BMW i3S
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The case for the BMW i3 REX

There’s a fairly common argument I have with owners of electric cars. The true believers. It starts innocently enough – “Oh, you’re a motoring journalist, you must hate electric cars?” I say of course I don’t and rattle off my favourites, a list that includes the i3.

After the usual complaints about its price or looks or both, I casually mention I’d have a Range Extender or REX as BMW calls it.

“Don’t need one,” they sniff. “The BEV is fine if you pay attention.”

And BMW seem to agree, having ditched the REX as an option in the i3 line up with it’s recent battery size increase to 120Ah, or around 42kwh, which sees the average range on battery power alone head up to around 280km.

But, I reply, gently, that actually, the average punter doesn’t want to pay attention – and with a few REX models still on forecourts or available on the used market, the REX is well worth knowing about.

Want my take in video form? Check it out below.

The Problem

Here’s a thing. I reckon the REX is the BMW i3 to go for, whether you go vanilla or S. Other disagree – including Keith, the guy who started Drive Zero. He’s a true believer and, in his defence, an i3 BEV owner. But I stand by the REX decision.

See, here in the sunny climes of Australia, with oodles of sunlight and other renewable sources of energy,  we just don’t have enough of the infrastructure.

Everywhere you go there are petrol stations. They don’t really do petrol so much as grab you with milk, soft porn mags and chips on your way to the counter. Petrol doesn’t make Coles, Woolies or 7-Eleven very much money, but salty snacks and sugary drinks bring in the big bucks.

You go past a servo and there is more likely to be a bank of parcel lockers to cover up the supreme incompetence of Australia Post at, you know, delivering the post, than you are to see somewhere to charge your car. Servos don’t want you there passing electrons from the grid to your battery. 

Why?

BMW i3S

Part of this is to do with our dunderheaded governments. It’s important to remember that I am also a massive fan of supercharged V8 Jaguars, Audi V10s and Lamborghini V12s. I hope they stick around for a while longer, but I also think that 2019 and 2020 is going to be utterly brilliant for electric cars.

However, the blue-tied dropkicks in power think that electric car infrastructure is someone else’s problem. It isn’t. 

It’s not necessarily Big Oil standing in the way either. Head on over to Germany (home of three of the world’s biggest automotive conglomerates) and there are posts with blue LEDs everywhere, politely telling me to “charge here.”

The same goes for Britain, where BP is going to roll out a bazillion charge points courtesy of its acquisition of Chargemaster. Shell already owns a similar system on the continent. A good number of motorway service stations in the UK already have charge points – Top Gear featured a BMW i8 road test in 2015 – yes, four year ago – where Clarkson found a charge station at a motorway servo. Sure, it didn’t work properly first go, but at least it was there.

Who’s to blame?

Largely the government.

Why? Because governments in other places encourage changes in behaviour with carrots and/or sticks. Here, governments are largely silent. In Sydney’s south (or “God’s Country” as the HiLux driving locals would have it), a huge Westfield shopping centre gained approval for a massive expansion and renovation without the need for a single car charging point. Not one. Not even a spare 240V domestic power point where the Coles employees can smoke and charge their phones.

Every level of government, with few notable exceptions, from council to federal, is pretty much ignoring electric cars.

So I don’t think you need the REX because it’s necessarily the better car. You’d be nuts to buy the i3 for country driving even with the extender because you don’t get a heck of a lot more range.

Convenience and Safety

BMW i3 REX

It’s because being stranded is precisely zero fun. If I owned an i3 (and boy, do I wish I do), I’d tick the REX box. With any luck, I’d never hear the little twin-cylinder purring away at the back like a pool pump. But it would be nice to know it’s there and nice to know my wife and son would never run out of charge when I wasn’t around to ensure it was plugged in every day. 

The i3 is a wonderful car, but even with 200km of usable range, it’s just not quite enough for your average suburbanite like me. The REX reduces range anxiety, gives you a bit of extra range for those occasional longer trips and is probably useful come resale time.

This biggest thing? My wife won’t have an i3 without a REX but as soon as she knows it has the chuff-chuff petrol engine in the back, she relaxes.

The Defence Rests

So yeah. I think the i3 REX is the one to go for if you’re new to the EV game or don’t have the patience for gauge watching. Until the various levels of government get their acts together, businesses don’t necessarily feel the need to offer somewhere to plug in.

There are encouraging signs, though. As energy companies get bored of the Federal Government failing to set an energy policy, they’re going their own way. Charging networks and vehicle manufacturers are doing it themselves. Jaguar, Land Rover, Tesla (of course) and soon Audi and Porsche will be rolling out their own networks. And partnering with others.

But it’ll take a while. Until then, sic ’em REX.

Peter Anderson is a freelance motoring journalist based in Sydney. He wanted to be a car journalist from the age of fifteen but lucked into it almost twenty years later by engaging in Twitter banter with the-then deputy editor of a motoring website. Since then Peter has written for Carsguide.com.au, Practical Motoring, Box Magazine and regularly appears on radio on ABC Sydney to talk cars. He’s the owner of theredline.com.au, a performance car website and YouTube channel.

2 Comments

  1. Peter great article comparing BEV & REX cleared up a couple of things for me. My main desire for getting a I3 is actually in relation to me being a wheelchair user and now I cannot put the wheelchair in the boot of my station wagon (Adventra which gives me level transfer to drivers seat same as i3) and walk to drivers seat but have to get in drivers seat and pull wheelchair apart and put wheels on back seat and with old car transfer the seat/footrest to passenger seat. With the i3 I can pit the seat/footrests straight onto the back seat as no B pillow to get in road and back door opens as such. No worries about things moving around on passenger seat. Biggest problem is coming up with $ or finding someone to sponser it for use.

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