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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P90128956 Lowres Bmw I3 07 2013Screen Shot 2024 05 28 At 7.32.39 Am

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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D0nut
D0nut
1 month ago

Love it! The color is gorgeous. You deserve some nice things :).

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 month ago

She’s a peach! Live your weird car guy dreams, David! Your level of appreciation for these cars has made me like them a lot. I now get a little excited when I see one on the road because of your articles. I definitely couldn’t make one work, but if you can they’re hard to argue with.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 month ago

Man, I never get tired of seeing that Gigachad…er…Giga World interior.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 month ago

That eucalyptus dashboard is pretty awesome, but watch out for Koala bears. They might look cure and furry, but they will chew the crap out of a eucalyptus dashboard.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Bears shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not a Subaru.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
1 month ago

Is this the largest purchase of your life to date?

D-dub
D-dub
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Insert Padme & Anakin meme:
3 or 4 cars that add up to $30K in value right?
3 or 4 cars that add up to $30K in value right?

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I am judging you (but only for the purposes of this reply) and thus agree wholeheartedly with this purchase. 🙂

It’s a lot of fun seeing you go through these changes. Also, I believe at this stage of your life that one good car is probably wiser than four less good cars.

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

The superfetation of which you’re getting rid of, right? Dead red jeep, dead leaf, previous i3 you’ll make a profit on?

Jmfecon
Jmfecon
1 month ago

See what California sun did to David, instead of collecting old rustbucket Jeeps he is now collecting hybrid BMWs.

What a change.

Congrats, it is a really nice car. And although expensive, it is not something like a first gen LWB ActiveHybrid7.

I always pondered an i3, but always thought it was too expensive for what it was. Changed my mind nowadays, but I don’t commute to work daily anymore, so it won’t fit as family car.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
1 month ago
Reply to  Jmfecon

RIP POStal Dave.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 month ago

If the wolves aren’t at the door, there’s no sin in buying something simply for the joy. The interior alone is worth it.

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
1 month ago

Now that you have two i3s. It’s time to ruin one. Create the Overland i3. Roof top tent, little A/T tires, bit of lift, whole nine yards.

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
1 month ago

Oh my god, please do this David, or sell me the older i3 so I can do it!

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago

It’s all about firsts:
David’s first i3.
First i3 in a gambler.

Makes sense, dunnit?

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
1 month ago

Safari ALL the things!

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago

12-inch lift and full sized big knob 31″ tires.

JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
1 month ago

Congratulations on your new i3, looks fantastic.

Anthony Magagnoli
Anthony Magagnoli
1 month ago

CONGATS! 🙂

Ottomottopean
Ottomottopean
1 month ago

That’s one way to escape the expensive tire replacement in the 2014 model I suppose.

JTilla
JTilla
1 month ago

As much as I love the i3, the stupid wheel size ruins the experience.

Nevermind
Nevermind
1 month ago
Reply to  JTilla

This!!! I can’t stand the bicycle-width contact patch and bandaid-thickness sidewalls. So confused when people describe these as sporty.

JTilla
JTilla
1 month ago
Reply to  Nevermind

You can’t even get other wheels for them. Have fun trying to run snow tires on those.

Bobblehead
Bobblehead
1 month ago

David, well done.
As an i3 pilot, I salute you.
Love these little cars.

Fix It Again Tony
Fix It Again Tony
1 month ago

I’m genuinely curious how you plan to make the i3 your forever car. Do you think 50 years from now there still will be new batteries being made for it? Are you stocking up on i3 batteries to last the rest of your life?

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Ted Fort
Ted Fort
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Did something change? Given that the earlier ones were lasting under a decade, and EV battery packs are generally tired by 15 years or so (and I’m being generous – see your Leaf), what’s different here? Not trying to be rude, and I’m far from anti-EV, I’m just curious.

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

CA will probably pass some legislation forcing BMW to replace your batteries if they drop below 75% capacity after 350,000 miles…

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I hope you aren’t still betting against tetanus and you outlast the battery.

