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Electric Vehicle information for Atlanta and Georgia

BMW i3 information

Sections below:
– BMW i3 introduction
– used BMW i3 details
– suggestions for new owners
– tuning your BMW i3 REx for stress-free roadtrips

The BMW i3 works well for driving enthusiasts because it’s a powerful rear-wheel-drive car (read: fun) and BMW gets all the little details right when it comes to driver interaction.

The headline feature of the i3 is that it comes in two versions: a pure electric version (battery electric vehicle or “BEV”) and a version with a little gas engine that generates electricity (range-extended version or “REx”). The BEV is a simple EV like the Leaf or Tesla. The REx has the same EV drivetrain (and about the same range) but adds a gasoline engine that generates electricity to keep you moving when the battery runs out. In this regard the i3 REx is like a Chevy Volt (and NOT a “hybrid”) because it has a “full performance electric drivetrain”, so you can accelerate hard or drive at high speeds on the highway all under pure electric power. The gas engine only kicks in after the big battery has run out of juice.

The i3 BEV is a little bit lighter than the i3 REx (lacking the gas engine weight) and therefore a little quicker. Both of those are very fast cars!

Starting with the 2017 model year, BMW offers the i3 with either a 19 kWh (“60 Ah”) battery pack, or a 33 kWh (“94 Ah”) battery pack. The former provides an official all-electric range (AER) of 70-80 miles, and the latter 100-120 miles; the exact number within that range depends on whether you are looking at the BEV or the REx. (Of course the REx models have essentially unlimited range, automatically kicking over to gas mode when the big battery runs out.) Starting with the 2018 model year, only the larger 33 kWh battery is offered, and it’s rumored that the 2019 i3 will offer an even bigger battery.

Now, there are definitely things that I personally did not like about the i3 back in 2014 when I was looking hard at it, and I wrote them up at the time here:  The First Volt Owner in Georgia Explains What He Doesn’t Like About the BMW i3… and Why He’s Buying One!  I should note that the above article was written for an audience of EV enthusiasts, I assume that they already know the basics of the i3, have read other reviews, and are very familiar with EVs in general (usually as owners). So my apologies if some of that article goes over your head.

There are pros and cons with the i3, as there are with any car. Here is my take on the car:

– powerful drivetrain, more power than any other EV except for Tesla
– silky smooth and responsive accelerator pedal
– rear wheel drive dynamics
– DC Fast Charging
– iDrive interface, NOT a touch screen (that’s good)
– physical buttons in general (e.g. for air recirc)
– neat-o advanced cruise control
– coupe-like doors

– no climate prestart on keyfob
– plug on wrong side of car
– kind of ugly, especially looking straight at front or rear
– tire size mix means no rotating to even out tire wear
– no power seats, not even as an option
– no sunroof, not even as an option (note: sunroof available as of 2017)

Some of these “cons” are discussed in the article I linked to above, written in Dec 2013.  See also the “checklist for the perfect electric car” page for much more detail about what makes a good EV.

There is one special “con” not listed above: the poor behavior of the “range extender” or “REx” feature, introduced in a section above.  It is a bit underpowered, which means it has trouble keeping up at high speeds (above 72 MPH).   If you can live with the 100 mile range of the pure-electric i3 (and the widespread DCFC network now makes this easy) than you could be better off getting an i3 BEV (the pure electric version). If you will be using the REx feature a lot (because your daily driving is more than 100 miles or so), you should also consider a Chevy Volt. The Volt has much better range-extending behavior, and if you’re going to be dipping into the REx mode on a daily basis, or you go on long roadtrips often and like to drive 75 MPH or faster during those long trips, you’re better off with a Volt. It’s just not as much fun as the BMW i3!  See the Chevy Volt page for an introduction to that car, including guidance on buying used.

