Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Part 3: 2014 BMW i3, Drivers Long Term Review

The BMW i3, A “Bulls-i” for the Bavarians.
We just don’t know it yet.

While the BMW i8 is the super-sultry twin sister that gets all the lustful gazes, the BMW i3 is a masculine stout machine geared for the gnarly bullring that is the city of today and tomorrow. Not cute or ugly and certainly not sexy…. The BMW i3 is a Bavarian bull. 

The i3 is stronger than the “Man of Steel” with its flame cured fibrous carbon skin. Stocky and full figured sitting on it’s haunches, tall with no neck, lightning quick first steps with tons or strength. Smart instincts, legs that look thinner than they should for such a beast. Not the prettiest of faces on the prairie, the local zoo or the urban asphalt jungle. Definitely a bull, albeit one with a BMW roundel for a nose ring.

While most new car models are simply this year’s fruit ripened off a long established tree, occasionally someone actual plants something new. Rarer still… someone plants a “forest of new” that materially changes the definition of what was for a century a “clean white sheet of sheet metal.”

The BMW i3 is not just this years fruit, not just a newly planted tree, a similar species planted by everyone else the past 100+ years, no the i3 is much more, it’s entirely revolutionary. The BMW i3 is a moonshot in the way cars are envisioned and constructed, a new interstellar (oops I’m ahead of myself, sorry Elon) intercity base from which the future of transportation will evolve in it’s many iterations. It’s brilliant and misunderstood in equal amounts. It’s genius not lying in batteries or electric motors, but in carbon fiber lightness and intelligence.

Many see the first few year’s sales of the BMW i3 as disappointing. I see the first few years as a “bud break” of sorts indicating better things to come. At planting in 2014, I too was unimpressed.   Having come off the BMW Mini-E and the BMW ActiveE, I was hoping for a sleek coupe with 90 miles of range. I was disappointed in the form and range of the i3, my wife Julie loved the form (she likes the functionality and high seating) but was also disappointed by the range.   We both love the performance, luxury, and tech of the BMW i3, much superior to its two prototype predecessors. I have to admit, the form is growing on me and I very much like it now.

Julie and I both are BMW i3 drivers, hers a Capparis White Electronaut Edition with Tera interior loaded with 23,000 miles, and mine, a Laurel Grey with Giga interior loaded with 14,200 miles. We picked up both cars in May of 2014 continuing our electric driving after the Mini-E and the ActiveE.  With both i3’s we have driven a total of 37,200 miles on electricity provided by the sun via our Solar PV system. Our home and the i3’s are solar powered with no utility bill or gasoline cost. We installed our solar PV in January of 2007, in April of 2012, the system was completely paid off with our utility and gas savings and from then on and for the rest of our lives, it’s zero emission driving with zero cost for energy.

Just pause and think about that for a second, your home is now your gas station, sunshine is now your gasoline. That’s the ultimate premium driving experience.

We have had no issues with the i3’s at all, I had a cracked windshield, which was replaced, (it was a huge rock kicked up by a truck) Julie had new rear tires at 20,000 miles.   Front tires still have tons of life left.  The cars interiors are holding up great and both cars look as in showroom condition.  Exterior of the cars are simply the best I have ever seen. Typically for Julie and I, we would each pick up a door ding or two every year. The i3’s after 2.5 years on the road are scratch and ding free thanks to the thermo plastic skin mounted on the CFRP.   It’s amazing stuff and almost impossible to ding. The only area for improvement is the bumper ledge when you open the rear hatch. Lots of stuff going in and out, a few scratches there. 

The BMW i3 Tera interior with the Dalbergia brown leather, wood dash panels, open loft / floor feel and quietness is simply the best interior comfort and luxury of any car at any price point. It’s truly an amazing experience; remember I also drive a BMW i8, so that’s high praise for the BMW i3. I’m sure you can get bigger and more expensive, but you can’t get better than the Tera interior of the i3. World leading in my opinion.

