The BMW i3 REX – What range anxiety?
The i3 often gets written off as just a megacity runaround with it's finite electric range and perceived lack of charging points. However, this isn't the case, and when coupled with the range extender in the form of an additional petrol backup built in to the car the idea of taking one from the UK back to Germany was born.
Trips like this have been done many times before maximising electric range, hopping from chargepoint to chargepoint, and whilst you can appreciate the sense of adventure, it's actually a path well trodden and admittedly slow going. What I wanted to prove was that you could jump in a BMW i3 and just go - minimal route planning, charging where appropriate but not having to rely on a charging network, and having the flexibility to travel when and where I wanted just like you would in a traditional car.
We couldn't take a CeC of course, so the first step was securing a car from BMW Cardiff itself. Suddenly those GB plates would become a lot more relevant than just a joke at PDI!
Preparation was minimal - outside of the normal EU driving requirements the car was loaded with a type-2 public charging cable, overnight 3 pin charger, and a small reserve can of fuel (Which wasn't touched once during the trip)
As for the route, I'd ordered the plugsurfing chargekey that works across most European chargepoints, and had access to the plugshare app on my phone as a backup for the BMW navigation system.
Leg 1: Cardiff - Essen (458 miles)
It was a seven AM start for the run to the ferry at Dover, and leaving Cardiff the i3 had a full charge, and full tank in the REX. The run down the M4 is a familiar one, however a traffic setback early on pushed the timetable back by about an hour. Normally this would be disastrous in an electric car, especially with a ferry to catch. However, the REX in the i3 can maintain the state of charge almost indefinitely so long as there's fuel in it's 9 litre tank and you're maintaining a steady speed (Optimum cruise is at 68mph).
This setback simply meant that in place of three charge stops, there would be three fuel stops instead - two on the M4 and one on the M25 which gave ample range to reach the port in good time, and catch the ferry. The REX was engaged at 75% state of charge, and had held within a few % of that pretty consistently!
Once landed and disembarked in Dunkirk, I had two choices. The closest chargepoint meant driving in the wrong direction, back towards Calais. However, looking at the plugsurfing app there were two rapid charge points to leap-frog between situated a perfect distance apart at Ghent and then Eindhoven en-route to my final stop of Essen. Rather than double back, the range extender took me comfortably to the first chargepoint where I'd then deliberately let the battery run down to get the full benefit of a 30 minute coffee break and rapid charge. This gave me the boost to carry on to my next point for one last rapid charge, swiping in to activate the point with my plugsurfing key before making the final hop to Essen.
Leg 2: Essen - Berlin (327 miles)
Starting the day off the battery was running low after both the last leg, as well as some running around in Essen itself. After calling ahead, I headed over to BMW Niederlassung Essen where I met Daniel, their BMW Genius who's perfect English made light work of hooking the i3 up to their rapid charge point once he'd got over the surprise that someone had comfortably driven one over from the UK! Whilst the car was charging, the plugshare app told me that the first practical rapid charge point was well out of electric range, so the day started again cruising at 110kph (after changing the clocks to read in kilometres via the settings) with the range extender and a fresh fuel stop maintaining the state of charge.
The first charge was uneventful (and free) at an office complex just off the autobahn. Within half an hour it'd given me enough to hop to the second CCS chargepoint on route located at a petrol station, where I was able to refuel the REX and then grab a coffee and some lunch whilst the car topped up again for the last leg. I reached Berlin with no more stops and about 15 miles left on my range, which worked out perfectly as there was a chargepoint less than three minutes down the road from where we were staying!
The one city centre charge here gave us enough range for the complete week's running around within Berlin itself.
Leg 3: Berlin – Essen (328 miles)
The i3 had been fully charged that morning in preparation for a trip north just outside of Berlin, however late in the afternoon after we'd checked out of the hotel the friend I'd been planning to visit was taken ill with acute food poisoning.
This led to the snap decision to get on the road and head back to Essen a day early. This was also the perfect chance to try the REX out, so the entire leg was made solely on fuel alone, topping the tank up whenever it was needed with no other delays or detours.
Leg 4: Essen – Cardiff (458 Miles)
The last leg started early with another visit to BMW Niederlassung Essen for a quick charge before getting on the road.
I wanted to prove the flexibility of the range extender, so having made it from Berlin to Essen without charging, I wanted to continue the theme and see if it would take me comfortably home. There were no delays for charging, and quick 5 minute fuel stops in Holland, Belgium and France respectively before arriving at the port of Dunkirk for the ferry back with an empty tank and 20 miles left on the battery itself.
Once landed back in Dover, I stopped at the first petrol station just off the port for a full tank, and reversed the run back towards Wales only stopping for fuel when required. The range extender performed exactly as designed, and even with a low battery % there was no loss of power with the cruise control set comfortably just shy of the 70mph limit.
So how easy was it?
All in all the i3 with the range extender gave me the best of both worlds – when I had the time I was able to hop between chargepoints travelling for free or very little cost on electric power alone. However, when plans changed or something urgent came up, I wasn't any more limited than you would be in a traditional petrol or diesel car. There was never an occasion where I would be more than 90 miles away from the next filling station, nor did I have to limit myself to certain routes or speeds much slower than average.
Berlin to Cardiff is an extreme journey for a range extender, but it shows that 50 weeks a year you can run a BMW i3 REX on electric power alone for the daily commute, school run, shopping trip and have the cost savings and environmental benefits that driving an electric car brings. However, for the two weeks where you may have meetings elsewhere, family to visit or a holiday abroad, the i3 is more than capable of delivering what's asked.
After this, I'd say the biggest limiting factor isn't how far you can go off one charge, or tank of fuel, but instead the individual perception of range anxiety in the driver's own head!
Total mileage: 1754
Fuel costs: £154
Charging costs £28
Avg. MPG: 45
Avg. MpkWh: 3.9