2014 BMW i3 Hatchback: (Short) Road Trip
January 13, 2015
You want to own an electric car but every once in a while you take a short road trip. Does this mean you have to own two cars, one with a gas engine? Of course you could rent a car for the road trip or pop for a Tesla. Or, you could just get the new 2014 BMW i3.
To test this theory, I took a short road trip in our new long-term i3 hatchback. The key word in the previous sentence is "short" as the farthest I needed to drive in one shot was 236 miles north to the small town of Morro Bay, Calif. After that, I would drive only about 75 miles between electric charging stations on my way back to the Los Angeles area.
Here's how I managed the trip.
First of all, the i3 has an EPA-rated all-electric range of 81 miles (our testing team got 95 miles on our own test route). With the gasoline range extender, a $3,850 option, the total range is about 150 miles. So I left home with a full charge and every intention of stretching the all-electric range to Ventura, Calif., where I knew I could get an extra boost from a charge station while I ate breakfast. I put the car in "Eco-Pro" (one of three drive choices) to maximize the range and, as promised, the range extender kicked after 82.1 miles.
I found free charging and left the i3 plugged in for an hour. Coming back, I was pleased to see that I had 27 more miles of all-electric range. When the range extender came back on, I was just beginning the long climb on California Highway 154 through the San Marcos Pass to an elevation of about 2,000 feet. At first the i3 climbed easily. But after about seven miles of steady climbing, my speed began to drop. By the time I reached the pass I was going only 30 mph with my foot to the floor. Apparently, I was in danger of overrunning the ability of the gasoline range extender to charge the battery.
I filled up the 1.9-gallon range extender tank once to make it the rest of the way to Morro Bay. Using Plugshare.com, I found a charging station and "filled up" on electricity in four hours. The next day I drove to Solvang, a distance of 79 miles. I was driving a bit faster so the range extender came on after 78 miles. I left the i3 on a public charger and, when I was done with a round of golf, the car was completely charged. From Solvang, I made it on electricity to my motel in Ojai, Calif. Only a few blocks away was a free charging station. After dinner, the car was completely charged and ready for the return drive to Santa Monica the next day.
I'll be doing two follow-up posts on other i3-related subjects, but for now, I just want to summarize this discussion of range. I drove a total of 530 miles, of which about 400 miles were in all-electric mode. This showed me that, first of all, I was able to complete this short road trip successfully. Second, even in three small California towns, I found open charging stations ready and waiting for me. So taking the i3 on a short road trip is possible. But planning, patience and a little extra time are required. And not everyone is willing to do that.
Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 636 miles