The cars also stay amazingly clean, as there is no brake dust. The dirty grimy black stuff that ruins an ice car after the wash is replaced by kinetic energy recovery via regeneration or regen. It’s one pedal driving for 95% of the time in the car and again, world leading in my opinion. Nobody does regen better than BMW.

The performance of the i3 is often understated. Not a track car and not a huge top speed number, mundane 0-60 times for a BMW for sure.  It’s really fairer to compare the i3 with the x3 and x5 as opposed to the sedans.  
However, first in line at a stoplight with just about any performance car including the BMW M lineup next to it and your going to be surprised at how effortlessly and quickly the i3 gets it on. Chances are you’re going to be looking at it’s tail lights for the first 30 to 40 mph. City performance is where it excels, not the autobahn.

Julie and I have owned several cars for over 30 years each, after 2-3 years on the road, all cars start to show their age.  All cars except it seems, the BMW i3. The i3’s defy old man time and do not seem to age or wear. The ride is just as tight, the acceleration just as brisk as the first day, appearances are as if you just left the lot and so on. Truly remarkable, we’re used to getting new cars every 3-4 years but we might need to rethink that strategy.

Would I buy the car again? In a heartbeat and we are. We plan on keeping the Capparis White Electronaut Edition to keep the BMW i8 Electronaut Edition company as we all get old, we affectingly call them the Electronaut twins. The Grey i3 will be returned after three years, Julie will be buying a new 2017 BMW i3 with a sunroof, most likely the Protonic Blue color with Tera interior. A carbon fiber car wearing the BMW roundel, with the best interior in the world, that drives on sunshine. Are you kidding me? I’m loving this new energy world!  

After a couple of years on the road now, a truer picture is beginning to emerge for the future of the BMW i3; the tree is beginning to bear its fruit.

Just 2.5 years after its May 2014 USA launch, the 2017 BMW i3 gains an astonishing 50% increase in battery capacity with range now 114 miles. With fast DC charging, and full utilization of the 2.4 gallon gas tank providing an additional 85 miles of driving for the REX model, the i3 is starting to look really smart.  

LAPD placed an order for 100 of the BMW i3 BEV’s winning a contract over the more vaunted Tesla Model S. Surprise! The LAPD i3 cars have been is service for a few months now.  For LAPD who tested both the BMW i3 and the Tesla Model S, the winning difference was the compatible telemetry, the lowest cost of operations per mile of any car in the USA, demonstrated engineering competence, and the nimble turning radius required of a car in an urban bullring.  Chalk this one up to the lessons learned by BMW in the Mini-E fleet field trails which I was proudly part of.

Julie and I sat next to an LAPD employee and his wife at the July 17th,  2016 BMWi Power lunch in Santa Monica as we listened to Christina Fleischer, Manager of BMWi North America address a gathering of around 200 BMWi enthusiasts. What was clear in Ms. Fleischer’s remarks was a sustained path of improvements to both the i3 and the i8 beginning with the 2017 BMW i3. She hinted at three major advancements including one that she loved for the BMW i3 coming in late 2018 (most likely a 2019 model year) and updates to the BMW i8, including more range and power and the Spyder during the same time frame.   

She dismissed as not true rumors of a full electric BMW i8 anytime in the foreseeable future.  She also talked about the BMW iNext model due in 2020 which will be a new model focusing even more intently on sustainability, integration with humans as well as devices and autonomous driving.

Back to the LAPD and their three-year lease of 100 BMW i3’s, this experience will set a data benchmark for all law enforcement agencies and other fleet operators across the nation. This is a huge deal as BMW seeks to “crack the code” and dominate in this market much as they have with their BMW police model motorcycle.  If they can prove during the next three years that the BMW i3 is reliable and has a low cost of operations and repair (50% lower,) you could be looking at the future police car of choice in the USA. Individual drivers care mostly about lower monthly payments, fleet operators care more about total cost of ownership and cost per mile of operations.

