Deep Dive: The BMW i5

A more pragmatic, more affordable volume car from Project i.

BMW’s new governance, headed by chairman Harald Krüger and R&D chief Klaus Fröhlich, immediately started scrutinizing each and every future project, which led to the recent slaughter of several vehicles proposed during Norbert Reithofer’s regime, including the i8S, M8, 9 Series coupe, Z2 roadster, and 2 Series GT, as well as various Mini concepts. Just about the only surviving product from Reithofer’s reign is a third Project i vehicle, which will likely be badged i5.

The BMW i5 has been many things before becoming what it is now. First a long-wheelbase version of the i3, the i5 turned into a fuel-cell showcase before reappearing as an i3/i8 crossbreed. The i3 is not exactly profitable, the i8 is a high-end niche vehicle, and the i5 aims to split the difference by being a highly efficient but not astronomically expensive four-seat, four-door notchback. The i5, which we expect will be green-lighted in October, fuses bits of the i3 and i8 with a more basic vehicle architecture that’s cheaper to build.

The BMW i5 extensively uses upcoming modular CLAR (new rear-wheel-drive architecture) componentry as well as carbon fiber to reduce weight and increase structural rigidity. In proposals, the i5’s design featured a choice of three attention-grabbing door treatments, all without a B-pillar, but to keep overall costs at a manageable level, the scissor/gullwing/suicide doors were dropped and the B-pillars were reinstated.

The BMW i5 will look like a normal three-box car, not a crowd-stopping spaceship like its siblings. Why? Because customers in key markets such as China and the United States prefer sedans to any other body style. The i5 is about as long as the short-but-stout i8, and yet it aims to be roomier than a 3 Series by using the longest possible wheelbase and the shortest possible front overhang. There should be enough space for a family-size luggage compartment because, like the i3 and i8, the i5 stows its main electric motor between the driven rear wheels.

Propulsion can either be purely electric or come in the form of a plug-in hybrid. (A fuel-cell option co-developed with Toyota has been pushed back to 2020 and beyond.) The EV has a 225-hp rear motor that works in tandem with a second 135-hp motor up front. Its targeted 250 miles of range suggests a battery capacity of more than 75 kilowatt-hours. The more potent motor in the plug-in is good for about 275 hp, and a combustion engine will drive the front wheels. At present, a war is raging between the purist faction that demands a 1.5-liter three-cylinder and the marketing-driven party that would rather fit the i5 with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. However that pans out, sources say the plug-in i5 could benefit from inductive charging.

Although all-wheel drive governed by torque vectoring is standard, there is no mechanical connection between the axles. While the mid-mounted battery pack in both variants will weigh between 880 pounds and 1,450 pounds, the target curb weight for the i5 is under 3,450 pounds, regardless of powertrain. Factor in a calculated drag coefficient of 0.24, and you have a family car that’s not only frugal but should also be quite quick. With an aggregate power output of up to 400 hp and plenty of instant torque, it’s safe to expect a 0 to 62 mph time of less than 4.5 seconds. Fuel consumption depends entirely on the chosen route and individual driving style, but one should be hard pressed to average below 45 mpg. It’s early days as far as pricing is concerned, but a provisional estimate pegs the i5 at about a $5,500 premium over a plug-in 3 Series, which has yet to be released or priced out. Production of the BMW i5 will likely be assigned to the Leipzig plant, where production of the 1 Series and 3 Series would be phased out, with capacity at about 100,000 units per year. Expect sales to start in 2019.


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2018 BMW Z5

MSRP $0 Base Convertible