Mortalcombatant
Mortalcombatant
1 month ago

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.

So David will be one of the old farts sitting in car shows with a sign saying exactly this line.

Bobblehead
Bobblehead
1 month ago

Instead of a gold chain, it’s a braided hemp necklace. All other details: same-same.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago

With super creepy, crying Lederhosen clad Hummel dolls…

DrDanteIII
DrDanteIII
1 month ago

At this point David Tracy has bought more holy grails than the catholic church.

The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
1 month ago
Reply to  DrDanteIII

or the jizzstain that owns Hobby Lobby

Widgetsltd
Widgetsltd
1 month ago

So you have a three-year-old car with a carbon fiber structure (and it might be a one-of-a-kind spec) for $30k. AND it’s a fantastic color? Sounds like a deal to me. That gold reminds me of the Zanzibar color that Land Rover had a while back.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
1 month ago

I feel like this is David’s roots calling back to him, a few months in Cali cleared the iron oxide from his system, and he remembered Germany and his engineering training and this is like all that put together. Throw in a big pretzel and some lederhosen and he’d probably stay in that for a month without needing a big subscriber push 🙂

Janeane Garafolo
Janeane Garafolo
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

But…you’ll always have a soft spot for Detroit. Right?

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
1 month ago

Pulls out a screwdriver.

Oh crap, the soft spot is just more rust!

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago

Can you give yourself COTD?

Drew
Drew
1 month ago

This is a better grail than the last one you looked at, in my opinion. Good find! You’ve almost convinced me I need an i3.

CubSmurf
CubSmurf
1 month ago

Were you able to take advantage of the used car EV credit at purchase? Or will you claim it on your taxes?

Drew
Drew
1 month ago
Reply to  CubSmurf

Used credit only applies on cars under $25k.

Last edited 1 month ago by Drew
Frankencamry
Frankencamry
1 month ago

So, I am a bit troubled by the notion that the battery pack will last your lifetime, as one would expect 40, 50 or more years is ahead for you.

Even the most optimistic battery enthusiasts aren’t claiming that lifespan before solid state becomes an option, so here’s hoping you’re not being prophetic. I hope you have 2 or 3 battery replacements to look forward to.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I’m curious about your claim that the battery could last 40 years; is there data to suggest batteries will actually last that long? I know lithium ion batteries last a long time, but I thought that was more like 15-20 years.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I could see the cells and wiring lasting that long. What about other components? I don’t know much about how EVs work, but presumably there are a lot of other electronics needed to manage and charge the battery. How long will those last? Are those items replaceable?

It will be interesting to see how EVs hold up over time. My assumption has always been that ~20 years will be the practical limit, but maybe not?

Who Knows
Who Knows
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I’m certainly no battery expert, but my understanding is that lithium ion batteries have constant chemical reactions that can degrade the battery over time, even if it is not in use. LFP are better, and are expected to last 25+ years, but the more energy dense EV ones have a faster chemical reaction. Maybe put it in cold storage to slow the reactions. Or I might be completely off base. But considering that 70-80% capacity is considered to be a done for battery, it might take decades to get to your 50% level.

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
1 month ago

Speaking of carbon fiber, why is hardly anyone using it to gain fuel efficiency? Hell, most are hardly using aluminum.

Spikersaurusrex
Spikersaurusrex
1 month ago

My guess is that carbon fiber is cost prohibitive for most applications. Remember the i3 was a $60k city car when new, not a $20k Yaris. Also, repairability could be an issue. While carbon fiber is repairable by a qualified technician, I don’t think there are many qualified technicians at most body shops.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 month ago

Carbon fiber is very energy intensive to manufacture. It is also a petroleum product so there is that to take into account. The main issue though is reparability. The proper name for Carbon fiber is CFRP, or carbon fiber reinforced plastic. Think of it like fiberglass, but high tech. CFRP has great strength but if it breaks, it cannot be welded, or bent back into shape. Any crack in a piece of CFRP and it is done.

