The high-mileage electric BMW i3 that I just bought for $10,499 used to cost $53,750 when new. That’s right: This car depreciated over $43,000 in just nine years. And if that has you frantically looking up i3s thinking you might be able to get luxury features you never dreamed you could afford, all for a reasonable price, allow me to confirm: The i3 is an incredible deal. Here’s a look at the luxury features my i3, the cheapest clean-title BMW i3 REX for sale by a dealer in America, has on its spec-sheet. As someone who’s daily driven old cars for years, I remain surprised that I’ve ended up with what essentially feels like a space ship from the future, all for surprisingly little money. Check it out.
I cannot express enough how great of a deal the electric BMW i3 is, especially if you manage to snag a fully-loaded model like my 2014 BMW i3 Giga World — the 135,000 mile one that I bought for $10,499, only to find out it has a bad battery, only to then find out I could get that battery replaced thanks to a California-mandated 10 year, 150,000 mile warranty for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles.
But even if BMW had found that my battery was still above the 70 percent capacity threshold and therefore not eligible for replacement, this still would have been a great deal because the i3 is a masterpiece of both design and engineering, plus they tend to come packed with awesome luxury features that you’d never expect in a vehicle this cheap, even if it’s nine years old. First, let’s get into the “masterpiece of both design and engineering” claim, because it’s very much true.
The i3’s Engineering And Design Are Still State-Of-The-Art Today
From an engineering standpoint, the i3 is state-of-the-art even though it’s nine years old. The skateboard chassis — which carries the suspension, battery, and rear-mounted drivetrain — is made of aluminum. Mounted atop that chassis is a carbon fiber-reenforced plastic “Life-Module” — a lot more advanced than a typical steel body on today’s cars.
Automotive benchmarking company Munro and Associates has a nearly 24,000 page breakdown of the car’s engineering, diving into how much everything cost BMW to build. You can buy the whole report for $18 here if you’re feeling like getting nerdy. Below is a little snapshot. This first slide is just an overview of the “body-in-black,” which is just a name of the main body structure, without any closures (and of course, without the chassis, drivetrain, and interior):
How about that?! BMW is recycling carbon fiber waste for the roof panel, gluing on brackets to fasten body panels and trim to the Life-Module, and wedging structural bits between bits of carbon fiber (see below):
And here Munro talks about the use of glue to attach aluminum to carbon fiber — that’s right, this car is made of plastic and is partially glued together!:
And check out the A-pillar. There’s actually a braided carbon fiber sleeve wrapped around a “structural foam core,” and sitting inside the A-pillar (glued to it) to give it strength:
Watch the video below and listen to John McElroy of Autoline talk about Munro & Associate’s BMW i3 teardown, highlighting the advanced carbon fiber-reinforced plastic body I mentioned above.
You’ll hear, at the beginning of the clip, engineering guru Sandy Munro say “The carbon fiber body is perfect. You could never get this with steel or aluminum.” It’s worth noting that the car receives very good crash test ratings from pretty much every regulating body.
In this other video just above, you’ll see my colleague Jason Torchinsky and me digging into the Tesla Model S, Chevy Bolt, and BMW i3, even showing the battery packs of each. The i3’s pack is by far the smallest at 22 kWh (the Model 3 and Bolt are both about three times that size), and while that may sound like a bad thing, if you’re an environmentalist, it’s actually good, in theory.
A typical American commutes about 35 miles a day. If you’re driving a Tesla Model S with ~300 miles of range, on any given day you’re basically carrying over 250 miles worth of expensive, heavy, dirty-to-mine batteries around for no reason — all so you can go on a longer road trip once a month. The i3’s battery is sized beautifully for a commute, offering about 75 miles of range (when new). On range extender-equipped models like mine, if that battery runs out, there’s a little gas motor out back that should offer another 70-ish miles per tank, or so.
Small-batteried EVs make sense because of their ability to quickly bring electrification to the masses, and they’re cleaner to build. Just think about vehicles like the upcoming Chevrolet Silverado EV. Its optional battery pack has a capacity of 200 kWh — that’s over nine times my i3’s. So, in theory, one could power nine families’ electric cars on the battery in a single family’s Chevy pickup truck. And what’s more, those nine families’ cars would be far, far cheaper than that Silverado. This is obviously an oversimplification in some ways (for one, batteries degrade differently based on how much of them you use; my i3 needing another pack isn’t great for the environment), but my point remains: If we want to get electrification to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, small, lightweight car with small batteries, like the BMW i3, are the right idea. Again, this is all just in theory. Car buying is not rational.
