Test Drive: 2017 BMW i3 with Range Extender

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One of the issues electric vehicle owners have to deal with is a phenomenon known as “range anxiety.” Basically, it’s this nagging feeling you get in the pit of your stomach whenever you drive an electric vehicle any distance close to the limit of the battery.

In other words, if you know you can go 100 km on a full charge, and your trip is likely to take you 25 km, you can travel without having to worry about running out of juice before you get to your destination.

However, if your trip is 90 km, or more, you’ll likely experience range anxiety as you wonder if your battery will drain before you get to where you want to go. You also start planning your route more carefully, adding in stops for charging to assure you won’t run out of power before getting to your destination.

Range Extender to the rescue

To alleviate that stress, BMW offers an i3 model with a Range Extender. How does it help? Well, the standard i3 comes in two different flavours: the BMW i3 (60 Ah) with a range of up to 130 km, and the BMW i3 (94 Ah) with an operating radius of up to 200 km.

If you use an i3 just to go to work and back, maybe covering a range of 100 km a day (for arguments sake), you’ll be fine with either model. But if you think you’ll need an i3 for a longer trip, from time to time, BMW offers a Range Extender that kicks in once the power from the battery is used up.

The Range Extender is basically a small two-cylinder gasoline engine that drives a generator, which in turn maintains the charge level of the battery so you’re never stuck at the side of the road once the battery power is used up.

And that, I assure you, can be a lifesaver, as I discovered during my week with the i3.

To make a long story short, I was unable to charge my test vehicle as planned at the airport while away for a couple of days on a business trip. When I came back, I had about 20 km left in the battery, and a 50 km trip home ahead of me. Had the i3 I was driving not been equipped with the Range Extender, I would have been in big trouble. But because it was, the little engine kicked in at the 20 km mark, keeping me moving until I got home.

Mind you, the small two-cylinder wasn’t engineered to keep you moving at maximum power for as long as you need to go. You do have to slow down, and you may have to power down accessories in order to keep you going. But it assures that you will get to where you want to go, without having to worry about being stranded at the side of the road.

Fun and different

Much has been written about the i3 over the years, so I won’t bore you with all the usual details. Suffice it to say that it’s fun-to-drive, although it takes a bit of time to get used to the quirkiness of the i3.

It’s a unique vehicle, inside and out, complete with all the creature comforts you might want, as well as textures and materials that set it apart as something that’s likely to be loved by those who are eager to do their bit to save the planet.

BMW says 90% of the i3 is recyclable, and it shows. The interior is made up of materials you don’t usually find in a BMW, like wool, eucalyptus, and olive leaves. It’s a bit of a different interior, but I have the feeling the folks who invest in an i3 are perfectly fine setting themselves apart from the pack in this way.

Which leads me to my next point. With a base price of $51,500 (our tester weighed in at $61,845 with options), you wonder who is buying these vehicles. It can’t be those who are concerned with the price of gas because they’re more likely to buy something much cheaper.

So it has to be those who want to make a statement, want to be different, and want to be green (on a number of fronts). And if that’s the case, I think the i3 will certainly help them achieve all the above.

Now, thanks to the Range Extender, i3 owners can save the planet, and stand apart from the pack, without ever suffering the dreaded range anxiety many electric vehicle owners have to deal with.

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