By Khulekani Dumisa (@dumisa_khulekani)
The world is changing and cars are changing along with it. If it’s not new advancements being made on autonomous driving, you are being told about alternatives to fuel powered engines. Recently we got to experience first-hand the latter in BMW’s I3 REX electric vehicle (EV). Interestingly this was our second EV review within a month or two; the first being the Nissan Leaf. The I3 REX experience was interesting as we had something to compare it to and we could make the most of this opportunity as we had experienced an EV before.
The I3 REX looks more visually appealing from outside than the Nissan Leaf. Step inside however, and the competition is easily won by Nissan. Although the dashboard is slightly dated in the Leaf, it does feel more technologically advanced and more car-like with the two generous information display screens in front of the driver and a 7 inch touch screen in the middle unlike the BMW’s two small screens, one in front of the driver and other at the center. In fact, at my comfortable driving position, the BMW I3 REX’s driver information screen kept on being obscured by the steering wheel. You might say the design philosophy is different in the BMW I3 REX and BMW have gone for a minimalistic look. That may be so but that can’t be at the expense of functionality.
Both cabins are roomy and there’s ample legroom for both front and back passengers in both cars. The Leaf has an advantage as it sits five persons in total whereas the I3 REX only takes four occupants. The BMW does have two cool factors. Firstly, the suicide doors are really cool and a party trick of note and secondly, in this SUV obsessed world, the I3 REX does benefit from an elevated driving position. The Leaf has the final say when it comes to boot space. The Leaf’s 370 litres of boot space far surpasses the I3 REX’s 260 litres. Both cars’ back seats do fold to extend load capacity to a maximum load capacity of 720 litres and 1,000 litres respectively. You might wonder how the leaf loses the extended load capacity tussle but the Leaf’s seats don’t fold flat to the floor because that’s where the batteries are.
The drive is fairly comfortable on both cars although the BMW I3 REX does feel more refined. The Nissan Leaf is powered by an electric motor which kicks out 80 kW of power and 254 Nm of torque. The BMW I3 REX is quicker with 125 kW of power and 250 Nm of torque. The Leaf does 0 -100 km/h in 11,9 seconds whilst the I3 REX manages that in 8.1 seconds. Take off is pretty decent in both cars as the power kicks in almost immediately when you step onto the accelerator.
Range anxiety (thinking you are going to run out of power before you reach your destination) was not an issue when we got to test the BMW I3 REX. We had managed just fine with the Nissan Leaf’s 135 km range which is a lot less than the I3 REX’s combined range of between 240 and 330 kilometers. The I3 REX is capable of this range thanks to a 0,6 litre petrol “engine” which helps to charge the electric motor when it runs out of power. I had the I3 REX for seven days and put it through its paces. I even did a return trip of over 70 kms (parts of which included highway driving) and I never once had to go fill up at the petrol station. Like the Nissan Leaf, the I3 REX employs the braking regenerative charging system which uses your breaks to charge the car. So the car recharges whenever you are braking or going downhill. It does use more electricity going uphill but not as much as you gain going downhill.
The charging network for the I3 REX is fairly developed but obviously not as wide as the fossil fuel brigade found on every street corner. You still have to rely on home charging most of the time which is seamless. For a full charge, you are safer aiming for an overnight charge although the I3 REX’s home charger is surprisingly quick.
You get a lot of questions when you drive an EV, especially on looks and range. The question I enjoyed fielding the most is whether I could live with the I3 REX and the answer is an unequivocal yes. It is as practical in the city as any “normal” car can be. It is spacious, drives well and isn’t bad looking at all. The starting price of R683,600 may spoil the party a bit but not enough to deter me from the BMW I3 REX.
Ed – at the time of writing this piece, BMW had introduced a new sport version of the I3 REX, the BMW I3 REXis. The new model has 10kW and 20Nm more than the normal I3 REX and does a claimed 0-100km/h sprint in 6.9 seconds. That’s quick.