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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Dan Bee
Dan Bee
1 month ago

Keep on trucking David. I’m a Willys and i3 guy too. So there are at least two of us.

Our kids still complain about how nearly every car they get into has terrible outward visibility (especially from the back seat) compared to the stellar visibility of the i3.

Last edited 1 month ago by Dan Bee
Daryll Rardon
Daryll Rardon
1 month ago

OK – that is a very cool i3. Have fun with it! I’ve driven several and they are special.

Scott McAfee
Scott McAfee
1 month ago

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You carry on about this car as if it was universally beloved and lusted after. This car was absolutely trashed by almost everybody, to the point it became a running joke – especially by the automotive press. BMW was giving these away in L.A. to drive for a week free to just about anybody who would take one and still couldn’t sell any. Overpriced, no range, sketchy service support and hideous looks plus that fact that there were competitors at lower cost and greater capabilities doomed this car. As a quirky collectable I can see its appeal, but like Limburger cheese it is an acquired taste.

Steven Sims
Steven Sims
1 month ago

Yeah, but… At the end of the day it’s still a BMW.

Good luck with your “forever” repairs.

Is Travis
Is Travis
1 month ago

Dude, I know this has already been said, but you narrowed down the specificity of your i3 like a sad middle aged Corvette owner trying to explain why his specific combo is really only one of like 1700 in Colorado.
Yours is much more rare, but same vibe. I get that this is a hard to find vehicle based on the options, but those parts don’t scream holy grail to me.
That aside, dope color and combo, the Harmon Kardon is a must. Crank the bass and make em bump.

Last edited 1 month ago by Is Travis
JDE
JDE
1 month ago

They really are the Smart Cars of the EV world. you either love them or hate them it seems. I am far more enamored by the I8, as it it at least visually attractive. But I have rarely seen one that does not have issues. Almost all have similar battery issues to the original I3 you purchased.

Myk El
Myk El
1 month ago

I’ve never ridden in one, but I have sat in one, all seats. I found it to be a pleasant place, even in back. It was just outside my means. I had some neighbors with one, they definitely loved it. I hope this relationship works out long term, same with the other one.

Nick Fortes
Nick Fortes
1 month ago

I wish they kept that carved out door relief detail from the concept, though I cant tell if the relief part is metal or glass

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
1 month ago

I remember the i3 being released when I lived in the UK and telling my wife if we were to stay, that would be the car we bought. A roomy compact for a family of 4 was awesome!

Now we have 2 more kids so that’s not an option, but I’m really enjoying reading about your experiences with them! Enjoy your holy grail!

Segador
Segador
1 month ago

I was one of the apparently few people that loved the way these looked from the very beginning.

i3 Driving Indicator Fetishist
i3 Driving Indicator Fetishist
1 month ago

YAY!!

Robot Turds
Robot Turds
1 month ago

I find it a little depressing that somehow you went from Jeeps to BMW i3’s. These are little blobs.

Rick Garcia
Rick Garcia
1 month ago

That side profile is so off. Up, down, Up. With only 200 mile range an ioniq 5 makes so much more sense.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick Garcia

I fixed it for a piece about the i3 but David didn’t to it because he’s a monster.

https://www.theautopian.com/the-bmw-i3-was-a-design-success-even-if-it-was-a-failure/

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick Garcia

Yeah I struggle with the value of the REX on these when it offers so little capability. Might as well just buy a EV with more range.

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

Congrats!

Are you selling the older one? Surely you can’t keep amassing cars in pricey SoCal. I’m still not clear why you have that Leaf, two i3s is one too many, and that Galpin lot Jeep has got to be put out of its misery at some point. As does the Golden Eagle.

Keep this i3 and the Wrangler. Done.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago

…so you’re saying I should YOLO my way into getting that good off-road Cayenne that’s available now?

(Significant catch: I absolutely do not have YOLO funds for another parsh this year.)

Last edited 1 month ago by Stef Schrader
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Doit

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago

…can you give me $11K?

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Nope

Do it anyway

Last edited 1 month ago by Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago

well, then I’m a hard no

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

May I interest you in Klarnaffirm

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago

no

Flatisflat
Flatisflat
1 month ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Welcome to the wonderful world of debilitating credit!

BenCars
BenCars
1 month ago

What’s the range like on the petrol engine alone (i.e. without electric charge)? I know when these first came out the range was pretty miniscule even on the Rex, but I imagine the later revised models should be much improved.

Toecutter
Toecutter
1 month ago

I’m glad you found the car you wanted.

You probably have the only one like it in the entire USA.

And, that paint scheme on that thing is total pimpjuice.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago

“The real question is: Why buy another i3 if I already have one?”

To race them, obviously.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
1 month ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

“When was the the fist ever motor race?”
”right after the second ever car was built”
(Jerry Seinfeld I think)

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago

If you plan to keep it for as long as possible, resale isn’t important. All that matters is that you’re happy paying what it costs and, while people might argue that’s a lot for an i3, it’s a dream car of yours and that’s pretty damn cheap for one of those, especially one that should have low running costs. Looks much better with those wheels and that color. They’re not my kind of thing, but I think they’re cool for the engineering and the odd DGAF-about-impressing-or-intimidating-people styling. Congratulations!

Cody
Cody
1 month ago

Because it’s an out of state car, you can get a Clean Air Vehicle (CAV) sticker to drive the HOV lane (unless you’re trying to get a rebate through the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project). I think all the stickers are going to expire Sept-2025 though.

Attila the Hatchback
Attila the Hatchback
1 month ago

Nice color, but that price… wow.

If I was going to pay >$30K for a weird electric BMW, I’d really try to pony up about $15K more and get an i8. There’s a good number of these for sale under $45K around me, and just think of all the fun articles you could write, like, “I just replaced the spare tire valve stem cap with the official BMW part and it cost me only $795!”

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago

“Indeed, this concept allows us to practically offset the extra 250 to 350 kilograms of weight typically found in electrically powered luxury vehicles filled with crap.”

Fixed it.

Stryker_T
Stryker_T
1 month ago

so what is the over/under on how many i3s David is really going to end up with and how can we get some sort of Battle Royale between his i3s and Mercedes’ Smarts…

No More Crossovers
No More Crossovers
1 month ago

this would be hilarious to slap an M badge on

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

M + Cygnet + CSi badges.

Al Camino
Al Camino
1 month ago

Great buy! You’re thinking about this the right way by thinking long term. On a per year basis this will be a cheap purchase especially for the joy it will give you. I bought an MB E350 wagon in a rare color and it’s fun to never see another car with your color.
One modification you need to make, I would slap a Hurst badge on the rear of your car to freak out people, since you have the Hurst black & gold paint scheme.

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