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The electric BMW i3 REx has a battery that just won't quit - but it'll cost you

We test BMW’s new electric car under real world Irish driving conditions.

AS MOTORISTS, WE need to start re-thinking how we get around. Congestion charges and low emission zones are becoming commonplace, and by 2025 a full diesel vehicle ban will be in place in Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City. Ireland may not be on that list yet, but all the same, if you’re keen to future-proof your driving, it’s worth considering an electric car.

When estimating the practicality of an EV, top of your list should be its ‘real world range’: how long a charge lasts when you regularly drive with the lights and wipers going, the heated seats or air-con at full tilt, the radio blaring and your phone plugged in.

While many EVs have a less-than-ideal real world range, the BMW i3 fares very well indeed: it has a potential range of 314km, with at least 200km under real world considerations. Additionally, the Range Extender (REx) model has a tiny two-cylinder trick up its sleeve in the form of a 650cc petrol tank which holds nine litres of fuel, and further extends the real world driving range by 130km.

Dave Humphreys Dave Humphreys

The REx is needs-based and only kicks in when the charging level of the lithium-ion batteries drops to a certain level, or when you want to hold the charge at a certain level. The petrol tank never powers the car: instead, it produces electricity via a generator which can be used to top up the battery.

During my week with the car, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the battery down to a low enough level for the extender to kick in. Why? Because the regenerative braking system worked so well that the battery seemed to be constantly recharging.

In Ireland, our average weekly mileage is around 405km. With those odds, you could drive the i3 REx all week and only have to charge it up twice.

Dave Humphreys Dave Humphreys

Moving on from the seemingly endless battery power, the i3 has plenty going for it in terms of design and drive. First off, it looks fresh and futuristic and really stands out on the road.

Inside is more Swedish than German with all that untreated wood on the dash, and it’s deceptively spacious too. The only possible downside of the cabin is that there are only two seats in the back, but there’s ample headroom to make up for it.

Dave Humphreys Dave Humphreys

I happen to love the coach doors, but the fact that the rear doors can only be used when the front doors are open may not be ideal for those who drop off and pick up passengers a lot.

Dave Humphreys Dave Humphreys

The big selling point for me though, is how the i3 drives. This is a purpose built electric car – you can’t get a petrol or diesel version – and the chassis and engineering are fantastic.

Everything just works so well and smoothly. I just wish all cars handled this well. Tesla aside, this is the best electric car I have driven and it is better than many ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) cars that I have tested.

Dave Humphreys Dave Humphreys

The steering is sharp and precise, the ride is a bit firm but it still does well at absorbing the lumps and bumps and the regenerative braking system is strong but excellent once you get used to it. A low centre of gravity has you feeling well-planted through corners, and the rear-wheel drive gives a dazzling performance. This is a bona fide BMW.

Dave Humphreys Dave Humphreys

The BMW i3 REx will go a long way to ease the minds of those who are nervous about buying an EV. Maintenance wise, it has very low running costs. Tax is €170 a year, based on an average mileage of 300km per week.

The monthly at home charging cost is approximately €32, while public charge points are currently free to use, and it costs about €12 to fill the tank – if you ever end up needing to.

Dave Humphreys Dave Humphreys

The only downside for me is the price tag, which is no surprise for a BMW. The starting price for the BMW i3 REx is €50,940, and even with the SEAI €7,500 rebate, you’re still looking at well over €40,000 for the most basic option.

If you can handle the high price though, this car should be top of your EV wishlist. An electric car really is a great way to future-proof your driving and the i3 is one of the best on the market.

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