First Look: BMW i3 Concept

Unique Interior
Color combinations inside consist of Porcelain White surfaces, Mocha Brown leather, blue stitching, and Stream Blue illumination. There is no center console or shifter, as all the vehicle controls are mounted on the steering column or dashboard. There's a cup holder in front of the heating vent, meaning drinks can be kept warm by running the heater or chilled by running the air conditioning. An assortment of touch-screen displays spans much of the dashboard, allowing both driver and passenger to monitor vehicle charging status, use the navigation and entertainment systems, or operate the climate control.

Unsurprisingly, the i3 concept has accelerator and brake pedals, but BMW thinks you'll only need the former. Lifting off the accelerator engages regenerative braking, which slows the car enough to account for about 75 percent of braking in city driving. BMW says that most people should be able to commute using just the accelerator; the i3's friction brakes should only be required for hard stops or holding the car stationary.

Other technologies to make urban driving easier begin with Proactive Front Protection, which uses a camera mounted beneath the rear-view mirror constantly scans for cars and pedestrians. It sounds a warning if the driver is about to collide with something, and at speeds up to 37 mph, Proactive Front Protection can automatically apply the brakes to prevent a collision.

The i3 will also use an evolution of BMW's Parking Assistant, which requires no human interaction to parallel-park the vehicle. The system can assume control of the steering, brakes, accelerator, and transmission to provide fully automated parking. The most intriguing of these technologies, however, is Traffic Jam Assistant. Like adaptive cruise control, the system automatically maintains a safe following distance from other vehicles, and can slow the i3 to a halt if traffic completely stops. But unlike other such systems, Traffic Jam Assistant can also steer the i3 within traffic lanes at speeds up to 25 mph. BMW suggests that you could make a phone call or check your email from behind the wheel -- so long as you keep one hand on the steering wheel so the system stays engaged.

Other Technologies
In case the i3's promised range isn't enough for drivers, the ECO PRO mode can help improve mileage by up to 20 percent. The driving mode adjusts the accelerator response and climate controls, and limits the car's top speed to 74 mph. A further ECO PRO+ mode disables things like the heated seats, heated mirrors, and daytime running lights, while limiting top speed to 56 mph. ECO PRO+ is meant only a last resort to help i3 drivers get home on their last few electrons.

BMW will also make available an optional gasoline-powered range extender, called REx. The engine powers a small generator that maintains the battery charge so that the i3 can continue driving after its initial battery charge has been depleted. BMW wouldn't divulge any details on REx, but it will be available for customers who really want the additional range.

BMW plans to launch mobile applications for smartphones and tablet computers, allowing i3 owners to monitor their cars remotely. The apps will allow owners to lock or unlock the car, sound the horn, illuminate the headlights, or check the vehicle's charging status. A CarFinder function uses GPS to locate the vehicle within 1500 meters.

Coming Soon -- Maybe
The i3 is at least two years away from going on sale: BMW says the car will go into production in 2013 and will launch "by the end of" 2013. There are many things that the company either hasn't determined or isn't willing to share. We still have no idea of the battery pack's storage capacity, how much the i3 might cost, or when it might be sold in the U.S. market.

BMW stresses that the i3 is a show car, so some of the stylistic flourishes will be toned down before the car enters production. The full-glass doors and transparent roof are likely to be nixed; BMW even showed us a prototype CFRP mold for the i3's roof panel. But the basic technology seems solid, and it seems unlikely the i3's basic technical specifications will change between now and 2013.

The i3 concept will make its first public debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

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