A little over a year ago I began looking for a new car. The lease on my GTI was coming to an end in August of 2019 and I was thinking about going electric. Since the VW electric models wouldn’t be available in America for another 12 to 18 months, I began researching the usual suspects, Tesla, Nissan, BMW, Chevy, etc. What I discovered was there are quite a few models available. All of them have pros and cons, and the prices ranged from reasonable to astronomical. What I didn’t expect was to find was what you could get if you looked at certified pre-owned models of specific brands.
After almost a year of looking, reading, watching YouTube, test driving, pricing, and pondering, I decided to purchase a certified pre-owned BMW i3. Why? Because I found out I could get into a 2-year-old car with about 20,000 miles on it for less than half the sticker price of the new car. And since it is a CPO BMW it comes with an additional warranty.
I chose this vehicle for several reasons. Proven Brand, Styling, Technology, Fun Factor, and Size. There is also that I never have to buy gas thing too.
The styling can be quite polarizing. In most cases, people either love it or hate it. I love it. I feel like I’m driving a little space pod most of the time. It’s short, squat and tall. It doesn’t look like any other car on the road on both the exterior an on the interior.
With wheel s pushed close to the corners, it accentuates the stubby look of the i3. Its window line expands at the small rear doors, dips into the body line, then pinches together at the rear. Visually this creates a flow down the body line that I like quite a bit. One disadvantage to this is that the rear windows don’t lower. Technically it’s a 4 door car, but the rear coach (suicide doors) are more like funky half-size extensions of the front doors. The car sits on 19-inch wheels that seem impossibly thin, designed to reduce friction with the road and improve range. At times they almost look like mountain bike tires though. One nice thing that BMW did was to leave the iconic kidney grills on the front. Technically they don’t do anything, but without them, I’m not sure the i3 would read as a BMW since it’s such a styling departure from every other car they make.
The interior is a mash-up of environmentally friendly materials produced from sustainable and recycled sources. The i3 I purchased doesn’t have leather seats, by choice. I actually prefer the look of the cloth seats over the leather or leather and cloth combo. If you did opt for the leather seats though, the tanning process is done with olive-leaf extract rather than chemicals to keep it greener. It’s hard to describe the materials used. You need to see them in person, and while at first, it might seem like a bit too much they work well together combining into a series of well-matched textures.
Another thing I love about this car is how big it feels on the inside. With no transmission hump, the floor is flat adding to the feeling of space. The interior roof gives plenty of headroom. At 6 foot 4, this is a big deal for me. I will say this, the back seat is cramped for someone my size. It’s probably cramped for anyone over 6 feet, to be honest. This is, after all, a car designed for city driving and to only seat 4 people. Cargo space is ample, and with the back seats folded down, it’s pretty amazing how much stuff you can get in this car.
From a technology perspective, the i3 doesn’t disappoint. Actually, for my model year, it does in aspect, (I’ll get to that in a minute). The i3 dash consists of 2 floating screens. There is the unit directly in front of the driver that contains the speedometer, battery usage, and the gauge showing energy use and regeneration. This screen can be configured to display any number of items from the iDrive system in the car.
The second screen is equally configurable and primarily houses the infotainment system which includes navigation, phone systems, messaging, radio and media displays and more. Below it is 6 buttons that can be programmed to do everything from radio presets to function as shortcut keys for any additional functionality.
All of this is connected to the center console dial of the iDrive system located in front of the center armrest. I’m not going to go into detail with all of the functionality here. Let’s just say that the system is deep and has a bit of a learning curve. Coming from 8 years of VW’s it was quite a bit different.
In addition to the built-in systems, there is also an iOS and Android app available that can be used to control the car remotely. It allows you to climatize the car, lock and unlock doors, set charge times, send destinations to the car, and more.
Other tech tidbits include the ability to lock the doors by touching a small patch of raised ribs on the door handle. Unlock the doors by simply sliding your hand inside the door handles. Unlock and lower the windows by holding the unlock button on the key fob. One foot driving using the regenerative braking system. Self-parking (yes it can park itself, but every driver should know how to parallel park or forfeit their driver’s license). Adaptive cruise control and more.
I didn’t get the REX (range extender) version. I don’t need the range extender. I never drive more than 120 miles in a day so the BEV (battery electric vehicle) i3 was perfect for my needs. After 90 days of ownership, I can honestly say I have never had any range anxiety at all. Frankly, I don’t think most drivers would. The navigation system can be configured to show you every charging station close by as you drive around town so you will always know where you can charge up if you need to.
One thing I wish this car had was Apple CarPlay. It doesn’t and I miss it. You can, however, upgrade the main head unit of the car with this upgrade from Bimmertech. I watched the install video and it looks like something anyone with a bit of technical know-how and set of tools could do themselves in a few hours. I have a feeling this voids the warranty on the car so I’ll be waiting a couple of years before I do this.
Speaking of upgrades, the battery is upgradable as well and Lion Smart announced an upgrade option a couple of months ago that would extend the range of BEV i3 to about 400 miles. No word on when this will arrive, or what it’ll cost but if you own an i3 and plan on keeping it for an extended period of time this is something you might want to look into.
One great thing about living in Kansas City is the fact that KCPL has partnered with ChargePoint and many local businesses to install level 2 charging stations all over the city. Each grocery store run, trip to the library, visit the Kaufman performing arts center, Nelson Atkins Musem, Restaurants in the Cross Roads or dozens of other places guarantee that I can plug the i3 in and charge it up.
As for fun factor, the i3 is a hoot to drive. It really is a blast. The electric motor delivers instant torque with a distinct “push you back in your seat” feeling. Acceleration is quick delivering a 0 to 60 time in about 7 seconds. It handles like a BMW with responsive steering. You have to drive the car to understand how the i3 performs.
The car is absolutely silent aside from a bit of road noise from the tires, and an almost imperceivable whine from the electric motor. It’s one of those things you notice at first and then become so used to it you don’t realize how loud the interior of other cars are until you ride in one with an internal combustion engine.
So, is a certified pre-owned BMW i3 worth it? Yes. Think about this, you can get a low mileage, highly optioned i3 for about half the price of new. If you get a CPO i3 you get 2 years of warranty on a car that require little to no maintenance. In my case, I got a $60,000 car for a little over $20,000. It had just over 20,000 miles on it, was a one-owner vehicle, and was purchased from a reputable BMW dealer here in the Kansas City area.
If you use a site like Car Gurus you can find plenty of examples just like this all of the United States, and depending on where you live have the car delivered to you for less than a grand. Sites like Carvana, and Carmax also have i3 inventories available for delivery. The only downside is the car won’t be BMW certified, and the warranty options might not be as good.
If you are in the market or are thinking about going electric, I highly recommend going with a CPO i3. Save your money and skip the Tesla. Skip the Bolt, Volt, Leaf, or any other traditional-looking EV sedan and get something a bit more unique looking.
Oh, and while you could buy new and get a $7500.00 federal tax credit, chances are it still won’t be as affordable as going with preowned. If you are curious about why EV’s depreciate so much, Doug Demuro has a great article here that answers, or attempts to answer that very question.