New & Used BMW i3: In Depth
2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013Enlarge Photo
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The BMW i3 is the German brand's first-ever all-electric car, packed with cutting-edge materials and technology, and offering an innovative solution to range anxiety: an optional two-cylinder motorcycle engine that provides electricity to the battery to keep the car on the road once the battery is depleted.
The i3 is a BMW like no other. Launched in 2014, the little city car is so different from BMW's carefully-honed traditional lineup of sporty sedans and crossovers that it forms the first entry in what will become a range of special "BMW i" sub-brand vehicles.
The shape of the BMW i3 is unlike that of anything currently within the BMW or MINI fold, but that's because it's been conceived from the start as a dedicated electric car,
The i3 is a tall hatchback that’s aimed at urban drivers and commuters. With its rippled beltline and abundant rear hatch glass, it will offer more outward visibility than most vehicles. Rear-hinged rear doors help preserve some of the coupe-like look, and it rides on unusually tall and skinny 155/70R19 low-rolling-resistance tires.
The 22-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that powers the i3's rear-mounted electric motor is sandwiched into the car's floor. The body is made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), so strong that there are no pillars required between the front and rear doors on each side. And like the iconic Toyota Prius and the more recent Nissan Leaf, the BMW i3 is instantly identifiable--with looks that provoke strong reactions, one way or another.
Historically, the i3 is derived from the so-called MegaCity concept car, and is built on what BMW calls its LifeDrive architecture. That means a Life Module and a Drive module comprise the two core areas of the i3’s construction. The drive module is an all-aluminum rolling platform, the passenger module is the first of its kind (in a mass-produced car) to use CFRP in a volume vehicle.
The i3 is primarily an electric car—with a robust 170-hp rear-mounted electric motor system providing somewhere between 80 and 100 miles of driving range. But separately there’s the option for a range-extender—a 650-cc gasoline twin-cylinder engine, making 34 hp.
Those modest power figures should be plenty to move the i3 around with verve, and BMW is claiming a 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds and a top speed of 93 mph. Having rear-wheel drive and a near-50/50 front/rear weight distribution prime us to expect more dynamic prowess out of the i3 than from other electric cars—other than just being from BMW, of course. The exceptionally light body structure will also help.
In the BMW i3, the range extender only functions to provide electricity, not supplemental tractive power, like in the Chevy Volt. With its tiny 2.4-gallon fuel tank and an estimated 33-42 mpg, it should about double the effective range—as well as curb any range anxiety. The i3 will charge up to full in about three hours at 220 volts, or get to a full charge in 30 minutes using an (upcoming) SAE DC fast-charger.
As you might guess from the outside, the i3 has a very upright cabin layout that helps make the most of available space. Cabin upholstery includes recycled materials—even the wood has been sustainably sourced—and with the tall roof there looks like enough space for adults in back.
Three different trim levels of the i3 will be offered: Mega World, Giga World, and Tera World. Navigation, ConnectedDrive, LED headlights and running lamps, an alarm system, and 7.4-kW charger are included on all levels. The Giga World adds a sunroof, contrast stitching, and satellite radio, while the Tera gets special trims, a full leather interior, and unique wheels. As with BMW’s more conventional offerings, there will be plenty of chances to upgrade, with high-tech possibilities like
Pricing for the U.S. starts at $42,275, and it went on sale in May 2014. Thus far, early sales are split about 60:40 between the range-extended and battery-electric versions.