BMW has taken a bold step in a new direction with the launch of the electric i3 today. With the i3 BMW took a clean slate approach to the design with a clear focus on it being "Born Electric". The i3 is driven by a rear mounted 170 horsepower electric motor that is powered by a 22 kWh battery pack stored in an aluminum Drive Module. Glued and bolted to the top of the Drive Module is a carbon fiber passenger compartment BMW has named the Life Module. This is the first mass produced carbon fiber vehicle to come off an assembly line and is just one of the many firsts the i3 boasts.
The specs on the i3 are long and impressive; on paper it is a clearly a technical triumph. It packs a long list of new technology with many industry leading and industry first features. BMW also has spent countless hours ensuring that the driving dynamics they are known for are not lost while pursuing an alternative form of propulsion. Impressive features, check. Amazing technology and superb driving dynamics, check. The big question is what does the BMW i3 make you feel?
To be blunt, for the 2.7 billion (or there about) dollars BMW has spent on the i program, I expected more. There aren't many angles the i3 looks good from and it photographs even worse. It does look better in person than in pictures, but that leaves a lot of room for improvement. BMW has put its entire weight behind this program when they could have created a spin off brand as Mercedes has with the Smart Car. By putting the roundel on the i3, BMW is betting the rent money that this is going to succeed. To that end they've attempted to bring the key BMW design elements to the i3 including the kidney grills and Hofmeister kink.
This is where BMW has failed with the i3. They have tried to bringing their classic design elements to a next generation idea. Simply put, you cannot glue on heritage. The kidney grills, which are air intakes on combustion powered BMWs, are adorned on the front of the car like an afterthought. The i3 electric motor is in the rear so the grills serve no functional purpose and are closed off without the traditional vertical slats. The side and rear lines are better, with a door swage line and the Hofmeister kink nicely countering the strong back door window slant. The design of the rear works and looks good despite its tall boxy proportions.
At this point you're thinking, is the BMW i3 a 2.7 billion mistake by BMW? The answer is no, not even close. The i3, while not being the best looking car, is a game changer. The looks are not the focal point of the burgeoning EV market. The existing players in the market all have various kitschy, look at me design and the i3 fits right in. BMW knows their existing enthusiasts customer, the Bimmerfest reader, who lusts over 500 horsepower M cars aren't the target i3 buyer. The i3 is entirely new vehicle design for BMW and is going to bring an entirely new buyer to the brand.
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