Range Extension: How Far Will New BMW i3 and VW e-Golf Go?

A BMW i3 electric car drives autonomously at the CES 2016 Consumer Electronics Show on January 8, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A BMW i3 electric car drives autonomously at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show | David McNew/AFP/Getty Images

If there was a number every automaker wanted to hit with an electric vehicle, 200 miles would be it. The upcoming Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 will get there, their manufacturers promise us. In the meantime, consumers who use an EV for trips to work and other activities are happy to deal with less. For this group, 100 miles is fine, and both the Volkswagen e-Golf and BMW i3 have upgrades coming that will get them there within a year’s time.

Between the two of them, the e-Golf looks like it will have the higher range. According to a report by the U.K.’s Autocar, a Volkswagen official said the next electric Golf will cover 186 miles (European cycle) and will appear in late 2016 or early 2017. Basing the estimate on the current model’s claimed 118 miles in Europe, the e-Golf will travel over 130 miles by U.S. standards.

Go Ultra Low Volkswagen e-Golf on charge on a London driveway on July 21, 2015 in London, England. Ultra-low emission vehicles such as this can cost as little as 2p per mile to run and some electric cars and vans have a range of up to 700 miles.
Volkswagen e-Golf charges in a London driveway | Miles Willis/Getty Images

That 130 is nothing to sneeze at considering the current roster of electric vehicles and the average distances traveled by Americans on a daily basis. By the time the e-Golf appears, only the Chevy Bolt EV (200 miles) will feature a longer range than Volkswagen’s EV will offer. The next Ford Focus Electric will top 100 miles, joining the Nissan Leaf that can travel 107 miles on a full charge.

As for the BMW i3, there will be enough range to top the pack by the time it appears later in 2016. According to a release by the automaker, the 2017 model will feature a range increase of over 50%, pushing the i3 to at least 114 miles in real-world driving (i.e., with the heat or AC running).

BMW i3 is getting a range boost
BMW i3 is getting a range boost | Source: BMW

Beyond range capacity, not much will change in the 2017 i3. According to BMW, the boost comes courtesy of an improvement in the density of the lithium-ion cells used for the EV battery, allowing the pack’s dimensions to stay the same. For this reason, current i3 owners can have their batteries swapped out for the longer-range version. Power and performance specs remain unchanged.

In BMW’s global release for the i3 update, the pricing listed for the new model will be just a few thousand euros more than the current edition (81 miles) on sale in the U.S. Consumers who did not balk at the i3 base price of $42,400 should not have trouble with the next model coming to dealerships this year, but we’ll wait for confirmation on the pricing. (Expect it in the mid-to-upper $40K range.)

If range-per-dollar is the stat you are looking at, the Nissan Leaf SV (107 miles, $34,200) is still the best deal on the market. Chevy Bolt ($37,500) will surpass that deal by plenty when it arrives at the end of 2016, and we’ll see how that debut impacts the pricing of the available models. For now, the EV market below $50,000 is mostly promises, but the next i3 and e-Golf will add a lot to the selection by 2017.

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