In short, the i3 is more of a high performance car than most of the other EVs on the market, with careful attention paid to how well it actually DRIVES, and with the luxury features that you’d expect in a BMW.  Along with the Chevy Volt, it offers a unique range-extended mode that means you don’t need to worry about public charging.

advice on buying a USED i3

The BMW i3 has now been on the market long enough that you can find them used, usually coming off lease.  Used EVs are a huge bargain in general, because A) they don’t really wear out like gas-engine cars do, and B) their prices are depressed by the ever-improving capabilities of the newest cars on the market.

When looking for a used i3 (or any used car, for that matter), one problem is that it can be difficult figuring out exactly which options the car is equipped with. The seller may have provided insufficient photos, or some features can only be discerned from photos if you know exactly what to look for. The information below is to help you research specific cars.

These “pricing and ordering guides” are BMW’s official documents for each model year, and detail very specifically (including the cryptic ordering codes) what options where available each model year. For each link, click for the page and then scroll down to the PDF links:
BMW’s Pricing and Ordering Guide for model year 2014 i3
BMW’s Pricing and Ordering Guide for model year 2015 i3
BMW’s Pricing and Ordering Guide for model year 2016 i3
BMW’s Pricing and Ordering Guide for model year 2017 i3
BMW’s Pricing and Ordering Guide for model year 2018 i3
BMW’s Pricing and Ordering Guide for model year 2019 i3

The major feature changes of each model year are:
– 2014: first year of production, some features optional, had some problems with charging and drivetrain (all of which BMW has fixes for, but make sure they get applied)
– 2015: more features standard, minor tweaks to interior and exterior
– 2016: added black exterior, new options packages which make used comparisons more confusing
– 2017: added bigger battery option (“94 Ah” cells = 33 kWh battery); added moonroof option
– 2018: revamp of the front and rear styling; new i3s model; now only offering the bigger battery (“94 Ah” cells = 33 kWh battery)
– 2019: added bigger battery option (“120 Ah” cells = 44 kWh battery); other options changes per guide above

For any used car you’re considering, you can usually get the VIN, and then you can use that to check the configuration of the car. Checking this is critical because people make mistakes when listing cars, especially the i3. For example, sometimes listings will say that a car is a “base” (BEV) model, when the car is actually a REx. The VIN will tell you for sure. The two ways to tell from pictures if a car is a REx is A) gas flap on front right fender, and B) driver display will show both battery range meter and gas range meter.

VIN decoding:
BMWVIN.com is the most well known but doesn’t tell you BEV vs REx, or 60Ah vs 94 Ah battery
bimmer.work is better in that it DOES tell you BEV vs REx, or 60Ah vs 94 Ah battery
decoder.bvzine.com is another one that works well, especially when the above two stop working …

If you are considering a used i3, you need to be aware of the following trivia regarding model years and options:

– Model year 2014: had optional DCFC, so either make sure any 2014 you are looking at has the DCFC option, or insist on a big discount. The reason that a car is still on the lot is likely because it doesn’t have DCFC. Many new EV owners typically don’t initially understand the importance of DCFC but come to regret it later if they don’t get it. Starting with model year 2015, DCFC was standard on all i3 cars. In VIN reports, DCFC will show up as option code 4U7.

– Model year 2014: had optional heated seats; later years had it standard.

– Model year 2014: in general, this first year of production was a little buggy and troublesome, so make sure that all of BMW HQ’s “bulletins” on the car have been performed by a dealer, especially the motor mount fix, the KLE charger fix, and the REx software update issued in 2017.

