I’m awestruck by my 2014 BMW i3. Genuinely awestruck. It is about as close to perfect as any car I’ve ever driven, and I’ve driven lots of cars. It’s so good, in fact, that I’ve recommended the machine to pretty much everyone I know, because every time I get behind the wheel I say to myself: “I can’t believe how good this car is.” Here, allow me to explain in this rather short blog.
“Perfect” is a hell of a word, and in the case of an automobile, the term cannot be divorced from context. A Toyota Land Cruiser, for example, is perfect if you’re an overlander in the outback. A Jeep Wrangler is perfect if you’re rock-crawling in Moab. A Porsche 911 is perfect around Laguna Seca. A long-bed 1989 Ford F-150 with a 300 inline-six ant T18 stickshift is perfect on your job site. And the BMW i3 is perfect if you live in the suburbs of a big city and have a place to charge. And I mean pretty much truly perfect.
When I think about what I need when commuting in LA, it’s a few things: 1. Efficiency (gas is so damn expensive; $5! Minimum!) 2. Quickness (merging into traffic is challenging here) 3. Small exterior dimensions (parking is rough). 4. Decent size inside (so I can carry my tools/car parts/friends/cats) and 5. Comfort (sitting in traffic on the 405 in an old junker will wear you down).
The i3 nails every one of these attributes. It uses no gas for its first 70 miles of freeway driving or 85 miles of city driving. It’s so damn quick it lets me merge into traffic — even on the legendarily short on-ramps of the 110 freeway — easily. The car is tiny, so it parks great; the backup camera and park sensors help (plus, the car can parallel park itself!). There’s tons of room inside (look at the image below to see the huge shelf that I fit into the i3 in a single trip!). And it’s both beautiful and comfortable inside, so the commute is actually relaxing.
The ground clearance helps when traversing poorly-maintained roads or accidentally hitting a curb, the higher seating position makes the vehicle feel bigger than it really is, and the steering radius is shockingly small—the i3 is the ultimate “flip a bitch”-mobile
I rarely spend a drop on gas, and when I do it’s because I drive more than 75 miles. I love this setup; it allows me to have decent enough range to drive on electric-power over 90 percent of the time, but it also allows me to drive longer distances (like to San Diego) without having to lug around an expensive, heavy battery (I instead lug around a cheap little twin-cylinder gas motor). It’s a damn shame that so few vehicles today offer 70+ miles of EV range with a gasoline range-extender in case you need to travel farther. Pretty much all modern PHEVs have an electric range of under 50 miles. The i3, in my opinion, offers what most Americans want and cannot get today, despite the car being nine years old.
Of course, the i3 was expensive when new (mine cost over $52,000), but by the time I bought it it had 135,000 miles on the clock. Still, especially with the new battery BMW installed under warranty just before I took ownership, the i3 feels modern, which is why the $10,499 I paid for it is an unbelievable deal. That price plays quite a bit into my “perfect” claim; for the car to perform this well in these conditions at that price — well, that’s what makes it so special in my eyes.
I haven’t had to repair a single thing on my i3 since buying it. The electric motor isn’t made up of many components, the gearbox is a single ratio reduction that should last forever, I barely even toucy my brake pedal due to the i3’s always-on brake regen function, the batteries are new, and on and on. Obviously, five months without a repair is nothing to brag about, but the i3 has an excellent reputation for reliability. Plus, because it’s carbon fiber, the car won’t rust, and because its body panels are plastic, it also won’t dent.
I have a charger in my apartment; thanks to a kind reader, I have an extension cord that allows me to park behind my Jeep (I have a tandem spot) and still charge using the wall-box. At work, charging is free. When I’m staying at my friend’s house, I just plug into her 110 outlet and gain about 4.5 percent state of charge (3 miles) per hour. Using that standard wall-plug, if my battery is half drained from the day’s commute/shopping, it’ll be full by 8 AM as long as I plug it in by nine the night before. Not bad. With a regular level 2 charger, the vehicle charges all the way up in 4.5 hours or to 80 percent in three hours.
I haven’t had to drop $1,000 to replace its hard-to-source tires yet, so maybe I’ll change my tune, but right now — five months in — I’m just amazed by this little car. To get a reasonably-modern, safe, comfortable, usually-electric, small, practical, quick little car that I actually think looks cool even nine years after it rolled off the assembly line — and all for $11,600 all-in? It rules. The BMW i3 just rules.
The fact that it’s rear-motor/engine, rear-wheel drive, that it’s made of carbon fiber, that it can rip from zero to 30 mph as fast as an F30 M3, and that its interior is so special all make it more “fun” than many of its competition. But of course, it’s not as fun as, say, a manual 911 (no EV is in my opinion) or even a stickshift Mini Cooper S, and it’s not as soulful as my old cars. Still, the i3 is a practical commuter car that has somehow managed to tackle the “city car” formula to the point where it’s almost hard to find any flaws.
But again, I haven’t had to buy new, rare tires for it yet, so let’s see if I write a retraction next year.