After more than two years of speculation and piecemeal details, the fully electric BMW i3 has arrived (although, we’ve already had a go behind the wheel of a prototype). It’s a polarizing vehicle, to put it mildly. Optimists, such as BMW sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson, believe that the launch of the i3 "heralds the dawn of a new era for individual mobility.” Skeptics fear it will be a blunder on par with (or even surpassing) the company's still-not-forgotten C1 debacle.
Unlike many EV efforts, the i3 was designed to be an electric from the ground up. This approach liberated BMW from the packaging restraints posed by a conventional powertrain. Moreover, no expense was spared to take weight out of the vehicle in an effort to offset the hefty 450-pound, 22-kWh battery pack. That spare-no-expense strategy yielded considerable usage of aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber, as well as a respectable curb weight of 2700 pounds, according to BMW.
The i3 is propelled by a 170-hp electric motor that churns out 184 lb-ft of torque driving the rear wheels through a single-speed transmission. That’s sufficient to hurl the tall-roof vehicle from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, BMW says. Smiles fade soon thereafter, as top speed is limited to 93 mph. This makes the i3 the slowest series-production Bimmer since the venerable BMW 700, a two-cylinder compact, went out of production in 1965.
BMW says that the "usable range" for the i3 is 80 to 100 miles in the car’s standard Comfort setting, and promises figures will be improved by selecting the Eco or Eco Plus modes. Sport and Sport Plus modes, as found in conventionally powered BMWs, are conspicuously absent. Once the battery pack—which may be considerably lower depending on driving profile and HVAC use—is depleted, charging takes three hours with a 220-volt outlet. Needless to say, plugging it into a 110-volt household charger will take a lot longer.
It is reassuring that BMW offers an optional range-extender engine: a 34-hp, 650-cc two-cylinder that adds 330 pounds—and a whopping $3850 to the i3's $41,350 base sticker—of heft. Customers thus have a choice to go purely electric, Tesla-like, or enjoy the added flexibility and range of an internal-combustion engine, as in a Cadillac ELR or a Chevrolet Volt.
Thanks to: Car and Driver