BMW i3 120Ah – Why it could be the best car for the financially independent

There is no getting around it – electric vehicles are the future. Here I will review and detail how the latest version of BMW’s i3, the 2019 120Ah or 44 kWh version, is possibly the ideal car for the frugally minded or the financially independent in the near future. Main reasons for this are the minimal running costs due to the vehicle’s requirement for minimal maintenance, having few moving parts and use of electric power. This review will be from a financial perspective.

What is the BMW i3 120Ah

Like many drivers I used to be extremely reluctant to the idea of owning an electric vehicle. I felt that the reasons for this including range anxiety (fear of running out of battery), poor performance and lack of charging points were valid. However, with wider adoption of the technology and advances in battery production, things are changing very quickly which has allayed most of these fears. This is perfectly showcased by the progression of the i3.

The BMW i3 was launched in 2013, as part of the BMW i sub-brand which manufactures plug-in electric vehicles. A high riding hatchback which seats 4 adults in comfort, the i3 is relatively compact, making it easy to manoeuvre in urban environments. Styling on the outside is futuristic so can appear controversial to some but I think the interior is very minimal, elegant and practical.

BMW i3 Interior

BMW i3 Interior

The i3 is rear wheel driven by a single-speed 170 hp electric motor and has a Lithium Ion battery pack located on the underfloor. Construction is with CFRP (Carbon-Fiber Reinforced Plastic) which makes it ultra light weight at 1195kg.

At launch the i3 came with a 60Ah (22 kWh) battery which offered a range of only 80 to 100 miles. This was then bumped up to 120 miles with the introduction of a 94Ah (27.2 kWh) battery in 2017. The improvement did not catch my eye but the latest upgrade has; from late 2018 the i3 has been upgraded to a 120Ah (44 kWh) power pack which offers up to 190 miles range. Versions with range extending petrol engines are available but I will not consider these due to them being phased out by the 120Ah.

I consider the 120Ah’s range quite useable as it covers the vast majority of typical trips I undertake in a year. A single charge would be enough for a whole week’s commuting to work or a typical weekend trip to the coast or countryside. For longer trips, it is feasible to find charging stations at Motorway services.

As typical with most electric vehicles, the i3’s performance is good, with a 0 to 60 time of 6.8 seconds for the sportier version the i3s. This is faster than most cars on the road as the electric motor provides the 250Nm peak torque instantly. The i3s also has a wider track, stiffer springs and is lowered compared to the standard version so is worth considering. Top speed is limited to 99 mph.

Running costs comparison – Electric vs ICE

Being frugally minded, I purchased my current ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) diesel car, a 2007 BMW 118d hatchback in 2012. This was a great deal as I managed to acquire the car for 40% of its market value. Buying it approved from BMW insured that any gremlins would have been ironed out and it came with a 1 year warranty. The model was awarded green car of the year 2008.

Despite a number of faults over the years the car has performed well and requires servicing after relatively long periods. As I wrote about before,  I have started doing most of the servicing and maintenance on my car which has saved me a lot of cash, improved my hands-on skills and gives me confidence that the work has been done correctly with the best components. With 112,000 miles on the clock, the car is running perfectly.

The following are my estimate running costs for my personal car over the last 6 years.

ItemCost/ yearNotes
Fuel1,20010,000 miles a year diesel.
Servicing100DIY service, with oil changes typically every 18 months.
Repairs460Includes timing chain (1,600), clutch (600), handbrake (150), oil leak (400).
Tyres & brakes270Total cost of 1,600 in 6 years.
Road tax30118g of CO2 per kilometre.

This seems high but includes total running costs. In comparison, for the same usage, an electric vehicle is expected to have much lower running costs as shown here:

ItemCost/ yearNotes
Electricity300Assumes 3p per mile.
Servicing50No oil changes. Brake fluid and fewer filters need changing.
RepairsUnknown but expected to be minimal.
Tyres & brakes270
Road tax0No  polluting emissions. Also exempt from congestion charges.

If these estimates are correct, I would avoid spending the difference (£1,560) a year just by switching to an electric vehicle. This is very compelling and makes me seriously consider purchasing the BMW i3 when the time comes to get a new car. I would not do it immediately but there will come a time when it is not justifiable to spend more on a huge repair which costs more than the car and the electric charging infrastructure is improved.

Good advice would be to buy a used car which is 3 to 4 years old and has taken the greatest hit on depreciation or using government subsidises if buying new. For me it would be ideal to aim for the 2018 i3 120Ah in 2021.

Of course, competition in the electric vehicle space is hotting up with models such as the long range Mercedes EQC, Audi E-tron,  Porsche Taycan, Tesla Model 3 coming up along with more affordable Hyundai Kona and Renault Zoe, there should be plenty of viable choices by 2020. With Dieselgate and rapid progression in green technologies, petrol and diesel cars will soon look like they are from the stone age.

Although initial purchase cost may be high, such low running costs make electric cars an ideal choice for the financially independent or those aspiring to be due to the greatly reduced impact on running costs and the added environmental benefits.

BMW i3 120Ah Key Specs

  • 0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
  • Top speed: 93mph
  • Range: 193 miles
  • CO2: 0g/km
  • Engine: Single-speed electric motor
  • Power/Torque: 168bhp/250Nm
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
  • Boot space: 260 litres/ 1200 litres with rear seats folded
  • Fastest charge time: 45mins with 50kW DC rapid charging

Latest info on development can be found at INSIDEEVs.

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2 thoughts on “BMW i3 120Ah – Why it could be the best car for the financially independent

  1. Guest

    I think you need to account for the battery as well. At 300-500 full cycles you get 50-100k miles, and then you probably need to replace it.

    1. Simba Post author

      It is worth definitely worth accounting for any potential battery issues. A lot of these cars are still new on the market so the rates of battery degradation in the real world are still to be fully qualified so I will keep an eye on this. Initial observations are encouraging though as batteries look likely to survive the life of the cars.



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