2014 BMW i3
By Laura Burstein
On Sale: Spring 2014
Expected Pricing: $41,350
The quirky-looking BMW i3 hatchback is the brand's first foray into the electric car market. With a price tag that rivals upper-end 3 Series sedans, the BMW i3 can go 80-100 miles on a single charge and is the first mass-produced vehicle to use a body made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, significantly lighter than aluminum and steel.
Size-wise, the BMW i3 is a few inches shorter and slightly narrower than the Mini Countryman, and sits about an inch taller. It's significantly shorter than the Nissan Leaf, by nearly 18 inches. It retains some classic BMW styling cues like a squashed version of the twin kidney grille, swept-back headlamps and large, multi-spoke wheels bearing the blue and white roundel. But with its aggressively flared fenders and flat, boxy rear, that's where similarities end. From the side, the i3's proportions, presumably constructed to maximize space, look bloated. Some might say the i3 resembles other BMWs the way a snake still looks like a snake after it's swallowed a mountain goat.
Inside, the BMW i3 boasts a unique design that maximizes cargo space and passenger movement. Instead of shoehorning an electrified powertrain into an existing BMW vehicle, the BMW i3 was built from the ground-up to be an electric car. As a result, there is no transmission tunnel that runs the length of the car, eliminating the hump inside that divides the right side of the car from the left. Designers were able to take advantage of this extra space and placed the center console low and nearly flush with the front seat, which allows the driver to easily scoot over to the passenger seat to get out if needed. Certain interior materials are natural and sustainable, including dashboard trim made from eucalyptus wood, instrument panel and door trim surrounds that contain plant fibers, and leather upholstery tanned with olive-leaf extract.
Not to be mistaken for a wimpy econo-box, the i3 boasts rear-wheel-drive architecture and near 50-50 weight distribution like other BMWs. It's powered by a hybrid synchronous electric motor that makes 170 horsepower and a maximum of 184 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission. BMW estimates the i3 can go from 0 to 30 mph in 3.5 seconds and 0 to 60 mph about 7.2 seconds, which is reasonably quick. Top speed is electronically limited at 93 mph. The i3's lightweight construction makes for a lean curb weight of just 2,635 pounds, besting the Leaf by more than 730 pounds.
Like other hybrid and electric vehicles, the BMW i3 uses regenerative braking. The i3's system is speed sensitive, recapturing the most energy at lower speeds and letting the car coast at higher freeway speeds. The accelerator also acts as a brake when the driver lifts off the pedal.
The BMW i3 can be recharged in three hours with the use of a 220-volt Level 2 charger. An optional DC combo fast charger is optional, and can fully charge the vehicle in as little as 30 minutes.
Although the standard BMW i3 is a purely electric vehicle, an optional range extender is available in the form of a 650cc gasoline motor, which essentially converts the i3 into a type of plug-in hybrid. The engine starts and maintains the battery's power level, but doesn't power the wheels directly. The range extender adds 264 pounds.
BMW i3 trim levels sound more like sci-fi flicks than refined German driving machines. The base BMW i3 Mega World comes standard with cloth interior, leather-trimmed steering wheel, navigation and 19-inch extra-efficient forged aluminum wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires. The mid-level Giga World gets leather and wool interior, a sunroof, universal garage door opener and satellite radio, and a different wheel design. Top-of-the-line Tera World models get full leather upholstery with contrast stitching and unique wheels.
Every i3 comes with BMW's Connected Drive, which allows drivers to access charging and other vehicle information via their iPhone. An optional Technology and Driving Assist package adds upgrader navigation with advanced real-time traffic and re-routing, a new touch pad controller, forward collision warning, pedestrian alert and collision mitigation system, as well as a host of electronic apps. The Parking Assist package includes a rearview camera, parallel parking assist, and front auto park distance control.
The BMW i3 is expected to be in dealerships in the second quarter of 2014 and will have a base starting price of $41,350 plus $925 destination, not including any federal or state credits or taxes.