To be sure, my i3 was expensive when new, at over $53,000. And you can, at least in part, thank that “experimental” body construction for all that expense. But BMW went with that design for good reason: The company knew that, if it could keep overall weight down and be smart about aerodynamics, it could achieve more range with a smaller battery. It’s called reducing “Vehicle Demand Energy” (the energy needed to propel a vehicle forward on a given drive-cycle), and it’s going to become more important than ever in the EV age now that extending a vehicle’s range is a lot more expensive and complex than simply blow-molding a bigger fuel tank.
Anyway, now that we’ve talked about the car’s brilliant engineering, let’s discuss the i3’s interior design. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
Behold the “Giga World” interior. It is a true work-of-art that features olive leave-dyed leather+wool seating, a eucalyptus wood dash, sustainable dash and door paneling, and a big 10.2-inch infotainment screen on the dash, which features lovely cream-colored leather that matches the steering wheel. It’s an absolute masterpiece of design, which is why it won “Automotive Interiors Expo Award 2014.” Here’s BMW’s press release on that:
There are many facets to the sustainable character of the BMW i3. BMW i represents a prime example of “next premium”, the next generation of luxury headlined by the sustainability of its materials. The ambience this creates on board the BMW i3 can be experienced by the driver and passengers in considerable depth – and the international jury of experts for the Automotive Interiors Expo Award 2014 are now among its fans. The jury handed the electrically powered BMW i3 the title of Production Interior Vehicle Design of the Year. The third edition of these awards – which recognise exceptionally innovative concepts and solutions in the field of interior design – were held yesterday at the Automotive Interiors Expo in Stuttgart.
The cabin feels like an upscale Swedish lounge; it’s classy, comfortable, and airy, offering great visibility. More importantly in BMW’s eyes, it’s made of sustainable materials. From BMW:
25 per cent (by weight) of the plastic used in the interior of the BMW i3 is recycled. The textiles selected for the seat surfaces are made entirely from recycled fibres, ensuring the surfaces display impressive naturalness and quality. The textiles for the roofliner, interior trim, boot lining, instrument panel and floor mats are likewise the product of a sustainable production process. The door trim panels of the BMW i3 are made from kenaf fibres, a plant from the mallow family whose natural structure remains recognisable after the treatment process. Eucalyptus wood from certified plantations in Europe provides the raw material for parts of the instrument panel, while the leather set aside for the interior of the BMW i3 is tanned in a natural process using extract of olive leaves
My seats need to be cleaned a bit as you can see in the photo above, as the wool has a tendency to stain, but otherwise my i3 — the cheapest clean-title BMW i3 REX being sold by a dealership in the U.S. — has an interior that’s in borderline mint condition. And it’s jam-packed with luxury options, which I will now enumerate.
The i3 Is Filled With Luxury Features I Never Thought I Could Afford
My car literally parks itself. I never thought I’d say those words, but it’s true, as my i3 comes equipped with Park Assist, which involves the car steering and braking in such a way that parallel parks the car in an open spot. It’s awesome.
My i3 also came from the factory with two screens — a 5.5-inch gauge cluster and the aforementioned 10.2-inch infotainment screen, which offers navigation and is controlled via an iDrive dial that acts as a mini digital writing pad should I want to write things out by hand.
There’s also a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon speaker system with absolutely excellent audio quality. You can see one speaker in the photo above, just above that slick column-mounted electronic shift-selector.
You know what else my car has?: Adaptive Cruise Control. That’s right, you can set the distance you want to follow a car ahead of you, and the vehicle will brake and accelerate to maintain that distance. All from a 2014 car that cost me just $11,600 all-in:
Plus I have heated seats, forward collision warning, parking sensors that beep when you’re too close, a rearview camera, rain sensing wipers, climate control, automatic headlights, proximity keyless entry, and so much more.
It really is remarkable how state-of-the art this nine year-old car still is. And to be able to snag one for that price is just incredible to me. If I’d been eligible for the government’s up-to-$4,000 used EV rebate, this deal would be out of this world, though I guess the fact that I’m getting my battery replaced means it’s out-of-this-world, anyway.
The BMW i3: It’s just so much car for the money. Possibly the most car for the money.
- I Bought A High-Mileage Electric Car With A Bad Battery. Here’s Why That Was Actually A Stroke of Genius