Automotive journalists seem to always want to drive electric cars on long journies and then write about searching for a plug, how long it takes to charge the car, etc. This is pointless. Batteries go dead and then you charge them. We get it. How about the experience of daily use?
Before you buy any car, you need to ask yourself how you will use it. Most of my driving is around the city. I take my 4-year-old to daycare. I drive to the office. I make trips to the store. After work, I often have to go to some Scout activity around town with my teenager. These trips represent the bulk of my driving. One revelation that I had was that, even though I spend a lot of time in the car, I don't actually go very far. Seattle has awful traffic. There is a lot of crawling along at 15 mph on the freeway or stop and go on surface streets. My car tracks average speed and reports that mine is 21 mph over the last year. This combination of not driving very far, or fast, is terrible on most gas vehicles, but excellent for electric vehicles. Once you master the art of using the regenerating braking instead of the brake pedal (just lift off of the accelerator), you are set. Yes, my i3 has three driving modes that include EcoPro and EcoPro+, but I just leave it in Comfort. I have the climate control on, the seat heaters blazing, and I make full use of the immediate torque of the electric motor. After a whole day of driving around, I usually have half of the battery left. I never go to a gas station (except for snacks) and my home charger ends up costing me three cents per mile.
What about long road trips, you ask? Many of the reviews on the i3 that I have seen have been done in Europe. Reviewers take their cars on "long journies" which, by American standards, are adorable. From my house, my 2015 i3 can't even reach any of the four Scout Camps owned by the Chief Seattle Council. A newer i3 could reach a camp, but would not be able to return. I do have a solution for this. It's called a pickup. An F-150, 4-door pickup with a canopy that can hold 5 people and all of their gear, to be exact. It also has 4-wheel drive, skid plates, a lockable rear differential, plenty of ground clearance, and a 35-gallon gas tank so I can and do drive it anywhere in all weather. It is just silly to try to try to make a city car into a road trip car. That is not what it is good at. The i3 is brilliant at parallel parking, and it is a lovely, comfortable place to hang out while you are stuck in traffic. In a blizzard in the mountains, I want my truck, but it is hopeless in a parking garage in the city. They have different competencies and their power source is merely anecdotal.
The main thing that you need in order to be happy with an electric car is a home charger. In the US, that means getting an electrician to install a 220-volt outlet in your garage. My house is old, and only has 150 amp service from the power company, so the electrician said that I would need new a new, 200 amp connection and a new breaker box for a total of $4000. Fortunately, I literally married the girl next door and her house had room on the breaker panel for a new connection, so the plug is in her garage. I recommend researching the plug before you buy an electric car so you can avoid a surprise expense. The car came with a 110-volt charger, but it takes 20 hours to charge the car so it is, essentially, useless. Once you have a plug installed, you are set. I just ordered a charger from Home Depot for half the price that BMW charges. It isn't heavy and installs with a couple of screws.
The i3 is stubby and rear-engined so the turning radius is excellent. One trade-off of this stubbiness are the coach doors. You have to open the front door, to open the back door. The seatbelt is attached to the door, so you have to undo your seatbelt if you are dropping off a backseat passenger. The larger issue is trying to get a kid in or out of a booster seat when you are parked in a tight parking space. This requires a bit of choreography but it can be done. On cold days, when you have pre-heated the car just so, you have to open the whole side of the car to put the kid in the backseat. Normal doors would be better, but these are workable for now. Car makers are trying to make electric cars new and edgy so we will probably see more weirdness before this settles down.
Driving the i3
Besides just being a battery, the i3 is a car. BMW does a great job with the ride / handling compromise meaning that it goes around corners without leaning on its door handles, but it also doesn't shatter your spine when driving on the moonscape roads around Seattle. I have the mid-level trim with the wool and leather seats and the eucalyptus wood. This is a very nice place to sit and wait for a drawbridge opening or a ferry crossing. Because there is no engine running, I don't have to turn off the climate control or music while I am sitting there waiting, either. From a stoplight, an i3 is faster from 0-30 than an M3. BMW brakes are amazing, and the i3 will practically stand on its nose if someone comes left of center in traffic which does happen around here. This all means that the i3 can go like stink, or just wait comfortably. There is an i3 app for my iPhone so I can remotely start the climate control which is extremely civilized. If I have to walk in the rain for a mile to reach my car when I park downtown, it is very nice to step into a warm car. I drive in the rain a lot, and I don't experience any issues with the skinny tires. Just like original Beetle, the i3 is rear engined and has skinny tires and all of that weight pushes down on the drive wheels. All of the batteries are in the floor, so the center of gravity is low, and the rest of the car is carbon fiber / plastic. Only if I stand on the accelerator while turning up a steep hill in the rain can I get the traction control light to blink.
Early Adopter Issues
My i3 has been in the shop a number of times with silly issues such as the lock on the charging plug refusing to unlock. Software updates require a 5-hour dealer visit. The car comes with two years of free data service, but no one seems to have let the software people know that. Also, unlike every other modern device that you own, BMW does not publish what changes are in the updates. You have to go dig around on the Internet to discover it. The newer versions of this car have longer ranges, and I am told that the annoying, version 1 issues, have mostly been resolved. I guess I'll find out when my lease is up.
For me, the i3 is a very good city car. Full stop. The fact that it is electric just makes it handy and quick. My lease is up in November and I'll probably turn this car in and get another. If you make long trips, you'll need to own or rent a gas powered car. I drive my i3 every day unless I am off camping. A longer range would be nice sometimes, but really, long trips with a family or Scouts usually means taking a lot of junk and I need to use a larger vehicle, anyway. My in-laws live 1000 miles away, and I am not making that trip in a compact city car, but I don't make that trip very often. Most of my driving is zipping around town, and the i3 is a great car for that.