BMW’s striking Vision EfficientDynamics concept, which debuted at the 2009 Frankfurt auto show, is headed for production as the 300-hp halo car for the company’s Project i lineup. And then there’s the M version.
Theoretically at least, the production car, which may be called the i100 Active Hybrid, has what it takes to eclipse its most serious rivals. Extensive computer simulation suggests that in top-of-the-line M-form (likely to be badged M100), the sports car from Munich will outpace such serious challengers as the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, the Audi R8 V10 and the Porsche 911 Turbo. But the real baptism by fire is still almost three years away. The more immediate step is the 2011 Frankfurt Show where an evolution of the 2009 concept is due to appear. In late 2012 or early 2013, low-volume production is due to start. The assembly of the carbon-fiber modules will take place in Landshut, Bavaria. Even though the base model is expected to cost in excess of $130,000, BMW is reportedly planning to build 35,000 units over the car’s five-year life span.
Even with the high price tag, one wonders how BMW can expect to make a profit on such a high-tech piece of kit. The answer is that it’s part of Project i, BMW’s upcoming lineup of green minicars. No, not only as a marketing spin-off, but also genetically, in terms of vehicle concept, drivetrain and material mix. In fact, the i100 is one of the reasons why the Project i switched dangerously late in the game from front- to rear-wheel drive. The i100 will also share the mircocars’ rear-engine layout . By moving the motor as close as possible to the rear wheels, the Munich packaging wizards created something the i100’s sports car competitors cannot offer: two usable, if not quite commodious rear seats. Access to the second row should not be a major issue, as the production will feature the gullwing doors from the original design exercise. To stow away a limited quantity of luggage, the top-hinged rear window lifts up. A second cargo receptacle can be found in the nose of the vehicle.
Like all other Project i variants, the sports car consists of two horizontally connected elements known as Life Module (vehicle upper made primarily of carbon fiber) and Drive Module (running chassis fabricated from aluminum). Integrated in the Drive Module are the suspension, engine, electric motors, transmission, tank and batteries. While the i100 boasts a mix of four electric motors (one for each wheel) plus a conventional pairing of gas engine and dual-clutch transmission. The M100 will be rear-wheel drive only.
As far as the engine choice is concerned, the final decision is still pending. Most project engineers seem to favor a new turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, but the top management may still tip the scales in favor of a turbo four-cylinder.
“It’s a complex issue,” explains a person high up in the corporate hierarchy. “In some markets, like America, customers may balk at the prospect of paying a six-figure sum for a three-cylinder vehicle. But in terms of efficiency, the light and compact new three is hard to beat. And at 165 to 185 hp, it certainly is no sluggard either.”
The engine — be it a three- or a four-cylinder — will be mated to a compact seven-speed triple-shaft dual-clutch automatic. In addition to the gas-fed source of propulsion, four e-motors developing a combined 109 hp are to be mounted close to the wheels they drive. An aggregate power output of almost 300 hp and a torque of about 295 lb-ft should provide an inspiring blend of environment-friendliness and driving pleasure. The lithium-ion energy cells are tucked away in the centre backbone and close to the front suspension behind the firewall. The plug-in hybrid version of i100 is said to offer a zero-emission driving range of 10 to 30 miles depending on conditions.
That’s all fine and good for the i100, but the even more expensive M100 should get something much more potent. In fact, engineers made sure from the start that there would be room for the new straight six that will power the next M3. Most likely a twin-turbo 3.0-liter unit good for 450 hp, this high-revving Kraftwerk will be packaged with a reinforced dual-clutch automatic. Although they could have opted for on-demand electric front-wheel drive, the M chieftains have apparently taken the high-efficiency route by filling the limited space with super capacitors, which are smaller and lighter than batteries. These super capacitors can store surplus energy from regenerative braking and then either release it or send it to the rear wheels to support full-throttle take-off or overtaking maneuvers. All this should be enough to make the M100 the fastest M car ever. It will in all likelihood also be the most expensive one. Prices are expected to start at $230,00 Euro, and that’s before you add super-duper batteries or a quick-charge system. For most of us, simulation will indeed be the only way to access this high-tech piece of kit.