2016 BMW i3 REx Suite Road Test Review

By : Trevor Hofmann
  The i3 is one of the world’s bestselling electric cars for good reason; it combines traditional BMW quality, performance and features into a highly economical and practical 4-seat hatchback design. Today we review the top-line Suite with the range-extender engine, which allows an extra 100km of driving before it needs to be topped up with fuel and/or recharged. Suite trim adds unique 19-inch alloys, a leather dash, full leather seats and more to a vehicle already trimmed out with LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, navigation, etc. Check it out.......
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
             
 
Initially I had big plans for my BMW i3 REx tester. My partner Karen and I had a trip planned from our home in Richmond, BC
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
to Whistler, with a hopeful stopover for breakfast and some meandering in Squamish in order to recharge battery and bodies. I knew it would require planning, but had no idea the very premise of my trip was flawed from the onset.

After all, I've seen every manner of electric car from humble Nissan Leafs to premium Teslas in Whistler, which is about an hour and a half from downtown Vancouver (approximately two hours from Richmond), and plenty more along the way. Tesla has a set of proprietary supercharging stations in Squamish and there's a less powerful Level II public variant on site as well, plus many more up in Whistler, so what could possibly be the problem?

My
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
plan was to drive on full-electric power until the i3's battery ran out of juice, at which point the gasoline-powered range extender would take over and get us to Squamish where we'd recharge. The only problem was something I didn't realize previously, that range extender wasn't designed to keep up with highway traffic if said highway has a lot of steep grades. As it is the oft fast-paced Sea-to-Sky route would've likely pushed the limits of the i3 REx' capabilities at best, so I made the choice to reschedule that trip for a car with better long-range prospects.

To be clear, I know others have driven an i3 to Whistler, but ideally it requires a fully
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
charged battery from Vancouver at least, not Richmond which is another 30 minutes away. Recharging in West Vancouver would've been optimal, and it's possible to renew the battery up to 80 percent in a couple of hours, although that would have added too much wait time to my trip.

Therefore time spent with the i3 REx was kept within the confines of the city, plus a few quick highway jaunts to retest its mettle at speed. Of course, this is exactly what the i3 was designed for, so I was happy to enjoy the little tyke's zippy performance around town while going about my regular week's activities, with a plan to hop from free charging station to free charging station as needed.

This
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
was my third stint with an i3, my first in a mid-range 2015 Lodge, the trim I like best of all thanks to its unique light, airy interior colour scheme and more eco-focused partial leather, fabric interior, whereas the second drive was in a more luxuriously equipped top-line 2015 Suite. This most recent car just happened to be suited up almost identically to the last one, albeit produced in 2016. The only additional difference, other than its more conservative Arravani Grey paintwork instead of bright and cheery Solar Orange Metallic, plus the inclusion of more trademark Frozen blue trim as a result of the darker tone, was the inclusion of the aforementioned range extender engine, or REx, allowing easier livability.

As you're likely aware, "range anxiety," or the worry that one's electric car will run out of power somewhere between A and B, is
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
an oft-discussed issue regarding electric car market acceptance. Therefore, to appease such concerns BMW added a $4,000 optional two-cylinder range extender engine. I don't know about you, but BMW Canada's claimed 160-km range seems like plenty, as long as you have somewhere to power it up overnight or can find a Level II charger while attending a downtown meeting or in the mall. Then again, if you go by the U.S. EPA's more conservative 130-km (81-mile) estimate the i3 might limit some peoples' daily mobility, especially compared to the 2016 Nissan Leaf's 172-km (107-mile) range or the 383 km (238 miles) being touted by Chevy and its new Bolt.

To be fair to BMW, the i3 will be upgraded from a 22.0-kWh battery to a more potent albeit identically sized 33.0-kWh version next year, which has the German brand's
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Canadian division claiming a 200-km range, although before purchasing you should be aware the EPA gives it a more conservative 183-km (114-mile) expected EV range. Hmmm, I think a future trip to Whistler needs to be planned. Either way, a 40-percent improvement in electric-only range is good news for a car that in most every respect was created as a BMW first, and an EV second.

