the BMW i3. It’s the carbon fiber chassis, it’s the insanely gorgeous interior, it’s the fascinating history, it’s the compact size and range-extender system that doesn’t rely on a giant battery to be practical.

The i3 is everything I believe in, all wrapped in a singular package: Cars should be small and light; commuters should probably be electric; you don’t need a huge battery pack for your daily driver, and a small gas engine as a backup will solve your range anxiety; great build quality is paramount; cabins are where you spend your time and should therefore feel special; great crash performance is important. And I could go on.

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To have found a car that one connects with on this level is a rarity, so, after driving my 2014 (see above) for a year and falling head over heels, and realizing in the past year that I have to get rid of a number of my vehicles since my life has changed from the Michigan days (I no longer have as much time to wrench due to me running this website and maintaining a relationship with Elise, my wonderful girlfriend), I figured: “If I’m going to get rid of many of my cars, and I plan to keep an i3 forever, it should be the very best one.”

And the ultimate i3, to me, is a Galvanic Gold 2021 BMW i3S Rex with Giga World interior and max options (sans moonroof, which adds weight and gets rid of the carbon fiber top; some also complain about heat getting in through the closed sunroof). It’s a car that many didn’t think actually existed. Comb the i3 forums, and you’ll see that, due to COVID, 2021 i3s with the Harman Kardon sound system (a must in these cars) are extremely difficult to find due to parts shortages.

BMW only ever sold 1,476 i3s in the U.S. in 2021 according to Goodcarbadcar. Yes, under 1,500. Of those, maybe 200 were Galvanic Gold (only available in ’21), maybe 50 of those had Giga World interiors, maybe 30 of those had the range extender (which you want in my opinion; the i3 is an only-OK EV but a world-beating range-extended EV), maybe 10 of those were the “S” sport model, maybe five of those were fully decked out with the Harman Kardon sound system and big screen and other nice interior tech.

And since BMW stopped selling the Range Extended i3 in 2019 outside of the U.S., it’s possible that this fully-loaded Galvanic Gold 2021 i3S Rex with Giga Interior is a one of five in the world. It honestly could be a one-of-one.

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So how did I land it if it’s so rare? Well, first, the i3 is an acquired taste, beloved by only the nerdiest of car nerds. To many, it’s a pug-nosed compact car not worth a second glance. But to enthusiasts, it’s sensational. Those enthusiasts would snap this car up in a moment if it hit the open market. The only reasons why I was able to nab it were: 1. It was a lease turn-in, so it wasn’t a private seller putting the car on the market, it was a BMW dealer. 2. The BMW online used-car portal had listed this car with no photos. I saw the listing, ran the VIN, and was surprised to see what this car was. 3. As soon as I ran that VIN, I contacted the dealer and put a deposit down, figuring the car was in decent shape since it was a lease turn-in. 4. The car was expensive, and not everyone wants to drop $30 large on an i3 given that you can buy some 2021s for only $20 grand these days and 2018s for $15 grand (heck, you can buy an Ioniq 5 or a Tesla Model 3 for less than this i3).

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It was luck that brought me to the grail, which was one of the final cars built (manufactured in June; the i3 left production after July) and cost $57,500 when it was new three years ago (see above). If this vehicle had been sold by an individual who knew what it was and who posted it with photos, the car would have sold in a heartbeat. A year ago, a Gold i3S just like mine, but with a moonroof instead of the Harman Kardon sound system and the dark brown interior instead of the Giga World sold for $39,000 pretty much instantly.

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That’s not to say that this was a sound financial decision, because it was not. BMW i3 values are tanking, and the vehicle is a niche one. Even if it’s worth $30 large today, it’s possible it will be worth only half that in five years. But I didn’t buy this as an investment; I bought this because I think it’s the best car in the world for an enthusiast who lives in a city and can charge at home. And if you have a chance to drive what you legitimately think is the best car in the world, you take that chance.

 

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Because it’s a 2019+, this i3 has a 42kWh battery instead of the 22 kWh one in my 2014 (so 130 miles of range instead of 75, and it should last my lifetime). It’s got a new iDrive system with Apple Carplay built in, it has adaptive LED headlights, LED cornering lights, a slightly different seat fabric, 14 extra horsepower over the standard on-sport i3, and the sport suspension (which actually rides better than my non-sport suspension on my ’14, though that car has 145,000 miles). I’m excited to compare the final model-year i3S with my first model-year i3. Expect that article soon.

I haven’t driven my new i3 much, but I’m already head over heels. It looks amazing (I’m planning on having it XPEL PPF‘d), it rides well, it’s quick, it’s roomy and comfortable in the cabin, it’s nimble and easy to park, and it solves my other BMW i3’s biggest Achilles Heel — tires. I’ll explain more on that in a later article. But for now, I’m in love. Bankrupt, but in love.

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
23 days ago

Congratulations David…I’m glad you found one that stirs your soul…that’s what’s important. I like all your older cars better than the I3’s. I just have to say that gold is awful though

Scott
Scott
24 days ago

Congratulations David, you’ve managed (once again) to make me green with envy. 🙂

That one-year-only color is awesome and on an S model no less! Yes, the price is a bit dear, but how often does the chance come up to acquire something that stirs the soul? Besides, the longer you keep using it, the less each year’s cost to own will be.

Of course the i3 is an acquired taste: some folks absolutely love it (you and I for example), while others detest and revile it. I view most of its quirks as positives, and even now, more than a decade since inception, it still strikes me as modern and innovative.

Personally, after having read about the frequency of issues involving the range extender, I’d have preferred the regular, battery-only version with the larger, 120 Ah capacity, but then again, 98% of my driving is short-range, city-only stuff. Also, the few REx models I’ve driven struck me as kind of noisy when the generator kicks on, but that’s a minor quibble. I’ve also wondered about the bigger standard wheels on the S model… I love the slightly wider tush on it, but the standard i3 isn’t wild about bumpy roads (I live way up in the hills… some of the ‘undedicated’ streets here resemble lunar landscapes) so even less sidewall makes me worry. I can’t wait to hear about the tire availability/fitment info you mentioned… I remember all this good stuff just in case I manage to get my own i3 eventually. 😉

That color with the black wheels is so fantastic… like a modern take on a my grandma’s 70’s Buick Wildcat color. I know you’re going to enjoy it so much! 🙂

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