BMW has started a mobility revolution with the launch of the electric i3. A premium, compact, zero emissions, vehicle built from an industry first combination of of carbon fiber, thermoplastics and aluminum. The i3 is propelled in traditional BMW fashion from the rear wheels. A BMW design and built electric motor sits directly over the rear axles and produced 170 horsepower with 184 lb-ft of torque available from 0 RPMs. Power comes from a 22 kWh battery pack that is also BMW designed and built. While electrically powered, the i3 is built with BMW DNA and is said to live up to the tag line of the Ultimate Driving Machine.
The batteries, motor and suspension are housed in an aluminum chassis called the Drive Module that sits below the car body. The passenger compartment, called the Life Module, is made from mass produced carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CRRP) - an industry first. This keeps the driver and passengers safe from the forces of an accident. CFRP is as strong as steel but 50% lighter resulting in an estimated US curb weight of 2800lbs. The light weight is also critical in handling and performance and the feather weight of the i3 means it moves from 0-62mph (0-100 kph) in 7.2 seconds.
Wrapped around the light weight carbon fiber shell are thermoplastic body panels. These panels form any painted surface you see on the i3. The carbon fiber Life Module is left in exposed CFRP as a design and engineering statement. Built with city parking in mind the thermoplastic panels flex to take bumps and impacts that would require panel replacement on a traditional metal sheathed vehicle. This shows the depth of thinking that BMW engineers went to in crafting the ultimate mega city vehicle. Unlike thermoplastic panels of the past, these are perfectly formed with panel edges and gaps as tight as a traditional BMW.
The i3 comes in 6 total colors with more likely to be added as production ramps up. No matter what color you pick the hood, roof, trunk and upper bumper area always come in black. The roof is actually raw CFRP and the trunk lid is glazed black glass, so this black band is several variants of black. The contrast of the band is designed to set off the passenger compartment. I'd like to see what an i3 looks like with a color matched hood.
The i3 goes on sale in Europe shortly, US customers will have to wait until Q2 of 2014 to get their hands on one. The pure EV format starts at $41,350 with the range extender model starting at $45,200. Both will have a $925 destination and handling charge tacked on before any options or packages. From the base pricing the out the door prices goes up depending on how the car is configured. Like other BMW models the i3 comes in "Lines" with pre-configured options. The base Line for the US is called Mega, additional Lines include Giga, and Tera. If the Line names sound a little science nerd to you that is intentional.
The base Mega will come nicely equipped in the states with base navigation, 19" wheels, LED lighting front and rear, alarm, BMW i Remote, and cloth interior. Upgrading to the Giga gets you different 19" wheels, leather and wool interior, garage door opener, Comfort access, sunroof and satellite radio. Spring for the top of the line Terra and you get a different set of 19" wheels, full leather interior, contrasting stitching and anthracite floor mats.
Early indications are that the Giga will be what you're most likely to see on the dealer showroom as it comes from the factory nicely equipped. There are only four stand alone options for the i3: 20" wheels, DC fast charging, H&K speakers and heated seats. This feels intentionally limited as BMW ramps up the factory. Once i3s have been rolling down the production line consistently I would expect the restrictions to loosen on configuration. US pricing for the Lines and options will be released in November so stay tuned for out the door pricing. European Deliver will be available but how that will work hasn't not yet been determined.
When BMW released a new combustion car the first question is always how does it drive, does it live up to the heritage of the Ultimate Driving Machine. With the i3 traditional materials and production went out the window so the driving dynamics were not lost. The i3 is very much a rear wheel drive BMW and the driving reviews so far have show that BMW did not miss its goals. That being said with an electric power train, driving is different. You get 100% of the 184 lb-ft of torque from 0 RPMs so as soon as you stomp, the i3 jumps. This 100% torque from the get go explains the quick 0-30mph time of 3.5 seconds. The other major change is what BMW calls one pedal driving. As soon as you lift, the motor switched into regenerative mode and starts charging the battery. If you've driven a manual transmission you know the feeling as engine drag. The i3 takes this a step further where you seldom have to use the brakes, in fact the regenerative feature is so effective at slowing the car the brake lights will come on if you lift suddenly. It takes a little adjusting to not coast between lights but it doesn't take away from the driving experience. Otherwise the i3 drives like a normal car, if you weren't paying attention you would be hard pressed to notice the different.
After ripping around enjoying the acceleration of the instant torque the batteries will need a top up. The 22 kWh battery pack is good for 80-100 miles per charge and can be extended up to 24 additional miles using ECO PRO + and a feather right food. 80 to 100 miles is dramatically more then the American daily average of 30 miles. Home charging will be the primary source of juice for i3 owners, and you can roll a BMW home charging station into the cost of your i3 loan if you want. 3 hours on a 220 fast AC charger, the most common for home installations, will top up the batteries. If you're looking for urban recharging you want to opt for DC fast charging which can top up the battery in 20 minutes.
The charging network is a big concern for potential buyers and a bit of a chicken or egg conundrum for cities and businesses. BMW's plan is to let this network of chargers grow organically, they are expecting a dramatic ramp up at the end of 2014 as i3s start to be common fixtures in mega cities. I would have preferred them to lead a charging station installation initiative as Tesla has. Currently that is not in the plans but that could change.
The i3 might not fit the looks of a traditional BMW but it has the engineering DNA of a BMW. BMW did not simply build an electric car and put the roundel on it. They have built an entire system, a 360 degree life style that support EV ownership. With an i3 you're not living on an EV island, you are being welcome into an EV family setup for you to say good bye to the fuel pump. What that in mind the i3 is perhaps the most comprehensive Ultimate Driving Machine BMW has built in a long time.
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