Mini review of the BMW i3

Someone asked me for my opinion of the i3, now that we’ve had it for a while (10 months), and after I wrote it, remarked that I really should publish it somewhere. So here it is.

What model and year did you buy, and why?

The main reason we bought the i3 over anything else is the price and the availability. It really is the only one that was in the budget, and is somewhat readily available.

We bought a 2015 model, which I actually think is a tad on the old side, but my wife really liked the specification of the car, and it was in excellent shape otherwise. It has basically all the features except heated seats, which is not a big deal in our part of the world. She really liked the leather seats and the “bright solar orange” paint scheme.

Personally I like the white one with the blue accents more, but when you buy second hand you are limited to what is on the floor, and in this case, also what is in your province.

The 2015 model has enough range for what we do with it. Ideally I would have preferred the 90Ah model, 2017 onwards, but again, the prices are quite a bit higher.

Those 20 inch wheels…

If you are worried about potholes, rather get the one with the 19" wheels. They are cheaper to replace as well, and you can get a square setup (front and rear wheels the same size). On the 20" wheels it is always offset, the rear wheels are a different size. The offset also makes it impractical to carry a spare. This is something to note: These cars don’t come with a spare. It has a repair kit.

Tyres are expensive. Not overly so, but they cost about the same as you would pay for the tyres on a Hilux. In other words, they are expensive for the size, but not more expensive than a lot of people in this country willingly shell out. I have not had to replace tyres yet.

I would not say the car is unable to deal with potholes. We had a damaged road in my area, a pipe burst and they had to trench right across this road. The trench was filled up, but it settled and left a ditch in the road. One day a delivery guy in a Hilux hit it at some speed and dislocated a ball joint, almost made a huge accident. At that same time I tiptoed through that part in the i3 with the 20" wheels every day with no problems at all. You just have to be careful, and creeping in the i3 is really easy, it can go a steady 1km/h if you need it to, much slower than many cars can at idle in first gear.


The car has very stiff suspension. I actually like it, but it is something you have to know. At higher speeds there is quite a bit of wind noise. I don’t find it problematic, but in some reviews it was noted, and I can confirm it is true. Most of the cars sold in this country had the moonroof. If possible, get one without the moon roof. It is rarely used, it makes the car a little top heavy (doesn’t bother me), and it allows quite a bit of heat into the top of the cabin (does bother me). The air conditioning is quite good though, so not a deal breaker.

The iDrive system really is excellent, even for an older system! No CarPlay or Android Auto of course, but the Bluetooth support is really good. Our car came with the Harman Kardon system, which is excellent. The base model comes with a much more basic system and no rear speakers. The HK system really is worth a little extra.

Adaptive cruise control. I’ve never had it in another car. I love it.

Windscreen wipers. The car has no intermittent setting. It has only low, high, and auto. Auto uses a sensor to detect when to wipe, and in my experience, I would have preferred to have an intermittent setting instead. Not a deal breaker again, I’m just being thorough.

The scary stuff

Our car has been here 10 months now, and nothing has gone wrong. However… here is a list of things that do go wrong, and what they cost to fix.

The boots on the shock absorbers disintegrate. They are not hard or expensive to fix, and unless you live in a very wet area, I would just leave them until it is time to replace the shocks.

Park distance control. The car frequently complains that auto-PDC failed and that it wants to visit the dealer. We ignore it, it seems to be intermittent, and it always shows up when we’re driving slowly in reverse out of the yard and we aren’t actually trying to park. I suspect the car is just confused about what is going on, ie, it is a software thing. Note that not all cars come with the “look for a parking spot” feature.

Two times the car has thrown a “drive train fault, driving not possible” error. Both times, turning it off and back on fixed the issue immediately. Both times the error didn’t return for months. Both times, it showed up while the weather was quite wet. Some research points to the rear HV harnass going from the battery to the EME, it is an isolation error. Replacing the harness with a new improved one is expensive, but not overly so (about 4k I think). Can be DIYed in your garage. Newer cars come with the new harness.

Battery replacements, the big one everyone is worried about. A full battery replacement costs three quarters of what the car is worth, just over 300k. For most people this will be a complete deal breaker.

You can however replace just the module that’s failed, of which the car has 8. From my research, a replacement module costs around 40k, and the labour will probably be another 10k. There are however VERY few reported cases of battery issues with the i3, so this is a risk we decided to take. I tell myself that a Turbo failure on a Diesel BMW doesn’t cost much less.