To begin with, these LAPD’s i3’s are not for patrol beats with sworn officers, they will serve in a support role. However in several European countries the i3 is already the police vehicle of choice for sworn officers.  In near future iterations of the i3, the range goes up, performance goes up and the i3 will see patrol duty here as well, just read further down my post before you laugh at the thought of a BMW i3 in a high-speed chase.  Look for the i3 to go into patrol duty in the USA within a year or two, look for LAPD to up its order in the very near future and to go solar in a big way to provide the e-juice for the i3 coppers. 

As mentioned by Ms. Fleischer there are three main upgrades in store for the BMW i3, none of which she could talk about, one of which she was really excited about.  It was great to listen to refreshingly succinct talking points from the German engineer in charge of BMWi, words portraying a quiet strength and confidence, lacking in puffy twittering and marketeering. Ms. Fleischer would not spill the beans so this gives me a chance to speculate and guess on what these three main improvements could be.  Here it goes!

1.  For the 2019 model year arriving late 2018, an upgrade to 120 ah cells thus doubling the range of the original 2014 BMW i3 which had 60 ah cells.  The new electric range of the car will be over 150 miles. This well also be the year that the REX is improved in horsepower and the gas tank is enlarged to 4 gallons to match the 150 miles of the battery. Mid cycle design refresh of the car, lower price point than similarly equipped Tesla Model 3.

2.  A stretched version of the BMW i3 in late 2018 for the 2019 model year. This will give room for eight battery modules instead of six, four typical doors and improve the range to around 200 miles. Perhaps even a convertible or sedan variant. The stronger REX will be available with a 5.5 gallon tank to match the 200 electric miles. Look for this to be the main response to the Tesla Model 3.

3.  This is the one I think Ms. Fleischer was really excited about; after all she comes from the M world of BMW.  In the past 2.5 years, we have used our BMW i3’s frunk exactly three times; once for champagne, once for wine and once for beer.  It’s a terrible waste of space and I know what would better fit in that space. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself for a BMW i3 that will set lap time records at both Thermal and Spartanburg Two Day BMW M Schools. No I’m serious.

The 2019 BMW i3 AWD Coupe Sport.  Two door, Dual electric 200+hp motors for a total of 400+ hp with insane amounts of torque in a sub 3000 lbs. car. Carbon ceramic brakes, 2 speed GKN axels similar to the BMW i8, wider dancing shoes,  stiffer and lower suspension resulting in a carbon fiber track killing machine with a range of 150 miles electric. O-60 times in the 3’s, crazy quick out of turns with no turbo spool up. Dare I say “The Bull”?    

As BMW enters into the Formula E ring in 2019,  it will also begin a BMW sponsored Pro-Car racing series pitting the best of the East Coast against the best of the West Coast (an old Mini-E rivalry) with the 2019 BMW i3 AWD Coupe Sport.

I can hardly wait to see if any of my predictions hold true. There are probably a few folks at BMW right now either amazed at how close I am, or chuckling at my racer-boy folly.  

Just build the Bull.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Part 2: 2014 BMW i8, Drivers Long Term Review

2014 Electronaut Edition BMW i8
Delivered, January 2015
Odometer, 14,396

The BMW i8 is a Master’s work of industrial artistry, but is it a Supercar?

By “Old Testament” petrol metrics the answer is no. However a quick look at the supercar wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercar shows that the definition of what is a Supercar has been in constant evolution.

In the evolution into electric mobility, a Supercar is defined for many as: A car that breaks existing boundaries, limited to just a tiny fraction of a percent of the cars on the road. A car that represents the future in the present. A car that inspires and captivates with a rarity of awe and inquiry wherever it travels. A car that offers exceptional rare beauty, sustainability, materials, performance and road handling. A car that is timeless and treasured for generations.

In the “New Testament,” the BMW i8 is most certainly a Supercar.

In January of 2015, the first model year 2014 BMW i8 Electronaut Edition found it’s way into our garage. The question was: Do I drive the i8, or will it be a garage queen? If I drive it, I could be depriving myself of a good chunk of the monetary value “when, not if” it becomes a highly prized collectible. If it’s a garage queen stored for posterity and profit, I could be depriving myself of several years of glorious experiences on the open road “when, not if” my time on earth is done.

