I recently spent a week in the all-electric BMW iX3 SUV. It is the EV equivalent to the internal combustion engine (ICE) X3, which is built in SA. It is unique because of the price parity between the two models with a mere R21 400 difference between them.

The iX3 retails for R1 306 400 while the X3 30d M Sport retails for R1 285 000. You can get a base model X3 for R951 000 but we’re comparing the 30d purely because it is the closest price match to its EV counterpart.

The iX3 is not a new model; it was launched in July 2022, and I’ve only recently spent a week with it. And this post will reflect my experience with the car during that time – each EV experience is different.

In an ideal situation, I’d prefer a month with an EV because I work from home and don’t always drive out daily. More time would be needed to drain the battery and recharge it multiple times. EV test days are typically very short – they’re expensive machines to let journalists spend so much time with.

Maintaining an EV

I’ve previously written about what it costs to maintain an EV for the Sowetan Motoring and Times Live (you can read it here). According to the research, it costs very little to maintain when compared to an ICE vehicle, when you consider parts.

On average, an EV has less than 20 moving parts, vs. over 2000 on an ICE vehicle so the chances of needing to pay for parts is reduced significantly. Add to that, through regenerative braking, you barely wear down the brake pads. This largely depends on individual driving style.

Given the above, it makes financial sense to consider the iX3 if you were planning to buy an X3.

The issue about EVs being subject to higher import duties when compared to ICE is still very NB. While the rest of the world is incentivising their citizens to buy EVs, South Africa is penalising us – EVs are still considered a “luxury”. We wait for the Auto Green Paper to be finalised, which should have taken place in 2021.

Availability of chargers

A lot has changed since I drove the iX3 in May 2023 compared to a few years ago when I first started testing EVs. I had to drive about 15km away to access public chargers but now I have three chargers within a 5–10-minute drive, thanks to dealerships and shopping centres. I also have access to a home charger – in case you missed it:

I bought a home wallbox EV charger

I didn’t worry about where I was going to charge the iX3. I know this is a big concern for many. If you are considering buying an EV, I recommend you look at a map to see what’s nearby but more importantly, install one on your property if it’s an option for you. Here’s a link of all public chargers rolled out primarily by GridCars in South Africa.

I used the BMW chargers for free, and the 200kW fast charger at Mall of Africa.

Several manufacturers include the installation of a wallbox charger with the EV when you purchase it, such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volvo; Mini and Jaguar include a 3-pin plug wall charger. Once you have a wallbox charger at home or at your office park, you rely on public chargers a lot less.

I have an issue with brands that don’t let you recharge {other} brand EVs at their dealership. It’s of no cost to them: they all use a Type 2 charger, and you use the same RFID card on all public chargers in SA. But also, what happens when your customers are close to another dealership?

Load shedding

The number one topic brought up when you mention EVs. For the most part, using the load shedding timetable works, if your area is not susceptible to power trips when the power is meant to return.

I charge at home based on my schedule when I have a four-hour window at minimum. But I’ve also learnt that it’s better to charge when you have a gap whatever the percentage is, vs waiting for it to dip to around 20% and then do a full charge of the battery.

And with load shedding, if your area is out, the next one isn’t. So if I need to charge when I don’t have power, I drive to the suburb closest to me with a charger. If you want to make something work, you can; otherwise, you will make excuses.

It is also not recommended to drain it down or take it up to 100% anyway. So, the short bursts when you have a gap works better for the longevity of the battery.

What about range

I found that doing it this way means I don’t even think twice about running out of battery. When I had the iX3, the range was around 310km – bear in mind this is based on previous driving habits from vehicle in a press fleet – and not once did I panic about it being not enough.

I don’t do long distance driving, I work from home, and shop or run errands within a 30-40 minute maximum driving distance from me, and this is including traffic. If I needed to go further out, I’d just make sure the battery was 90-100%.

For me, range anxiety is hardly a thing to worry about, based on my lifestyle and habits, while driving the iX3. What I love doing is prolonging the range. So I drive efficiently most of the time, use Eco Modes where most applicable. But I gotta say, I don’t compromise on air-conditioning.

What is costs to charge an EV

It costs a lot less to charge the 80kWh battery on the iX3 than it would to fill the 68L fuel tank. If you are using a public DC charger, it will cost at most R588 to charge 80kWh, vs R1340 to fill up the X3 (correct at the time of publishing).

DC chargers are the most expensive; you’re paying for speed and the cost of the charger itself. Public AC chargers would cost R470 to charge the iX3. Remember, the above costs are public charger prices.

GridCars announced an increase of their rates as of 1 June, up by 25% from R5.88 to R7.35 on a DC charger and R4.70 to R5.88 on an AC charger.

Of course, using a home wallbox or equivalent charger will cost significantly less. Eskom rates are complicated, this is why percentage increases are reported, vs actual rates. It would differ based on how much you use, and at which time of the month. Example, if we use a R2.75 per kWh rate at its peak from Eskom, it will cost R220 to charge the 80kWh battery at home. At its lowest, it could cost R185 if we use R2.30 per kWh.

Final thoughts

My time with the iX3 and reflected in this piece is a more practical case of what it’s like living with an EV. My reality is that I didn’t have to worry about range based on my lifestyle, and increased availability of public chargers. I trickle charged whenever I had moment outside of load shedding, so range anxiety was not a factor.

The availability of public chargers in main provinces or urban areas like Gauteng, the Western Cape and KZN are great, but more needs to be done as you venture out and when it comes to roadtripping. I’ve not yet braved a road trip for fun and wouldn’t have considered it on the iX3.

I find that the way I drive and charge means I’m being efficient and getting good value, had I owned this vehicle. My consumption figures are decent and driving the iX3 fitted seamless into life in the suburbs, while working from home. What’s really overdue now is the decrease of import duties and being incentivised to purchase an EV in SA.