BMW i3 Range Extender hybrid has a 150-mile range. Photo by Rita Cook. 

Aug. 31, 2015

It’s not driving as usual when you get behind the wheel of BMW's newest electric cars. You can choose between the 2015 BMW i3's two versions depending on your mobility needs. The purely electric BMW i3 gets up to 81 miles per charge, while the BMW i3 with Range Extender gets up to 150 miles in total range and is rated to cover 72 miles on electricity alone.

Recently, I took to the road in the BMW i3 hybrid model. For electric vehicle lovers, this one is a show stopper with a price starting in the upper 40s, but the one I drove came in at $54,545, a bit pricier than the other entry level EV’s but it does wear the BMW moniker after all.

New in 2015, the i3 has heated front seats and the onboard DC fast-charging unit comes standard. With a sporty, yet luxurious feel, the i3 fits four comfortably, but the rear-hinged rear doors would ultimately be a bit much if one were planning to have folks in the back seat on a regular basis.

As for the ride, the steering is ultra-responsive, the brakes quick and the acceleration impressive, more than I expected. In fact, with a 170-horsepower electric motor you can get from zero to 60 in about 6.5 seconds. 

The gasoline-fueled range extender was also a great asset for getting around town. I didn’t have to plug-in the entire day as the battery powered down and the fuel kicked in, albeit the battery function is a more eco-friendly ride.  

The BMW folks say the annual fuel cost for this BMW is $650 with a $7,750 savings in fuel costs over a five-year period. As for the car’s range, for me it came out to about 117 miles with the range extender, meaning I had an extra 60 miles that I could drive using gas before I needed to plug in or fuel up. 

Photo by Rita Cook.

The BMW i3, which was introduced in 2014, is made of lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber. As for the weight comparisons among the EV crowd, this BMW is down by several hundred pounds. The competition for the BMW EV includes the Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen e-Golf, Tesla Model S and the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive, the latter two with a bit higher price tag.

Offered in three trims; base Mega World, Giga World and Tera World, the range extender is available on all the trims and there are also optional packages that can be added. The Technology + Driving Assistant package gives exceptional extra safety features and a navigation upgrade or the Parking Assistant package has a rearview camera and an automated parallel parking feature. 

I recommend opting for the Range Extender over the all electric version. Powered with a 125-kilowatt electric motor with a 22-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, it features a small two-cylinder gasoline engine that also acts as a generator to recharge the battery pack. 

In order to fully charge the battery, you will need about 20 hours if you plug in at a normal 110-volt outlet or just four hours if you use the 240-volt outlet. The navigation or the smartphone app is also supposed to tell you where there are charging stations, but I had trouble figuring out that function.

While the exterior of the 2015 BMW 3i is stylish and modern, the interior is equally impressive with that definite contemporary feel. The different trim levels feature an earth-friendly vibe and the interior utilizes renewable and recycled material, including wood trim. I found the cabin noise non-existent. There is a flat-panel display screen and the BMW shifter pod is located next to the steering wheel with a start/stop button and a button to put the car in “park.”  Meanwhile you’ll find the typical BMW high-end controls and knobs and the iDrive controller make accessing anything you need easy.

With 11.8 cubic feet in the back and with the rear seats folded down 36.9 cubic feet, the BMW folks have typically thought of everything; an easy, quick ride that is all-out eco-friendly and classy combined.

Read Rita Cook's review of the 2015 Tesla S.

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