Here's Why A Hacked BMW i3 REx Is Worth $50,000 | review #3
I've driven quite a few electric cars but none compare to this. It's a jailbroken BMW i3 REx. The one I drove was a 2015 model. However, the differences between a '15 and '18 model are somewhat minimal; higher battery capacity (more range), updated infotainment user interface, and redesigned bumpers. Except for the battery pack, BMW didn't have to make any upgrades. During the photo shoot I had a person come up to me and ask, "Is that a concept car or something?", to which I pointed at the license plate and said, "Naw, man. You can buy one now if you want.". He then asked, "Is it yours?" and I replied, "I wish it was mine!". I then saw him walk away with a concerned face... There's a good chance he thought I stole the car. Anyway the point is that the i3 looks very futuristic, even though the design is about seven years old.
I was given access to the car for about a total of 60 non-consecutive hours and drove it 353 kilometres (219 miles). Most of those kilometres were spent driving from the suburbs of Toronto to Midland for a business meeting and the rest were for on-video test drives like the one above and here.
I like Canadian winters but the i3, clearly, wasn't a fan. On the warmest day it was -5 C (23 F) with minimal to no affect on range. However, on the coldest, temperatures reached -25 C (-13 F) and two things happened: the estimated full battery range decreased by about 8% and the ePOWER display showed just 6 enabled bars out of 11. The performance practically halved with the acceleration almost being comparable to that of the discontinued Mitsubishi i-MiEV. I knew that the cold temperatures were going to have a negative affect on the battery pack but that was definitely more than I expected.
Fortunately, for the majority of the time, my experience with the car was positive. It's a reasonably quick and nimble little thing that will likely surpass your expectations of what a premium hatchback should be like. As an upscale city car, its only job is to zip about (insert local metropolis here) swiftly, comfortably, responsively, and quietly. The i3 does this better than any other city car on sale in Canada.
I was undoubtedly nervous when I realised that I was actually going to drive the i3 REx to a business meeting that was 160 kilometres (99 miles) from home. Even with the total range of the car being 300 kilometres (186 miles), I was hesitant to test it out. This was mainly due to the fact that the i3 I had lacked DC fast charging. When the owner went to his local BMW dealership to buy an i3 REx he only had two to choose from. One had the DC fast charging without the technology package and the second, vice-versa. So, he chose the latter.
I didn't have much on me for the long trip. All I needed was my phone, wallet, keys, toiletries, overnight clothing, and basic writing equipment; all of which fit in my average-sized backpack. Even though my luggage was small enough to put in the frunk, I didn't due to the fact that it lacked any kind of weather protection. It's also why the car comes with it's own frunk bag that's supposed to be used only for the standard 120 volt charger. Of course there's still the trunk but it's quite small. With the rear seats up you'll get 260 litres (69 gallons) and that's not much more than the 2018 Smart Fortwo. Fortunately you can fold the rear seats all the way down for a flat loading bay and then you'll get a much more reasonable 1,100 litres (291 gallons).
The day of the long-drive to Midland arrived. It was -9 C (16 F) that morning. When I started the car, I did a quick look around to see if all was OK. Full petrol tank, check. Fully charged battery, check. Full ePOWER... nope, there were three bars missing. Considering this was the first day of my review, I found that a tad unsettling. "Three bars? What does that even mean?!" I thought to myself and then I remembered what I read in the manual. Yes, I read car manuals and I'm one of the three men on Earth who do it. Anyway, a decrease in ePOWER just means that you won't be able to accelerate as quickly as you would with a full ePOWER bar. You still have all the power and torque. This is just one of the safety mechanisms the car has to protect itself in cold conditions.
The car gave me a combined range of 230 kilometres (143 miles). Considering the cold conditions and the fact that the owner has a somewhat heavy foot, I gave it a pass. However, after I put the address of my final destination in the GPS, the total range went down to 200km (124 miles) and once I turned on the AC, to keep myself from freezing to death, I got 180km (117 miles)... ouch. Regardless, I was prepared to leave because if I missed the meeting, I'd be screwed. Fortunately, I didn't!
I'm normally a light-footed driver and that would've been especially useful for the long drive because it would've increased the already low calculated total range. The thing is, I was already 20 minutes behind schedule. So I had to gun it (within legal bounds of course). In fact, I was even encouraged to go fast. You see, before I drove off I talked to the owner of the car about the decreased ePOWER bar situation. While he warmed up the car for about 4 minutes, with the BMW i Remote (that I was declined access to), he told me to push the car to its limit. I responded with, "To its limit?! Sure I'll push a little but not that hard!". It wasn't until I saw the decreased ePOWER bar that he reminded me to put the pedal to the medal within the first few minutes of my drive so that the motor and battery can warm up; bringing back full ePOWER. "OH! OK, will.... do that." I replied hesitantly but he was right! About 15 minutes and 20km (12 miles) later, the car restored to full power. Unfortunately the total range further decreased to 150km (93 miles). That hard driving put it down an extra 10km (6 miles). To make up for the lost range, I tried using Eco Pro+ mode and while it got the range back up by about 20%, the strength of the AC became non existent and I lost the ability to adjust the temperature; quite likely being that it automatically sets itself to the lowest temperature (16 C/ 61 F) to save energy. So I changed to Eco Pro mode and I was able to control the AC again to whatever temperature I wanted. Unfortunately, there was still a very noticeable compromise in performance. The limited top speed lowered to 130km/h (81mph) from 150km/h (93mph) but it's still much better than the 90km/h (56mph) limit in Eco Pro+. The acceleration was also a lot slower than the normal/comfort mode. Honestly, I may as well have just kept those 2 ePOWER bars empty and not drive look like a hoonigan. I was going to get access to the car the next week. So I admittedly regretted my aggressive driving behaviour. In comfort mode, the car certainly impressed me with its quick acceleration and instant torque. I just wished I would've saved the hard driving for later.