I came down on the side of drive it. The plan is to drive our BMW i8 for five or six years roughly 40k or 50k in miles, fix any battle scars and then put it up on a lift to be used only for that rarest of weekends or road trips.

Supercars are masculine. They're powerful, angular, snarling, some seemingly bordering on evil. After driving and living with the i8, I find the i8 to be a mixture of mostly feminine qualities. Sexy, sculptured, goddess like, exotic, and hard to understand with many personalities (own it ladies.) Perhaps it’s the swan like wings of the opened doors, or the flying C pillar reminiscent of a models long flowing hair.

The juxtaposed allure of the BMW i8's feminine traits and diverse personalities is why in my opinion, the car is so spell binding to so many.

The i8 has many driving personalities, one moment, stealthily, powerfully slow like a Puma without sound, stalking it’s prey. One moment, incredibly thrifty and conservative, briskly able to multitask like a coupon cutting, store hopping shopper. One moment, fierce and fast, hyper-aggressive, poised, lunging and running at full speed, poetry of form, sound and speed.

Of the three main driving modes, my favorite is slowly city cruising in stealth mode to a restaurant or hotel. When button pressing into stealth mode, I always make the swoosh sound as the car becomes silent, moving my hand palm down away from my body. Cracks me up that I do that but it’s the closest thing to piloting the Millennium Falcon this side of Tatooine. The Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs seems doable in the BWM i8.

I’m a 54 year old "big guy" at 6’3”and 325 pounds. After an awkward first try or two (it’s awkward for everyone,) I have no problems getting in an out of the i8. With its long doors, it’s very easy to swing the legs in and out and the seating position once in the car is perfection. To get out, it’s an easy one leg out, pop up and exit the car to the rear so as not to bang the head on the door now overhead. Surprisingly it’s one of the easier cars for me to get in and out of.

Our i8 has had no repairs, service issues or faults. It’s been bulletproof. I bring the i8 into BMW of Vista on a monthly basis for a hand wash and occasional detail. The car has had a scheduled service at 12,000 miles, and new tires at 14,000 miles.

Servicing the i8 in the future should be at much lower cost than its competitive class. The electric bits, somewhat detuned (ironic I know) from the BMW i3, will require little to no maintenance, the 3 cylinder engine from the Mini should be easy to service. Remember that the engine has only 9000 miles on it, for the other 5000 miles it has just been a passenger along for the ride. Tires are affordable and brakes are longer lasting as a plug in hybrid with regen.

Wear and tear on the car is unnoticeable. The interior of the i8 is as it left the showroom with no blemishes or wear marks at all. The Terra leather interior is firm, no wrinkles cracks or sags with every inch of the front interior richly appointed in the best leather. The exterior is factory fresh with one racetrack war-wound collected on a high-speed downhill on camber right-hander. I got too close at the apex and while compressed, just kissed the inside track curbing. In that nanosecond of painful sound, I curbed the front passenger wheel slightly as well as grinding a small mark on the lower front fascia and just behind the passenger side front wheel. 

It happened on a track so it’s well earned. A wheel expert and a few new plastic pieces and she will be perfect once more. I’ll wait a few more years before replacing, as I’m sure I’ll pick up one or two more scars. 

Our driving patterns with the i8 are primarily in two modes. We drive the i8 locally around San Diego North County in all electric mode. Most of our favorite places are within 5-10 miles or less and with a 15-mile real world electric range this covers many of our trips. We plug in L2 charging every time the car is parked in the garage. Approximately 5,000 miles of driving has been in this electric mode, with the BMW i8 averaging 90 miles per gallon.

Our daily work driving and mid range trips are typically done in our BMW i3s or an electric bike.

The other mode is long distance driving in comfort mode. The i8 is a beautiful and comfortable grand touring car, it’s like flying on the road in a gulfstream jet. Plenty of room for gear for two between the rear storage area and the back seat. We’ve done a four state 2000 mile tour though Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California, a few 1500 mile trips to Napa and a trip or two to Arizona and points east.  Approximately 9,000 miles of driving with no plugging in has been in this mode, the i8 averaging 30 mpg.