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
1 month ago
Reply to  Thomas Metcalf

Yeah, when you never develop with it, it stays niche.

Boats have been fiberglass for almost a century.

I know what carbon fiber is and means the context of cars.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Frankencamry
Frankencamry
1 month ago

If you have to send your car 500 miles away on a flatbed to a shop that handles carbon fiber after a fender bender you’ve doubtless wasted more fuel in that one transaction than using carbon fiber would save over the regular life of the car.

Davey
Davey
1 month ago

I don’t know why more companies aren’t using aluminum in their body panels at least (outside of expensive non-everyday vehicles).
It’s not double the price or double the complexity, and the weight savings, not having to worry about scratches rusting (Canada here) have huge benefits. Wish more manufacturers made aluminum body panels. Hell, just start with making the hood aluminum. I’m no Ford fan (or BMW for that matter) but damn if that wasn’t a good idea for their trucks.

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
1 month ago
Reply to  Davey

Hallelujah! Someone else gets the rust issue. Call me insane, but the idea we build cars out of a material that when mixed with the universal solvent turns to dust, is the biggest con in all of mankind. That will sell a lot of cars and a lot of Chinese steel.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago
Reply to  Davey

Counterpoint. Modern body corrosion mitigation is pretty good. The number of pristine looking 10+ year old cars I have come across here in Toronto with rusted out mechanicals saddens me. We need more corrosion resistant components.

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
1 month ago

Counterpoint. Modern body corrosion mitigation is pretty good.

It certainly can be, but that’s dependent on the choices the OEM makes. Then it’s all protected by a thin layer of paint that can be taken out by an errant shopping cart.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
1 month ago

If only someone had done a deep dive on this, in fact on the design of the i3, on this very website….. oh wait, they did.
https://www.theautopian.com/the-bmw-i3-was-a-design-success-even-if-it-was-a-failure/

Last edited 1 month ago by Adrian Clarke
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Who’s that blood and what does he know about car design anyway?

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

There’s too much good content for me to read it all! Thanks for the link.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
1 month ago

Just click on my name on any of my articles. That’s the good stuff.

Dr Buford
Dr Buford
1 month ago

DT: I swear to god I’m no longer a car hoarder!
Also DT: and this is my *other* i3…

Nice work! Nothing like getting a car you really want and already love.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr Buford

Five years from now-

DT: “So, the city code enforcement has declared the 15 BMW i3s in my backyard in various states of repair constitute an unlicensed junkyard. Now I gotta figure out which ones to keep , and which ones to sell.”

Dr Buford
Dr Buford
1 month ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Lather, Rinse, Repeat 🙂

I *just* purged 3 cars/trucks and 4 motorcycles. Tomorrow I’m picking up my ‘24 Tundra and after a hastened break-in run to the Mackinaw Bridge and back (yeah yeah yeah, vary the speed, yadda yadda) I’ll be headed to southern VA to visit family and pick up a car for my 13 year old son and a dirt bike for my younger brother. I’ll still be down 4 vehicles so in the boss’s eyes so I’m getting better.

Damn it feels good to be a gangsta, but also, TheSickness™️ is real.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
1 month ago

Awesome, I think that interior is one of the best modern re-thinking the basics of car interior design. Good looking but functional, your enthusiasm for these is making me consider looking at one for a DD again. I really think it’s a shame that BMW didn’t do more with the “i” brand after releasing these and the wild i8, they were poised to do what Tesla did before Tesla.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 month ago

Why stop at two?

I suspect that I3s will prove very difficult to restore, anything that’s not hand made gets difficult to restore the further from hand made it is, so now you have the dilemma of drive it or keep it nice.

I inherited a mint condition 1962 2 door Galaxy 500 in 1989, by 1995 it looked like it was 30 years old. In retrospect I feel like an ass for driving it.

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