More Details on BMW's i3

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More details of BMW’s much-ballyhooed i3 EV city car were revealed yesterday, at the car’s unveiling in New York City. Simulcast in London and Beijing, the event ginned up considerable fanfare, with BMW North America president and CEO calling the occasion: “A revolutionary shift in every aspect of the car as we know it.”

Hyperbole? Perhaps. While purpose-built electric cars and extended-range electric cars are already on the market, BMW’s message is that the i3 is the first purpose-built, premium-brand EV (and also extended-range EV). Granted, its design is unique. The i3 utilizes an aluminum, sandwich floor construction, with the powertrain housed between the floor panels. (BMW calls this the Drive Module). The 450-lb lithium-ion battery pack is located between the axles, for a low center of gravity and the best possible weight distribution, and the electric motor sits just ahead of the rear axle and drives the rear wheels. The i3 also uses a carbon fiber reinforced plastic for the body (or Life Module) that sits atop the mechanical package. Body panels are thermoplastic.

Range and recharging

Like the BMW Active E and the Mini E before it, the i3 has an estimated battery range of 80-100 miles. Using the Eco Pro drive mode adds approximately 12 miles; so does the Eco Pro+ mode. If that’s not enough, there’s the available range extender engine. This 650cc, two-cylinder, 34-hp gasoline engine does not power the car directly but BMW claims it can recharge the battery to maintain a constant state of charge. The gas tank, however, is only 2.4 gallons, so the total range even with the gasoline engine is 180 or so miles.

With a 220v Level 2 charger, battery recharge time is 3 hours. The optional DC fast charging system can do an 80 percent recharge in 20 minutes or a full recharge in 30 minutes. To help with charging away from home, the navigation system can display public recharging stations as a POI function. It also integrates range into the navigation function. If there is insufficient range to reach a given destination, it can suggest switching to Eco Pro mode; it also can display range as a spider diagram overlaid on the map.

Packaging and Drivability

The stiffness of the i3’s carbon fiber body structure allowed BMW engineers to eliminate the B-pillars, aiding rear-seat access. The i3 features rear-hinged rear half-doors (shades of the Saturn Ion!); they cannot be opened unless the front door is opened. BMW says that the i3 offers the space of a 3-series in the footprint of a 1-series, but after a test-sit front and back, we’d say the i3 cabin is roomier than a 1-series coupe but falls short of a 3-series. A flat floor and large windows aid the cause in the back seat; and a short hood helps visibility up front. The cargo hold is small at roughly 8 cubic feet. Folding rear seatbacks allow it to be expanded, although the load floor is high.

With 170 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque motivating 2700 pounds, the i3 is able to get from 0 to 60 mph in approximately 7 seconds. The range extender adds 330 pounds, and that extra weight pushes the 0-60 time closer to 8 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 93 mph. The car’s 50/50 weight distribution should aid handling, and its 32.3-foot turning circle promises excellent maneuverability.

Mega/Giga/Tera

The i3 is being offered in three trim levels (worlds, in BMW i-speak), each of which can be had as a standard EV or a range-extender version. The three trim levels are:

Mega (base) – Standard equipment includes navigation, BMW ConnectedDrive, 19-inch wheels with 155/70-series tires, rear park distance control, and LED headlights and taillights. The interior materials are Sensatec (synthetic leather) and cloth.

Giga – Adds keyless entry and ignition, a sunroof, different 19-inch wheels with 175/70-series rear tires, satellite radio, and a garage door opener. The interior materials are wool cloth and leather.

Tera – The top-spec i3 gets its own specific 19-inch wheels (again with the wider rear tires), along with a full-leather interior with contrast stitching and anthracite floor mats.

Available options include:

Technology and driving assist package – larger-screen navigation system with touch pad and real-time traffic, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, forward collision warning, deceleration assistant, pedestrian protection and city collision mitigation, enhanced Bluetooth and USB with BMW apps and online information services

Parking assist package – automated (parallel) parking, rearview camera, front park distance control

20-inch sport wheels

Harman Kardon audio system

Heated seats

DC fast charger

Pricing and arrival

The only pricing details currently available are the base price of the Mega, $42,275, and the Mega extended range, $46,125 (both include $925 destination). Prices are before any state/local tax credits.

BMW will roll out the i3 in all fifty states—although not all BMW dealers will carry it. Both the i3, and its much more expensive sister car, the i8 hybrid, are due to go on sale in the second quarter of 2014. —Joe Lorio

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