Range anxiety ain't what it used to be.
Is the BMW i3 a pure EV or a plug-in hybrid? The answer is "yes," depending on which version. At its core, it's an electric vehicle. It can also be had, however, with a range-extender – a small internal combustion engine that kicks in when the battery is depleted. But that may not be the case for much longer.
The i3 REx (as it's designated) "has no future," BMW's e-mobility manager Jan Freimann told Green Car Reports. And the reason, to put it simply, is the rapid improvement of battery technology.
The range-extender engine offered in the i3 is a tiny 647cc two-cylinder motor borrowed from BMW Motorad's scooter lineup. It produces all of 33 horsepower, and doesn't drive the wheels directly. Instead it's available to recharge the battery, which in turn powers the motors.
That battery has gotten bigger (or more power-dense) in the five years now since the i3 was first introduced. Where the original had a cell rated at 60 ampere hours and 22.6 kilowatt hours, the latest version's is good for 120 Ah and 42.2 kWh. With roughly twice the output, the updated i3 can go much further between charges.
Where the original 2014 BMW i3 was rated by the EPA with an 81-mile range (or 150 miles with the range-extender), the 2019 model can go for 153 miles – without the range-extender, or 200 miles with. Add to that the growing array of rapid chargers spreading across the country and around the world, and the need for a range-extender quickly disappears.
BMW's North American spokesman Tom Plucinsky told Green Car Reports that the i3 REx will remain on offer "for the foreseeable future," framing Freimann's comments as more esoteric than concrete. But for our part, we won't be surprised to see the option disappear as the BMW i division evolves its lineup for the next generation of electric vehicles.