The wraps are finally off – officially, at least.
Anyone with access to a computer and a vague interest in cars will have known pretty much what BMW’s new electric car, the i3, has looked like for quite some time. Whether cconcept vehicles, disguised prototypes or leaked images, the least surprising thing about the i3 is the way it looks.
If you’re not familiar with the i3 though, it might come as quite a shock. This is no rebodied 1-Series with some batteries crammed into the boot (though they did use one of those to test the i3’s drivetrain).
You’re looking at a supermini-sized car with an electric drivetrain. Rather than steel, its body is a mix of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) and aluminium, to reduce the weight normally associated with electric vehicles.
As a result, it’s around the 1,200 kilo mark. No flyweight then, but a useful few hundred kilos lighter than a Nissan Leaf or the more similarly-sized Renault Zoe. Because of the weight, BMW has been able to use a smaller, lighter battery without sacrificing too much range, which further reduces weight and adds to the virtuous circle of low mass.
Ah, we used the “R” word. BMW claims the i3 will run for around 80-100 miles on a full charge. You can select ECO PRO mode for a 12 percent boost in range (provided you drive accordingly) and another 12% in ECO PRO+.
In the real world, that should give drivers a useful extra few miles over the typical electric offerings. It’s still shorter than most internally-combusting production cars, but that’s where the range-extended model comes in. Based on a 650cc motorcycle engine, the two-cylinder unit can add around 100 miles to those range estimates from a modest 9 litres of fuel. Enough to get you to the next charging station, in other words.
There’s BMW-style performance on offer too.
We already know that electric motors work well from a standstill, and the BMW’s 170-horsepower unit delivers you to 60 mph in just seven seconds. To get to half that speed requires only 3.5 serene seconds.
It’s rear-wheel drive too, which might not mean tail-out antics like an M3 but with all the car’s electronic gubbins stored in the back, passenger space is 3-Series sized. Many of the interior materials are sustainable, but they look great and give the cabin an airy ambience too. BMW calls it a ‘Next Premium’ interior, with quality on-par with the larger 5-Series models.
The best feature has to be the i3’s futuristic gear selector. Mounted on the free-standing steering column, your fingertips are all that’s needed to select gears, operate the parking brake or start and stop the car.
BMW’s ConnectedDrive technology is also in abundance, giving you everything from navigation to an emergency call option should you have an accident.
Priced from: £25,680 (including £5,000 government grant)
Available from: November
The word “revolutionary” was thrown around at the i3’s worldwide launch, but that’s probably taking things a little too far. It is, after all, just another electric car with a circa-100 mile range.
At the same time, it’s an incredibly desirable electric car with a circa-100 mile range, not something that can be said of many EVs on the roads today. With a post-government plug-in car grant price well within 1-Series territory (it’s around the same as a 116d M Sport with a few toys), the i3 combines that all-important BMW badge with cutting-edge technology and a price within the reach of mere mortals.