By that I don't mean to imply the i3 wasn't built from the ground up for its battery-operated application. Unlike the Chevrolet Volt, which shares underpinnings with the same brand's compact Cruze and other GM models, plus others in the industry that do likewise, the i3's unique Life-Drive platform is only shared with BMW's equally advanced i8 sports coupe (full disclosure: the new Chevy
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Bolt and bestselling Nissan Leaf ride on unshared platforms). That the i3 can be purchased for $45,500 plus freight and fees, which isn't that much higher than other four-seat compact EV models, is impressive, especially when factoring in its advanced carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) unibody shell, which provides a much stiffer structure and reduces weight for greater efficiency, handling and safety.

Claimed EV range is just that, a claim and not a fact. There are numerous variables at play that can reduce the distance traveled per charge such as cold weather, hills, vehicle speed, driving aggressively, not utilizing brake regeneration enough, etcetera, so depending on the topography of your area, whether you're commuting via the city or highway, if you're late to work and therefore not mindful
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
of energy conservation, if you live in Victoria or Quebec City, your i3's EV range will vary.

When I first received an i3 tester I had so much fun behind the wheel my EV range suffered a lot, so the next time around I tamed my enthusiasm and was able to eke out a lot more mileage. This time around I used it mostly for local errands. I've moved in between i3's too, and now live on an absolutely flat delta that hardly taxed the battery. In other words, along with a busy week of writing that had me home in front of my laptop more often than not I had a terrible time depleting its resources, which caused the opposite effect of range anxiety as it was still amply charged on my final day with the car. Therefore I raced it back and forth on the highway in order to drain the battery and hopefully trigger the REx, and yes with about four percent of battery life remaining it finally switched on to start its maintenance process, a subtle vibration followed by an unobtrusive whir from
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
the tiny two-cylinder the only indication that something had changed. On the flat at highway speeds I didn't notice much power reduction either, and it wasn't a problem on city hills when making the return trip across town to BMW. The battery indicator cycled between five and seven percent and all went well, the engine automatically shutting down at stoplights just like BMW's other cars when driven in Eco Pro mode. So set the i3 will save up to 20 percent of battery energy. I would have made it without topping up the tiny gas tank, although I went to the usual Chevron and threw a few bucks in just the same.

On that note, if it was my money I wouldn't buy the REx, especially now that I know a new more powerful i3 is on the way. In fact, I wish BMW would take a cue from Tesla and offer the i3 in different states of tune, with the base battery being the
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
upcoming 33.0-kWh variant and possibly something with even greater power and range filling the space now occupied, or left empty, by the little 650-cc REx. Everything I've read attests to the fact EV buyers purchase longer-range electrics more than electrics with motorized crutches, as long as range is sufficient, but no such changes were made to this second-year i3 and other than the more potent 2017 model it's business as usual at BMW's fledgling i division.

On that note BMW's i Series is as much an experiment as it is a new two-model sub-brand, the other vehicle in question being the supercar-like i8 that's doing quite well for a car that sells for $150,000 here in Canada. I'm not sure why BMW's Canadian division doesn't separate these models' sales numbers, but for the time being their combined total for the first 10 months of 2016 equals 442 units,
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
which shows that their on target to match last year's sales of 531 (the two cars' sales total was 227 in 2014, but they only arrived in May of that year so it's once again a consistently respectable tally).