– Must-have option:  the “Tech” package, which bundles several important features. In VIN reports, if it shows the “5AT” option, that’s the adaptive cruise control (ACC) feature and the car definitely has the Tech package. (BMW also has a basic cruise control, option 544, that is NOT adaptive and is standard on all i3’s.) Ways to tell from photos if the car has the Tech package:
—- wide screen with narrow bezel, not smaller screen with wide bezel (but see 2016 caution below)
—- pedestrian detection button next to hazard button (between air vents)
—- extra buttons on left side of steering wheel for controlling cruise distance (ACC)

– Up through model year 2017, getting a rear-view camera required the “parking assist” package. (The camera was standard starting in model year 2018 due to federal mandate.) You won’t ever use the automatic-parking feature (it works poorly) but you’ll definitely want that backup camera. Cars without this package will have only backup sensors which beep at you if you are about to hit something. This parking package also adds front collision sensors. Ways to tell from VIN reports:
—- option 5DP = Parking Assist software feature
—- option 5DU = Parking Assist package that includes rear camera and front sensors
—- option 508 = front parking sensors, four small round sensors on front bumper
—- option 3AG = rear camera, very small round sensor just above rear license plate

– Harman Kardon audio is a separate option (separate from any “world” or package), option code 674. The base (non-HK) sound is pretty bad so you probably want this. You can see this visually by looking for the HK-branded tweeters in the mirror triangles.

– Interior “worlds”: BMW has 3-4 different levels of interior trims that govern what kind of seat and console materials are used (leather, wood, etc.); Mega and Deka are base level trims, Giga is middle level with partial leather, and Tera is top level with full leather. These “worlds” also bundle in other options — see more below.

– Different model years had different standard vs optional equipment. For example, in 2014 and 2015, the Giga and Tera “world” trim levels added a built-in garage door opener and the “comfort access” feature, which locks and unlocks the car with a touch of your hand (no keyfob button press required). But in 2016 those two options were also offered under separate “value” packages. Then in 2017 both options were made standard in all i3 cars, and the value package idea was dropped. So, model year 2016 is tricky to figure out; other model years are simpler. One 2016 gotcha: a large screen does NOT necessarily mean that it has the Tech package, because the large screen could be ordered separately in one of the 2016 “value packages”, which included a large screen but no ACC and no LED headlights.

– If you are looking at used i3’s, you will find that the listings often will not specify which “world” interior a particular car has. However, between the VIN and the pictures of the car, you can usually figure it out, but you’ll need the information below.

World  Code     Cost     Seat material    Steering color            Note 
Deka   ZKK      +$0      dark cloth       dark wheel + blue line    2016+ only 
Mega   ZWM/7KX  +$0      light cloth      light wheel + blue line   
Giga   ZGW/7KY  +$1500*  cloth + leather  light wheel + white line  
Tera   ZTW/7KZ  +$2500*  dark leather     dark wheel + white line   

(* world cost is approximate, shown for comparison, varied between model years)

– BMW’s jargon for the navigation systems:
“Business” = code 606 = smaller, basic system
“Professional” = code 609 = larger, full featured, part of Tech package

– The “i3s” model launched in model year 2018, and adds / refines a number of things on the car to make it more “sporty”. Most of these improvements are under the hood or difficult to spot from pictures, such as slightly more power from the electric motor, slightly wider tires and a slightly dropped suspension. However there are a few clear tells on an i3s, so if someone claims to be offering the “Sport” model, look for these:
— front bumper has extra aerodynamic accents at bottom corners
— wheel arches have additional fender flares (black) to accommodate the slightly wider tires
— new “431” style 20″ wheels with slightly different spoke design from existing 20″ wheel, available in black or bare metal
— interior mats have i3s logo
— VIN decode will say “i3s” instead of “i3”
— see this InsideEVs article for images

BMW has a “Certified Pre Owned” (CPO) program that put used BMWs through an inspection and then provides an additional warranty. If the used i3 you are looking at is old enough to be out of the initial 4 year / 50000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, you may want to stick with CPO cars if you want peace of mind. CPO cars come with free public charging (which is cute but not actually that useful) and BMW sometimes provides further discounts on those sales, such as 0%-1% financing, so ask around.

BMW offers a maintenance plan on new i3’s so that the owner doesn’t even have to shoulder maintenance costs. For model years 2014 through 2016, that maintenance plan covered 4 years / 48,000 miles; as of model year 2017, maintenance is covered for only 3 years / 36,000 miles. For the first model year, 2014, that maintenance plan was transferable to a second owner, but as of model year 2015 that maintenance plan does not transfer.

