By Dan Jones
The 2021 BMW i3 Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) is as much a breakthrough vehicle today as it was in 2014 when it originally came out. It has a carbon fiber reinforced advanced composite body structure (without metal, bolts or welds – like a Boeing 787 Dreamliner) and an all-aluminum chassis module with a 184 hp BMW eDrive synchronous electric motor driving the rear wheels. The roof is lightweight Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer scraps left over from the body manufacturing process and the batteries are under the floorboard, giving it a low center of gravity and good handling. It’s an urban car with a short wheelbase, tight turning circle and great visibility making it very easy to maneuver and park. Single-pedal driving is surprisingly entertaining and the instant-on torque and resulting speed is intoxicating! And at about 3.7 mi/kWh in Sport mode with a heavy foot, the cost of driving 100 miles is $2.70 (PNM Block 1 Rate), making it extremely economical too. With its hatchback design and versatile fold down rear seats, it makes a great car for commuting or just to run errands around town. It’s BMW’s Ultimate Daily Driver!
But what about highway driving? The EPA rates the 2021 i3 Sport with a range of 153 miles, which is impacted by ambient temperature, speed and terrain. However, one cannot just look at a map and think they can make a 120 mile round trip between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I once made the trip in 70° weather in ECO-Pro mode with speed governed at 75 mph. I started with an indicated range of 120 miles, but after the 2000′ elevation change and several steep road segments, the indicated range remaining when I reached my destination in Santa Fe 54 miles away was just 40 miles – a use of about 80 miles of indicated range!
Winter has a negative impact on EV driving range – cold temperatures affect both battery chemistry and regeneration, typically reducing range by around 10% and substantially more so if the heater is used to warm the cabin. Fortunately, my i3 Sport is equipped with a very efficient heat pump for heating and cooling the car. Even so, it was with some trepidation when I decided to take my i3 Sport to Moriarty for the BMW Car Club of America NM Chapter visit to the US Southwest Soaring Museum. There are no public EV charging stations in Moriarty or any between there and Albuquerque. A miscalculation would result in a flatbed haul home.
The car was fully charged and still connected to the home charging station when about 45 minutes before leaving I used the myBMW app to precondition the car. This brings the temperature of the batteries and cabin to normal levels while still connected to the grid without draining the batteries. As I left, the car had an indicated range of 127 miles at an ambient temperature of 29°. After about a 6-mile trip with the heat pump off and comfortable with one bar on the seat warmer, the indicated range had improved to 133 miles at a temperature of 39° when I reached our starting point near the mouth of Tijeras Canyon in southeast Albuquerque. The ECO Pro’s governed 75 mph limit was not an issue as we proceeded on the Retribution Road segment of Historic Route 66 to Moriarty. The quiet of the electric car allowed me for the first time to clearly hear America the Beautiful from the remnants of the Route 66 Musical Highway, a 2014 joint project between the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the National Geographic Channel. After a 30-mile drive to the US Southwest Soaring Museum, the indicated range was now 138 miles at 38° – a gain of 11 miles since the start! When I eventually got home after a trip of about 80 miles, the indicated range was 101 miles, a use of just 26 miles of indicated range.
What did I learn? I’m not sure, but the next morning after a full charge, the indicated range was 181 miles – as if to mock me – “If you drive the i3 like a responsible adult, you will be rewarded.” I think not. I have other options for highway driving including a BMW E85 Z4 3.0si. I will continue to enjoy my i3S in Sport mode around town. It is a BMW – a very special one.