ESPcat Catching the EV wave in a BMW i3 Rex

When it comes to technology, it’s all about catching the wave.  If you miss the wave, you become one of those sad and sorry folk who watch bewildered from the sidelines as technology races ahead without you.  If you are not in the right place at the right time, it is easy to miss out.  There is a fair bit of luck involved.

After high school, I studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Maine.  It was my final year.  How lucky was I to be fortunate enough to enroll in the very first computer programming course the University ever offered?  Imagine if I had never learned to program computers.  Many engineers can’t.  I caught the wave.   

My lovely wife Gallagher recently insisted we upgrade her car.  She wanted something with cruise control, a reversing camera and maybe a bit of gadgetry to bring her up to speed with the modern world. An EV would be nice.  As far as I was concerned, her 2006 Suzuki Vitara was a perfectly fine vehicle for running around town.  But she wouldn’t have it.  Something had to be done.  We couldn’t afford a Tesla or even a Hyundai Kona.  The only second hand EVs available in New Zealand were the Nissan Leaf with a range of about 125 km (probably closer to 100 km after a few years of age).  Then Cousin Bruce from California, told me about his plug-in hybrid (PHEV). 

Plug-in hybrids are a great option for a town car.  You get to drive around town as an EV and if you simply have to go further, there is a small piston engine to fall back on.  Japan’s best selling PHEV is the Mitsubishi Outlander.  Maybe that would satisfy Gallagher.  So we had a look.  No sale.  Far too big and ugly.  There didn’t seem to be any other PHEV options in the second hand, NZ market.  But then things changed. 

A search for PHEVs turned up the fact that Air New Zealand had just unloaded a bunch of their used BMW i3 Rex EVs.  There was a 2016 model with only 15,000 km on the clock. I had never heard of the BMW i3 Rex.  We could never afford even the smallest new BMW (which the i3 is) but these second hand babies were actually going for a price that was only slightly above reasonable.  Couple that with the fact that I have been going on and on about the demise of piston power.  What was I to do?  Gallagher liked it.  With very little thought or investigation, we bought it.   

The i3 was described by one reviewer as “a concept car that you can actually buy” and it is about the best description I can think of.*   The battery range of 117 km isn’t particularly impressive but the i3 Rex has something extra. Rex stands for Range Extender. That Rex turns the BMW i3 into a PHEV.  

Now I must confess to writing about EVs many times when in truth, I had never actually ridden in one let alone owned one.  Much like the ESPcat (Electric Solar Powered Catamaran), my writing is all theory.  So I have got to tell you Blog Buddies, that my very first drive in my very first EV was totally mind blowing!

The first thing you notice is that driving is silent.  I don’t mean that it’s quiet, I mean silent.  No noise at all.  No rumble, no roar, not even a whine.  Just silent.  Then comes the incredible power.  The carbon fiber i3 is very light so when the 170 hp electric motor turns on the torque, you take off like a rocket.  Our 2016 i3 does 0 to 60 mph in 7 seconds and has a top speed of 93 mph.  Holy shit!  This is supposed to be a town car for picking up the groceries!  Did I mention that the i3 is made from recycled materials?

The i3 Rex goes 117 km on a single plug-in charge and if you insist of keeping on keeping on, the Rex (Range Extender) is a little two cylinder, motorcycle engine (BMW of course) driving a generator that gives you another 116 kilometers.  Keep filling up the 9.1 liter gasoline tank and you can drive forever.  Say goodbye to range anxiety.  The Range Extender maintains the battery at 5% rather than charging it fully.  To recharge you must plug in.  It is all to do with the legal definition of a 100% EV for the purpose of government subsidies.    

Then there are the screens and buttons everywhere all beeping and flashing.  It has a reversing camera and distance sensors of course.  It has blue tooth and voice operated navigation.  There is cruise control so you don’t have the tedious job of pressing either the gas or the brake pedals.  The dammed thing is supposed to park itself without touching the pedals or steering wheel but we haven’t tried that yet.

If you are thinking of purchasing a piston car, consider this.  Denmark has proposed that the EU ban the sale of oil fueled cars from 2030.  The bottom is about to drop out of the piston car market.  Oil powered cars have come to the end of the road and soon you will not be able to give them away.   Yes, I have caught the EV wave.   As technology waves go, the EV wave is as big as any I have ever caught.   

PS – We had a test run from Howick to Warkworth in the i3 Rex and got 132 km on the battery before the Range Extender kicked in on the way home.       



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