BMW has long been known as a benchmark purveyor of sport-luxury vehicles, but the German automaker will be heading in a new direction with its “i” sub-brand which officially debuts with the 2014 BMW i3 electric vehicle to be unveiled July 29.
BMW began development on its eDrive electric powertrain technology in 2007 and hopes to make inroads in terms of sustainability and zero emissions with a whole range of i electric vehicles. The i3 will be at the bottom of the lineup as a city car offering.
We first saw the BMW i3 concept in 2011, and information about the production version—which should go on sale in the U.S. sometime in 2014—shows that BMW is staying true to many of its initial claims.
The 2014 BMW i3 will be powered by a 170 hp electric motor that produces 184 lb-ft of torque. Interestingly, the i3 will be rear-wheel-drive, with the motor mounted by the rear wheels and the battery pack mounted low in the middle of the vehicle to achieve 50/50 weight distribution. Thanks to the approximately 2,600 lb curb weight, BMW expects brisk performance, with 0-60mph coming in around seven seconds. The i3 is considerably more powerful than the heavier Nissan Leaf electric car, which has an 80 kilowatt electric motor producing 107 hp compared with the i3’s 125 kilowatt motor and 170 hp.
Using a lithium-ion battery pack, the i3 will achieve a driving range of 80-100 miles according to BMW’s estimates. If this is not enough, BMW will also offer a range-extender engine option which adds a 34hp, two-cylinder gasoline engine next to the electric motor and a front-mounted, 2.4 gallon gas tank. The gasoline engine increases the i3’s range to 160-180 miles.
BMW will offer a home charging station and the i3 can also be charged from any Level 2 public charging station. BMW's ConnectedDrive suite is upgraded to integrate with the existing charging network to provide range information, route planning, and navigation to nearby charging stations. The smartphone app for ConnectedDrive will allow drivers to monitor the vehicle’s charging status, plan a route based on available range, or remotely activate air conditioning and heating.
We’re not quite sure how the i3’s single-pedal control concept will work, but BMW says it uses a form of regenerative braking on a speed-sensitive basis, meaning that the car will coast at high speeds but offer stronger braking at low speed. BMW says the regenerative braking system should allow the driver to perform 75 percent of braking without using the brake pedal at all, which maximizes efficiency and increases range thanks to energy recuperation.
With its 101.2-inch wheelbase, the i3 is larger than city cars like the Scion iQ but smaller than BMW’s 1 Series coupe. BMW says the 2014 i3 will offer space for four passengers. The i3’s light weight and balance is achieved through what BMW calls its LifeDrive architecture, with an aluminum chassis and a carbon-fiber-reinforced passenger cell. Unfortunately, the only photos BMW is providing as of yet are of this chassis and basic architecture, but spy shots have revealed that the production model should closely resemble the i3 Concept Coupe from the 2012 Los Angeles auto show.
The i3 is not BMW’s first attempt at an electric vehicle, as the Mini E and the BMW ActiveE, based on the Mini Cooper and BMW 1 Series, respectively, were the first projects to be developed under BMW’s Project i. These vehicles were part of a trial program to test the electric drivetrain on a lease-only basis in limited numbers. The 2014 BMW i3 will be mass produced and reports have speculated that the i3 may start around $35,000 in the U.S.
We look forward to driving the 2014 BMW i3 to see if it maintains the “Ultimate Driving Machine” reputation with its advanced drivetrain. For now, look out for more photos and official information to coincide with the car’s official reveal on July 29.