2015 BMW i3 with Range Extender:
Plugging into a little less worry.
Price: $52,750 as tested, including $1,500 for the Giga World package (19-inch wheels, universal garage-door opener), $2,500 for the Tech and Driving Assist Package (navigation and BMW Online apps), and $1,000 for the Parking Assist Package.
Marketer's pitch: "Every great revolution begins with a charge."
Conventional wisdom: I'm going to get stuck somewhere, I just know it.
Reality: Fairly convenient family car, but some iBugs remain.
A charge: BMW has made going green a little more electric than a hybrid and a little less frightening than plug-in only. The i3 is an electric car with a 75-mile range like the Nissan Leaf - twice that of the electric-only range of the plug-in electric-plus-gasoline-engined Chevrolet Volt. The Range Extender offers a two-gallon reserve tank of gasoline that runs a generator, enough to keep you going for a total of an advertised 150 miles. So while it doesn't have the range of the Volt, it takes away the fear of running out of charge in all-electric vehicles.
Greener than green: BMW takes eco-friendly to a whole new level. Easily renewable eucalyptus wood dresses up the dash; in front of that is a carbon fiber composite, which is the same material that makes up most of the soft-bodied i3.
Attractive package: The i3 is an iCatcher; the lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat loved the ($550) orange paint and the cool-looking interior.
Power usage: The Range Extender promises 60 miles from the fuel tank, so that's about 30 m.p.g.
The electric charge lasted about as long as advertised, but with a few disappointments. One time, I moved the i3 out of the garage to do some work in there. When I left the car, it had 75 miles on the batteries. When I got in next time, it was down to 67 miles. Where did the eight miles go? Toward Eminem's new album?
After that, a full charge stopped at about 67 miles. One time I started at 72, but then lost five miles within half a mile of leaving my driveway. A regular 120-volt outlet takes about 24 hours to fully charge; a Level 2/240-volt charging station cuts that to 3.5 hours, BMW says.
Up to speed: Like all electric vehicles, the i3's power curve means you'll get moving in a hurry.
Shiftless: Of course, without the need for a gear selector, automakers have gotten creative with the wheel engagement systems on electrics. The i3 wins this contest as well. BMW has put a dial on the steering column; twist it forward for drive and rearward for reverse.
On the road: Steering the i3 is also an unusual phenomenon. Most of the weight sits in the battery pack, so the car picks up your steering input in a hurry. Just brace the steering wheel a little harder than usual to offset this. Even after a week, I found the i3 rode as if on a trampoline, but the handling was still competent.
Driver's seat: The Giga cloth-and-leather seats keep occupants comfy. The manual seats offered plenty of support without being harsh.
Staying informed: The "gauges" are kept in a display pad that sits angled in front of the driver.
Friends and stuff: Open the neato suicide doors and a pair of rear-seat passengers can come along for the excursion. The space back there made Sturgis Kid 4.0 uncomfortable; the mislocated rear window made looking out a challenge, and legroom was tight. The suicide doors were a pain because the youngster couldn't make his escape until the Old Man got his door open. Tight parking lots were an additional headache.
Play some tunes: The infotainment center sits in a larger pad in the center of the dash. It's controlled by BMW's intuitive joystick/button combo, which I find perfect for operating by feel.
Where it's built: Leipzig, Germany
How it's built: Consumer Reports has no reliability data for the i3. But the X1 crossover is assembled in the same factory and gets an average rating.
In the end: I know as an exurban almost-supercommuter that my lifestyle - zipping around the rolling hills of Chester County - is not at all designed for an electric car. The i3 with Range Extender seems to offer a fairly good mix for a variety of scenarios. Still, until technology advances so that the power promised equals the power delivered, or recharging is far simpler and quicker, electrics will remain something for city or near-suburb dwellers, or people who don't need a $50,000 car that can conveniently venture out of a predefined radius.