Combined, we are averaging 48 mpg. That’s a stunning number for a car in this class. In the near future shifting to higher density batteries, I'm sure this number will continue to go up as the electric range increases.

Here's a snapshot of life with the BMW i8 from a recent trip to Palm Desert. Julie and I were celebrating our anniversary with a dinner at Mastro's on the El Paseo.  The valet line up in front of the restaurant was a new Mercedes AMG GT S, our BMW I8 and a Bentley Mulsanne. While we were inside eating dinner, the valet needed to put cones on both side of our i8 as folks were coming up to the car and leaning on the car to look into the windows.  I asked about the other two cars not having cones? The valet's response was "no problem with those two."  

It's like the other cars just disappear. Still think the BMW i8 is not a Supercar?

In sport mode going through the gears with the paddles is orchestral with the brap-brap of the turbo’s wastegate harmonizing with the changing octaves of the rpm's. Yes the sounds are amplified and piped into the car. With the acoustical isolation of the cabin, this is a welcome addition.

There’s a space like sense of speed as the front electric motor pulls you out from the turn or away from a stop with 100% torque applied at the first revolution, then joined by the 3 cylinder turbo once spooled up in rpm's, thrusting you forward in a manor that feels unworldly, entirely unique to the all wheel drive, front electric motor - rear gasoline engine setup. This is a vehicle architecture shared by only four cars in the world, the BMW i8, the McLaren P1, the Porsche 918 and the Ferrari LaFarrari.

To all my brothers and sisters of the pure gasoline BMW M world who think going electric is as awesome as catching the flu,  note that the Plugin Hybrid McLaren P1 just shattered the track record at the Goodwood Festival of Speed with a lap time of 47.07 seconds, a full 2.2 seconds faster than the previous record holder.

From a pure performance perspective, looking at Goodwood and Le Mans, there is no doubt that the future for the next few decades lies in the architecture of carbon fiber, all wheel drive, plug in hybrid with an ever increasing electric motor torque and horsepower, and torque vectoring control. The BMW i8 is on the vanguard of that architecture.

0-60 in the BMW i8 is officially 4.2 seconds. Car & Driver has it at 3.6 seconds, Road & Track at 3.8 seconds.  I clock it at around 12 parsecs. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 and the i8 get's there quickly.

I’ve tracked the M3, 4 & 5 cars and the BMW i8 at the BMW M school in Thermal. I've won the "coveted blue cone" (it's all about who gets the 3 inch blue cone and the time sheet to take home)  with a lap time of 27.36 just a few tenths off the M school all time best, so I get the cars.

Is the BMW i8 a track car?  No, it's a grand touring car.  The BMW i8 is shy a few hundred horsepower, needs more lateral grip and a stiffer suspension. It can keep pace with the M3 and is just a tad slower than the improved M4 around the track. That’s not a criticism of the BMW i8, it’s not set up as an M or track car.

When I express that the BMW i8 could use more horsepower and grip, what I'm really saying is that there is so much more room at the untapped top end for this car. I look at the empty rear seats and say "oh man what if!"

I’d love to track this car with a stiffer and lower suspension, meaty rubber, carbon ceramic brakes, and a few hundred extra horsepower on both axels. I’m quite sure the men and women of M could considerably up the ante in a matter of months if given the chance to do so. The BMW i8 chassis and architecture is simply that good.

In a life well led with priorities met, there is room for indulgences. So it is with the 2014 Electronaut Edition BMW i8 in our garage. I remember seeing the BMW i8 concept in person at the 2011 LA Auto Show, it was a dream car, something unreal.

Just 5 short years from the prototype 2009 BMW Mini-E to the 2014 BMW i8. I'm now living in my own dream, how cool is that?

We’re going to drive to old age together.

Bravo BMW.

Part 3 of the long term review will cover the BMW i3