Buying a BMW i3 Range Extender? Read this

If you’re considering buying a BMW i3 you’ll probably know that the carbon fiber hatch is available in two significantly different guises.

The pure electric i3 is straightforward – a lithium-ion battery pack supplies a powerful electric motor and, depending on your driving style and climate, you’ll manage between around 70 and 100 miles of range.

The more popular i3 Range Extender, however, is a little more complex as it blends power from two sources: the aforementioned electric motor and a tiny gasoline motorcycle engine hidden in the rear of the chassis. BMW has released a lot of technical information on the technology, but how does a range extender-equipped i3 perform on a day-to-day basis, and what should you know before buying a i3 Range Extender?

BMW has been sending its dealership staff to ‘Ride and Drive’ events in the run up to the car’s imminent launch in the US, preparing them for nuanced questions from prospective buyers. Manny Antunes, a BMW client advisor from New York City, recently went along to such an event and has spilled the beans on BMW Blog.

Here are the important parts:

  • While most driving will be under the power of electricity alone, longer journeys will trigger the range extender engine to fire up and start generating more power. This happens when the battery reaches five or six percent charge.
  • Unlike plug-in hybrids like the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid, the gasoline generator will not recharge the i3’s lithium-ion battery on the move. The only way to replenish it is to plug the car in.
  • The onboard fuel tank has allegedly been reduced in size from 2.4 gallons on European models to 1.9 gallons in the US. The reason for this is not yet known, but it will affect the i3 Range Extender’s overall range, which currently stands at 180 miles.
  • Surprisingly, the i3’s ‘frunk’ isn’t waterproof. BMW suggests buying an accessory bag to keep the car’s 110-volt charger dry. This seems absurd.
  • The sprint from 0-60mph is nearly a second slower than the pure electric i3, at 7.9 seconds.
  • Level 1 charging (110-volt) takes 20 hours for a full charge. Level 2 charging (c. 230-volt) takes just 3.5 hours. A BMW Level 2 charger costs $1,080 and can be financed along with the car.
  • While a full $7,500 federal tax credit can be applied to the BMW i3 Range Extender, only $4,875 is applied on a lease. This is because the car is registered to BMW rather than the buyer.
  • A sunroof isn’t available on US-spec cars. As the majority of US-bound i3s will be sold in California this is unexpected.
  • The onboard gasoline engine will generate electricity for the motor at speeds of up to 70mph.
  • The BMWi remote app, which can locate charging stations, pre-condition the car’s climate, and display battery charge status, is only available on Android and iOS – not Windows Phone.
  • BMW i3 Range Extender owners will be able to use BMW’s ‘Alternate Mobility’ program, which allows them to swap their car for a conventionally-powered model a few times a year. It means that owning a BMW i3 as your only car and taking long road-trips are not exclusive of one another.

Many electric vehicle buyers are rightly concerned about the longevity of the expensive battery pack and BMW will look to placate them with a eight-year/100-mile warranty. Battery packs in cars sold in CARB states will be protected by a 10-year/150,00-mile warranty. It means that should the battery pack fall below 70 percent efficiency, BMW will replace it.

Nervous buyers will also be encouraged by the fact that individual battery modules can be replaced. This is not only convenient, as they can be held in stock at dealerships, but it’s also far cheaper than replacing the entire pack – either for you or BMW.

You can find a buyer’s guide and model specs for both pure electric and range extender i3 models below.