Twelve Months with a BMW i3 in the Pacific Northwest

By Lance Richert

After driving old BMW 3 Series stick shifts since college (29 years), 12 months ago I made the leap to electric propulsion and leased a BMW i3 for a daily driver. The E30 gods grumbled. I have since shed two E30s from my stable, but still retain my E30 M3, PRO3 race car and Suburban tow rig. The following are some real world observations on driving a BMW i3 in the Pacific Northwest.

I’m Hot!

First, we all know you can fix many things on an old BMW, but trying to keep the air conditioning working can be tough (and expensive). By day I work as a residential design Architect and meet with clients at their homes and later in the process, visit their job sites during construction. Two Augusts ago, during a record heat wave I was making my rounds without working A/C in one of my 250k+ mile E30s and dying in the mid-afternoon heat! I needed something with reliable A/C and that prompted me to look at the i3. BMW Northwest let me take a multi-day extended test drive in a tester i3 to see if this car would really fit into my lifestyle.

Discounts Galore

I will be the first to admit that all of the rebates and discounts being floated was a big reason I even considered an electric car. BMW Club members can really pile additional savings up. Here’s what I lined up for a total of about $12,000 in rebates and discounts on an MSRP of $44,745 for a 2015 i3:

  • Federal Tax Credit of $7,500, fully taken at signing if you lease.
  • BMW CCA Club Rebate $1,000
  • BMW Ultimate Drive Experience $1,000
  • Additional discounts and incentives from BMW NA and BMW Northwest $3,200

To keep my lease payment lower, I special ordered a base i3 with the only upgrades being the orange paint and the upgraded Harmon Kardon stereo system. All of the cool tech in the i3 comes with the base model (electric propulsion, single pedal driving, carbon fiber body on aluminum frame construction, plastic body panels). Most of the features I passed on were typical BMW features found in the full BMW line like Comfort Access, lane and collision avoidance features, leather interior, etc).

Pure Electric or Gas Supplement?

BMW offer a gas range extender (REX) which doubles the range. I opted against the REX and the decision was both financial and philosophical. I didn’t want to add about $40 per month to my lease payment for an option I rarely would use. Philosophically, BMW did so much work to lower the weight of the i3 to just 2,886 lbs I did not want to add 350 lbs for the REX system “just in case.” The regular i3 goes 0-60 in 7.0 seconds, whilst the heavier REX version gets there in 7.9 seconds they say. BMW says sales are 50/50 for REX or no-REX i3s.

Charging

Charging in a single family house is going to be the most convenient. Puget Sound Energy offers a $500 rebate on a Level 2 home charger installation. I bought a Bosch Level 2 charger from Amazon for about $750. Bosch offers the same unit with a 17-foot cord or 25-foot cord. It is worth the extra money to get the 25-foot cord. The extra cord length gives you more options on where you can park the car in the garage or driveway, and still charge. I paid a licensed electrician $270 to install the Bosch Charger.

The i3 comes with a Level 1 charger which you plug into a regular 110 volt wall socket, but that may take too long to charge for regular use. For comparison; a Level 1 charger delivers the same approximate charging wattage as a hair dryer. A 220 volt Level 2 charger delivers about the same wattage as an electric clothes dryer and will charge the i3 from empty in about 3.5 hours.

The i3 can take a Level 3 charge which is DC power and fully charges from empty in about 30 minutes. But you can’t easily install DC charging in a home. You’ll only find DC charging in public places where commercial buildings have much larger electrical service. All three of the local BMW dealerships have Level 3 DC quick chargers available for public use.

Plugged into DC at the dealership.
Plugged into DC at the dealership.

Off Site Charging

There are three companies that run most of the public chargers. The most convenient way to access them is you set up an account online, and they send you a card that you wave in front of the charger to sign in. After each use, a small charge is deducted from your online account. Very similar to how the HOV “Good 2 Go” accounts work. I set up accounts with two of the three companies “just in case” but have rarely needed to charge away from home.