If you’ve found a specific i3 of interest, use the pricing and ordering guides linked above to figure out for sure what options it is equipped with (and what it is missing). The information provided here is a summary, but each model year is different, and those guides above are the bible for each model year.

suggestions for new i3 owners

Are you now the proud owner of a BMW i3? Check out these resources:

BMW i3 Worldwide group on Facebook (lots of daily chatter, quick answers to questions)
BMW i3 owner group for your local area (listing within worldwide FB group above)
New owner checklist (from worldwide FB group above, will answer all of your new-owner questions)
Atlanta BMW EV group on Facebook (if you are in metro-Atlanta)
www.MyBMWi3.com (forum with good reference information; use Google’s “site:” feature to search it)

tuning your BMW i3 REx for stress-free roadtrips

This section is about the “range extended” (REx) version of the BMW i3.  This version comes equipped with a small gas engine to generate electricity and keep the electric drivetrain going on long roadtrips.  See above for longer introductions to the REx option.


In the BMW i3 REx, normally the range-extender engine doesn’t come on until the battery is nearly empty — this was actually a requirement of the California regulations that the i3 was designed to comply with. The little gas generator can keep up with the motor’s electricity demands *IF* you are driving A) at about 70 MPH or slower and B) not on a long uphill climb (like, climbing an entire mountain). If you are driving faster or on a looong climb, then the i3 has to dip into the battery to keep up, and BY DEFAULT the i3 won’t have much battery to dip into at that point, because it was already nearly empty! The car then will literally slow down, and early owners were horrified to find themselves stuck driving 45 MPH on the shoulder of the interstate, even resulting in lawsuits against BMW.

But there is a solution already built into the car!  BMW wanted to offer an adjustable threshold for when the gas engine would kick in, but that is illegal in some markets, so they built it into the car’s software but then disabled it in those markets where it’s not allowed.  Thankfully, i3 REx owners quickly figured out how to turn on the feature back on in the software, using a surprisingly simple process called “coding”.  Simply Google for “BMW coding” for guidance on how to do this — for example, BimmerCode is one of the popular phone apps for this purpose.

Specifically, then, using coding you will be turning on the “Hold SOC” capability.  This adds a control to your car’s screen where you can tell it to “hold the State of Charge”, which forces the gas engine to turn on right away, even if there’s still a lot of battery charge left.  Normally the gas engine would turn on at a SOC of only 6.5%, but with the Hold-SOC feature you can command it on at say 50% or even higher.  This then gives the i3 a HUGE battery reserve to dip into in addition to the gas generator’s power, needed when driving faster or up loooong hills. With Hold SOC turned on, you can go on super long roadtrips at 80 MPH and not really worry about it much.

To be clear, the i3 can go on roadtrips without the Hold SOC feature, but you have to drive a little slower (72 MPH or less) and beware of very long uphill grades. Eventually, though, you will probably find yourself in an ugly situation where you end up driving at 45 MPG on the shoulder and swear “never again” and then you decide that you need Hold SOC!

– code the car for “Hold SOC” capability as discussed above
– start fully charged
– Hold SOC at 75% (coding required)
– drive at high speeds, don’t worry about losing SOC
– plan to stop once an hour for gas
– turn off Hold SOC 2-3 minutes/miles BEFORE running out of gas so that the engine gets a chance to cool down (probably not required, just a recommendation); note the checkmark will NOT clear and engine will keep running — just wait two minutes
– IMPORTANT: remember to re-command the Hold SOC after every gas stop!
– at every gas/rest stop you’ll lose 5-10% … or more because you forget to Hold SOC again
– go back to BEV mode (turn off Hold SOC) as you approach destination, showing up with nearly empty battery
– charge back up overnight, repeat!