Forget about doing the battery repairs yourself. The AC system of the car also cools the battery, and you will need all the AC evacuation and regassing equipment to do the work. The car uses R134A, and a specific lubrication oil. You will probably need an expert to do this, or you will become an expert while doing this.

You can get aftermarket batteries for cheaper. But you’d have to import them from Europe, so it will still set you back about 150k or so. You do however get a brand new battery and you can upgrade to the 120Ah pack if you prefer. You also get to keep the old pack, which is something people often forget.

There is however no expertise in this country for doing such upgrades, at least not yet. I’m banking on never having to do it ever.

The most risky item, however, is that EME I referred to earlier (Electric Motor Electronics).

That is the big inverter/charger combination that charges the battery, but also drives the electric motor. It is the main “computer” in the car. Failure is rare, but from what I hear, a new EME is 4000 GBP. About 100k ZAR. You should be able to insure this part though. Insurers are still scared of the batteries, but they will gladly insure the other electronics, so this would be something to consider.

Accidents and Insurance

In terms of accident damage: Any moderate accident will likely write off the car. The entire back door is two glass panels and everything is carbon fibre and ABS (Thermoplast) plastic. This might be a good thing…

Santam had no book value for it, so they insisted on insuring it at the original price when new, which means it is insured for 100k more than it is worth. I have been told that I can have the car valued at a dealer, submit that, and then insure it at less. But I’ve not gotten around to it.

The car is somewhat special

Only 250k of these cars were built, making them a tad special and rare. BMW treated it as a PR exercise as well, building the car in a factory entirely powered by wind power, using hemp and recycled plastics, making the roof of the left-over carbon fibre from the tub, and the dash from Eucalyptus (because it grows fast). The entire thing is beyond quirky, and we love it.

Best I can say is: Go and test drive one.

Energy consumption

Our car uses about 16kwh/100km.

Does it actually save you money?

Simplistically, yes, but honestly? No, it doesn’t.

Compared to another vehicle of a similar value, it does save heaps of money on petrol/diesel. But in our case, the vehicle we replaced was a significantly cheaper vehicle. The additional opportunity cost, depreciation and insurance on the more expensive vehicle wipes out any savings we might have had. So for us personally, it does not translate to savings. If you want to save money, go buy a second hand Corolla from the same year.

But if you want a small rear-wheel drive car you can enjoy, with a 0-100km/h time of 7 seconds, that you can charge from your solar panels, for less than the price of a new Corolla… this is not a bad option.

Which one to get now

If I were to do it over again, I would aim for a 2017 with a 90Ah battery (about 200km range), and I would take the BEV over the Rex.

Why not the Mini Cooper SE? Well, the Cooper SE is a two door. The i3 has 4 doors, although the back ones are coach doors and only open once the front doors are also open, like a Mazda RX8. Not having to tip a seat forward, like with a VW Beetle, really counts in the favour of the i3.


nice write up. I can’t read the quirky, windmill, Eucalyptus based section without thinking your eMW is “Katie Approved” … :wink:

1 Like

When I joined my current company ~6 years ago I had to move to Germany for 6 months. I was given the company car which was the i3 REx for those 6 months and whenever I went over for training etc. It’s now replaced by a Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor although to be honest the Tesla’s interior is terrible and I would not buy one.

I think the biggest issue for me was the generator maintenance on the REx that kicks in every now and then. In my case I never used the REx and only ran off the battery pack, so this big generator kicking in on the way to work every now and then was annoying. I also didn’t know if I can just switch it off to stop it, so I used to sit at the office until it’s done and then get out.

This I also remember. I think you get used to it even if you don’t like it.

Also agree with this, but now that I have cars with CarPlay / Android Auto it goes back a step again without it:

This to me is similar to CarPlay / Android Auto. I can’t go without it nowadays. Also had it for the first time on the i3. Initially quite scary, but works amazingly.
In my case I lived 15 minutes away from the office, but three ‘villages’ over including a school zone. So I kept having to switch between 50km/h in the village, 30km/h in the school zone and 100km/h between villages. This worked a treat.

I vaguely remember getting this, Googling and then just ignoring it. But I don’t think it happened often.

If I remember correctly this one needed a battery replacement which led to the switch to the Tesla (that and the CEO driving two). Not because of an issue, just because of age (I think I had a 2013 model).


We really do want an EV as our next car. Hopefully there will be some change which may allow them to be cheaper and translate into savings (also going to replace a cheap / older car with the EV), but I think of it as a luxury to have an EV and will pay for that.

This had me in stitches! :rofl:

1 Like