Charging Stations Proximity

Charging stations are going in all over the place and the i3 navigation system will find them for you. But unlike gas stations these charging stations do not have big street signs announcing their locations. Large shopping malls, city halls, community colleges, parking garages and places like Walgreens and Fred Meyers are typical places for charging. Some offer free charging! For a real world sampling of charging stations, I picked local PNW favorite Taco Time to ask the factory i3 Navigation to pull up nearby charging stations within two and three miles from each Taco Time listed here. Compiling these numbers entailed consuming a lot of Tostada Salads!

Location of Taco Time Charging stations within 2 miles Charging stations within 3 miles
Auburn 5 10
Bellevue Downtown 70 96
Burien 10 14
Covington 0 1
Des Moines 1 5
Factoria 14 53
Federal Way 1 1
Fife 3 3
Issaquah New 22 22
Issaquah on Gilman 22 22
Lake City 8 13
Maple Valley 0 1
Rainer Ave. South 27 95
Redmond 7 11
Renton Downtown 16 31
Sammamish 3 3
Tacoma on 38th 10 32
Totem Lake 8 17
Wallingford on 45th  15 46
West Seattle 1 11
White Center 8 20
Woodinville 15 19
     
Lance and his i3 fill up at Taco Time.
Lance and his i3 fill up at Taco Time.

Real World Range

At 12 months I have traveled just about 12,000 miles in the i3. I have a home office in South Bellevue and use the i3 for both personal use and to travel to job sites in and around King County. When storing the i3 in the garage I usually see a range of 80-90 miles when leaving and many trips see about 40 miles remaining upon arrival. If I leave the i3 outside in the winter it will show a starting range of 72 miles. If using the heater in the winter or the A/C in the summer, I don’t notice much of a loss of range. There is an ECO+ mode which detunes some of the sportiness and purports to add about 10% to the range.

Operating Costs

As I primarily charge at home and am with PSE, the monthly electrical cost to run 1,000 miles per month is about $25. We are blessed in the PNW with really great electrical rates. My lease payment is $297 per month on a 30 month lease. I used to pay about $175 a month in gas. So if you do the delta on the gas cost relative to electrical costs, I’m really about $150 per month to drive the i3. The cost to insure the i3 is about the same as a 2015 garden variety 3 Series.

Not a Good Fit for Some

This car is a city car, it is not for everyone. If you need to carry more than four people, or need to make frequent trips outside of the range this car won’t work very well. If you really need to row the gears of stick shift, this car is not for you.

What is Nice?

  • Instant power delivery of the torquey electric motor. The i3 is said to be a quick as any M Car from 0-30mph.
  • One pedal driving takes about a day to get used to. When lifting off the throttle the i3 slows automatically, capturing that energy and sending it back to the battery. Once you get the hang of it, one pedal driving is really great. The brake pads will last forever I think.
  • Handles well due to low center of gravity and has a tight turning radius.
  • Higher seating position is something I enjoy.
  • Voluminous interior compared to physical size of car.
  • Not having to stop to buy gas.
  • No traditional fluid changes like in a gas powered car.
  • All of the basic cabin controls, steering wheel buttons, connecting to your phone, and navigation are exactly the same as the rest of the BMW line.
  • Cabin pre heating or cooling via the i3 phone app.

Free Use of BMW Service Loaner Vehicles

All i3 owners enjoy free use of BMW service loaner vehicles up to 14 days per year to make trips that an i3 can’t make conveniently. Last August to road trip to Oktoberfest in Monterey I scheduled with BMW Northwest for a service loaner. They presented me with a 1-month old loaded X5 which we put 2,700 miles on over 10 days. And all they asked was I return it with the same level of gas in the tank!

Free X5 loaner for vacation
Free X5 loaner for vacation

Looking Ahead

For 2017 the battery range is extended about 50% to 120 miles on a full charge but the physical size of the battery stayed the same. Adding the REX gas option allows the 2017 i3 to run a reported additional 75 miles. Word is the 2018 i3s will get another range increase as battery technology continues to improve. I still have 18 months on this lease. Will I get another one? Yes!

 

Aluminum frame and battery tray
Aluminum frame and battery tray

 

Carbon Fiber Life Module
Carbon Fiber Life Module

 

BMW i3 Interior
BMW i3 Interior

 

Griots Garage Caffiene and Gasoline
Griots Garage Caffiene and Gasoline

 

100 Years of Progress i3 and Model T.
100 Years of Progress i3 and Model T.