If the U.S. market is anything to go by for figuring out percentages of the two models' sales, the i3 managed 6,205 deliveries over the same period this year compared to 1,288 for the i8, while 2015 saw sales of 11,024 and 2,265 units respectively. That's 79.2 percent of total i sales year-to-date for the i3 (20.8 percent for the i8) and 79.4 percent for the i3 (20.6 for the i8) during 2015, which translated into Canadian numbers is about 350 i3 sales YTD 2016 and 422 for 2015. That might not seem like a lot compared to YTD Canadian 3 Series sales of 6,461
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
units and 9,590 for calendar year 2015, but compare it to slower selling conventionally powered BMW models like the 6 Series that's only managed 417 sales so far this year, 490 through all of 2015 and 443 in 2014, and the experiment is going quite well. Even more on the i3's side is its single body style, whereas it takes a coupe, convertible and a four-door coupe (sedan) to achieve those 6 Series numbers. I know which BMW I'd rather drive every day, the i3.

Where the beautiful, opulent and powerful 6 Series looks to BMW's luxury sports coupe past for inspiration, the unorthodox i3 is all about the premium brand's future. Most fans of the brand will probably give the 6 more styling points, but the i3 is the winner as far as interiors go, while its forward looking lightweight construction, mostly based on advanced materials,
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
and impressive electric drivetrain is light years ahead of the 6 Series' need for ultimate power to overcome far too much weight.

Of course, the i8 would probably be the better comparison to the 6 Series, and if BMW's U.S. division went to the trouble of separating its three models' sales it would be interesting reading (or at least I'd enjoy it), but enough comparisons anyway. Truly, Chevy's Volt is probably the closest car to the i3 REx, mechanically at least, but even then it would require a side-by-side test in the same conditions to compare the two, and in the end most i3 buyers wouldn't want a Chevy and vice-versa.

While most would classify the i3 into the subcompact segment, it's actually very roomy up front, in back and for cargo. Its complete lack of a traditional centre stack
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
and totally flat floor makes great use of available space, with front occupants able to swap places like in a minivan (or classic VW Beetle) and those in the rear sitting slightly elevated with a theatre-like view of the road ahead, four can travel in absolute comfort. Yes, just four, as BMW has positioned rear cupholders and fitted no seatbelt where a fifth passenger would otherwise sit, but nevertheless didn't include a folding centre armrest due to the rear seats 50/50-split folding design. Those seatbacks fold totally flat for a really accommodating load area that expands from 334 litres (11.8 cubic feet) to 1,045 litres (36.9 cubic feet). It's also finished nicely with a high quality carpeted load floor and sidewalls, chromed tie-down
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
hooks, and grippy elastic holders on the sidewalls, the rightmost one already used for the home charger.

I mentioned a moment ago that the i3 is fun to drive, but it's better than that. It's been endowed with BMW's renowned driving dynamics and enhanced further with its lightweight CFRP construction, rear mid-ship engine layout for 50:50 weight distribution, rear-wheel drive, and low centre of gravity. Yes, it looks tall, but most of the i3's weight is well below the beltline, so it'll precisely carve up a corner no matter your speed.

Fortunately speed comes easily and quickly, the 125 kW electric motor and 22.2 kWh L-ion battery combination resulting in 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of near instantaneous torque, and its mostly CFRP body allowing a 300-kilogram (661-lb) advantage
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
over a Nissan Leaf. The little Bimmer weighs in at 1,195 kilos (2,634 lbs) whereas the similarly outfitted Leaf SV hits the scales at 1,495 kg (3,295 lbs). To be fair the Leaf is a bit bigger, but the two are similarly accommodating inside. Still the i3 delivers a 10- to 15-percent improvement in fuel economy when driven carefully. Then again if you just want to play it's much quicker off the line, arriving at 100 km/h in just 7.2 seconds compared to 11.2 seconds for the Leaf. And yes I know that 7.2 seconds isn't exactly soul-stirring performance, but before you disregard its performance you'll need to factor in that the i3 shoots to 20 km/h faster than BMW's 425 horsepower M3, which means darting in and out of congested city traffic is a lot easier in an i3.

