Frozen – following up on my BMW i3 experience

Frozen – following up on my BMW i3 experience
6 Jan 18

It has been almost 6 months since I last wrote about my experience with my BMW i3, so I thought it might be time to revisit things.

Not only have I had ample time to discover both the good and bad parts of this car, but I can now also speak about how an EV, or at least the i3, handles cold and wet conditions (also called winter).

Last, but not least, I’ve recently had the chance to test drive a range of EVs which gives me a basis for a better understanding of the strengths (and weaknesses) of the i3.

So, what has changed since we last spoke?

Winter with an EV

Granted, winter here in Koblenz isn’t really all that bad. We rarely get any snow and temperatures usually stay above 0°C (or a few degrees beneath zero at most). It also rains a lot. So, I would say pretty comparable to the weather throughout most of the UK. For a lot of people, and especially those living in the northern parts of both America and Europe, it is almost laughable to call this winter.

Still, both the overall lower temperatures as well as the rain have a measurable impact on the range of any car and EVs in particular. First, you need more energy to power things like the lights or the heater. And then, the amount of energy the battery can provide is significantly lowered by the lower temperatures.

Still, as evidenced by quite a few youtube videos* out there, even crazy low temperatures (say -35°C/-32°F) will not stop you from using your EV, whereas things get more complicated for ICEs once you hit those really low temperatures.

Why is that? Well, for one, an EV doesn’t rely on igniting a liquid (gas) which at lower temperatures gets harder and harder. It also doesn’t need oil as a lubricant. All those liquids become more and more gooey the lower temperatures are.

EVs just keep working. Yes, the range is way lower, but they still work like a charm. Most EVs nowadays also manage the temperature of its batteries by either cooling or heating them. This both protects the batteries against temperature related damage as well as making sure they can provide peak performance whenever the driver needs it.

My i3s range went from 130mi (210km) down to about 90mi (150km) in the typical conditions I experience here. Other than that, I didn’t see any significant differences between its performance in the summer and now.

* for example:

Charging – Is it a big deal?

The short answer is no, the long answer is yes. Let me explain.

On a day to day basis, charging an EV is very simple. Whenever you are at home, at the mall, at the office, or wherever your car may be parked for more than a couple of minutes, you simply plug it in and leave it charging. This is (almost) as easy as charging your phone. And really, when you think about it, it’s no different at all.

On a bigger scale, however, this makes all the difference! While an ICE requires you to make time to drive to the gas station and refuel, this isn’t how I see the world nowadays. It’s rather “ABC” – always be charging.

Why? That doesn’t sound particularly convenient, does it? Wrong!!!

It is in fact the big advantage of an EV. Because you’re able to recharge it almost everywhere, at any point in time, you always have a car that is able to provide you with the (admittedly lower) maximum range.

Take the following scenario:

You’ve been driving to and from the office all week (a 60 miles round trip), as well as running some errands here and there. Now, on the weekend, you want to visit your friend who lives 70 miles away. In a typical ICE, your gas tank is almost empty, so you will have to make a trip to the gas station first. In an EV, you can just leave because you were able to plug in your car every night so it’s already fully charged and ready to go when you’re ready to leave.

That, my friends, is the true power of EVs. You can plug it in all the time, even though you really don’t have to.

The power of software

Now, we’re entering the most painful area of my experience with cars so far. Over time, software has played an increasingly important role in how our cars, EV or not, operate and how we experience them. Essentially, almost everything a modern day car does is software operated. Plus, we expect our cars to seamlessly integrate with our mobile devices and at the same time provide us with an experience that is similar to what we’re used to from all our “smart” devices (PCs, tablets, smartphones and alike).

This is, however the area where most manufacturers fail. I’m, of course, not talking about the hidden “magic” of on-board software that operates our cars but about the more user-facing side of things: entertainment, navigation, instrument cluster, etc.

That’s where the i3 (and a lot of other cars I’ve seen so far) absolutely fails. It’s clumsy, riddled with weird bugs, and hard to use and overall just not that great.

I could give you a long list of complaints I have about the i3s software in particular, but I think I’ll just sum it up in one sentence instead:

Most traditional manufacturers don’t understand (consumer facing) software. They are, at heart, hardware companies.

It starts with simple things like continuous, seamless and over-the-air software updates, which not only fix existing issues but add new features*. Nobody says this has to be free, by the way, but I would argue that continuous improvements (unlocking the full potential of the available hardware) is a corner stone of modern-day software ecosystems.

No one, other than Tesla, seems to have understood that so far.

* To this day BMW has released zero (!) software updates for my i3. Moreover, they’ve just released a new version of the i3 that comes with a newer OS. That OS is not available for the “older” cars… Just imagine Apple doing that to its customers.

Would I ever go back to an ICE?

That’s a definite no!

If circumstances were different and there was no alternative (e.g. if I needed a truck), I would certainly buy one, but barring that I don’t want to go back. Having driven an EV for now 7 months, I simply don’t want to miss the almost relaxed yet fun way of driving one. Once you go EV, you can never go back!

Is the i3 (still) the best car you’ll ever own?


Unfortunately, this is something where my view has changed a lot. Where the answer would have be a resounding yes, a few months ago, I now see things differently. No car is perfect and there are definitely things the i3 does right, e.g.

  • the overall build quality
  • the materials used
  • the minimalism of the interior design

However there are also a few things where it needs (a lot of) improvements, e.g.

  • the infotainment software (others do a way better job, e.g. Tesla or the Chevy Bolt)
  • the instrument cluster
  • why the hell are they using such weird tire dimensions and also differently sized rims (it’s almost impossible to find winter tires for the i3.. and BMW charges a fortune for them)
  • the adaptive cruise control is a joke. It only works in near perfect conditions (and even then not particularly well) and instantly stops working if there’s even a single drop of rain on the windshield.
  • Don’t get me started on the iOS app or Connected Drive…
  • their customer service is horrible

Having had the chance to compare (and test drive) multiple EVs, there is no single one that gets everything right. There are, however some that do a better job than BMW, for example:

  • the Chevy Bolt: More range, more space, more features, way(!) better software. And all of that for a smaller price.
  • the Teslas (I’ve never driven one myself, so take this with a grain of salt): Sometimes weird UX choices, but overall you see that Tesla is a software company. The build quality is constantly improving. They also have the biggest batteries.


So, am I overall still happy with my i3? Yes.

Is it, in my opinion, still better than any ICE (in the same class)? Hell yes.

Would I buy it again? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to tell.

Will my next EV be a BMW? Unlikely.


So, there you have it. My current take on the BMW i3 and other related topics.

What would you like to know? What’s your take on software in cars? Let’s discuss in the comments below.


Patrice Brendamour


Gary Millar

Great review Patrice, its good to see that you are still loving driving an EV, as you know I had a Tesla for 5 days and that car had some 34000 miles on the clock, so there was no visible hardware issues that would could see, only a software issue that the hire car company guy couldn’t fix. The while software user experience was very good, easy to read controls and the ability to mix’n’match dials on either of the 2 screens.
I’ve started to see more and more Tesla 3 reviews, as well as a lot more 3’s being released, so I may join the many others and place a deposit in the future, (I would like to see the car first though and that could be many many months away).
Nice work,

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