Of note, the i3's exotic materials are sourced in-house to maintain quality, make sure the car's environmental impact is kept to a minimum, and eventually keep prices
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
within reason. The CFRP body panels and tub are manufactured at BMW's own 100-percent renewable hydroelectric-powered facility in Moses Lake, Washington. Other sustainable materials include KENAF cotton fibres used for the grey mohair-look albeit smooth surfacing found on the dash and door panels, whereas 25 percent of the weight of the plastic used for other surfaces comes from recycled material or renewable resources. Everything gets put together in BMW's wind-powered Leipzig, Germany plant, resulting in one of the greenest vehicles on earth.

That interior is not only one of my favourite BMW cabins, but one of the best in the industry. The minimalist layout, excellent materials quality, gorgeous wood trim,
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
superb electronic interfaces, and exquisitely manufactured switchgear, the car's brilliantly designed gear selector included, is a collective feast for the eyes and treat to the senses. It's an interior to fall in love with, which is important because the i3's exterior design is more cute than handsome and therefore won't appeal to everyone.

Top-tier Suite trim improves appearances with a much sportier looking set of 19-inch Turbine alloys outside and full leather inside, my tester featuring a beautiful dark brown dubbed Dalbergia. Both Suite and mid-grade Lodge trims come well equipped with most of base Loft model's equipment, including automatic LED headlamps, a multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, auxiliary cabin heating (an innovative heat pumping system that uses the energy of ambient air to warm the interior
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
with 50-percent greater efficiency), heatable front seats, BMW Assist emergency calling, BMW's Remote Services bundle, the AC fast charging system and more. All of the expected active and passive safety gear gets added to the i3 as well, resulting in the highest possible rating of five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, which matches the protection offered by the best conventionally-powered vehicles in the subcompact segment.

If you opt for Lodge trim you'll need to say goodbye to the 100-percent recycled polyester fabric upholstery and hello to the leather and wool combo I mentioned earlier, plus you'll also need to trade BMW's more basic Navigation Services Business for Navigation Services Professional. Lodge adds $3,600 to the base Loft's
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
$45,500 window sticker, both also needing $2,095 for freight and pre-delivery prep, while also adding proximity-sensing Comfort Access, satellite radio, auto-dimming interior and side mirrors, a universal remote garage door opener, an alarm system, and the Park Assistant Package that includes front and rear sonar, a rear camera, the capability of detecting suitable parallel parking spaces, and parking assistance. If you want top-line Suite trim it'll cost you another $1,000.

If you still want more a $2,500 Technology Package adds a 12-speaker 360-watt seven-channel Harmon/Kardon audio upgrade; BMW's camera-based Driving Assistant Plus package featuring adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, speed limit info, route-ahead assistance, and person recognition/approach control warning; BMW Online, the base system for ConnectedDrive
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Services that includes an internet portal with email, weather, news, and address information; Internet with unlimited data usage, allowing you to access the web directly from your i3 anywhere in Canada or the US with no roaming or data charges; Advanced Real Time Traffic Information services; Concierge Services with live assistants to help you plan your trip; and Convenience Telephony with Smartphone Connectivity.

Additionally, a sportier set of 20-inch Double Spoke rims is available across the line for $1,300, while a standalone fast charging DC system may also be something to add, although your ability to actually use it will come down to a network of compatible fast charging DC stations being set up. It's only $750 and will
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
eventually allow for an 80-percent charge in less than 30 minutes, so you may want to have it there for the future, but the stock system should be ample for most peoples' requirements.

As noted, a full charge will take most of the night via a regular household socket or you can opt for BMW's available 240-volt Level II AC i Charging Station, which even includes a tray for holding your coffee (you'll need your hands when removing and stowing the plug).

As you likely noticed the i3 isn't cheap, which means you might not be able to pay off the extra $10k or so needed at the time of
2016 BMW i3 REx
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
purchase if comparing it to a similarly sized BMW X1, but it performs better and comes with more standard features that would likely push a similarly optioned X1 into the mid-$40k range too, plus there are unquantifiable benefits to driving an electric vehicle that you just have to experience to appreciate. It's easily my favourite EV, and that it will be yet better for 2017 makes me even more willing to recommend it for those able to work their lifestyles around EV ownership.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)
 
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