2014 BMW i3, an all-electric car, has
thermoplastic bodywork that will be made at a
facility that's powered with hydroelectricity.
BMW brings its all-electric i3 to the U.S. next spring,
its green cred won’t rely solely on a zero-emissions
powertrain. Its thermoplastic bodywork will be made at a
facility that’s powered with hydroelectricity. Its
leather seats will be tanned with olive oil. Even the
car’s key will be sourced from a castor oil
commitment to sustainability is a deeper shade that,
like the rest of the cars in its lineup, will require an
entirely different sort of green to buy in.
first battery-powered BMW available for outright
purchase, the i3 is the follow-up to the lease-only MINI
e and BMW Active E. Its starting price: $41,350, before
applying a $7,500 federal tax credit; or $45,200 for the
version that includes a gas-powered range extender.
will deliver cars to the West Coast next May. But it has
a handful of i3s in Los Angeles recently and was
offering media test drives as part of the L.A. Auto
with a 22-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery and electric
motor that makes 170 horsepower, the i3’s acceleration
is quick and satisfying. The i3 is impressively light at
2,700 pounds. Drivable in three different modes, its
default is its most energy intensive comfort setting.
BMW says the comfort setting allows up to 100 miles of
driving, though in the afternoon I tested the car on a
choreographed route that was just 43 miles, its fully
charged projected range was closer to 80.
the button on the center console switches to the more
economical Eco Pro and Eco Pro Plus modes, which up the
potential range to 112 and 128 miles, respectively.
Still, those figures are likely only attainable in
low-speed, stop-and-go city traffic.
650cc, two-cylinder engine sourced from BMW’s
motorcycle unit and 2.4-gallon fuel tank are available
as a "range extender" and can almost double
the car’s traveling distance by acting as an on-board
generator that supplies power to the batteries. At no
point does the gas engine ever drive the rear wheels,
i3 applies many performance characteristics for which
BMW is best known, namely rear-wheel drive and a weight
distribution that is split almost 50/50 front and back.
Still, its handling isn’t on par with a 3 Series,
largely due to its relatively high profile of its cabin
i3 uses the same LifeDrive architecture as the BMW i8. A
"life module" made from high-strength carbon
fiber reinforced plastic houses the driver and
passengers, while an aluminum "drive module"
holds the electric powertrain and suspension, helping to
lower the car’s center of gravity.
center of gravity just didn’t feel low enough,
especially when cornering. Careening through canyons, it
felt tall — a situation that wasn’t helped by
Bridgestone Ecopia tires that had short sidewalls but
were otherwise sheathing 20-inch rims, which seemed too
big for a car that is smaller than BMW’s 1 Series.
all modern electric cars, the i3 uses a regenerative
braking system that captures the kinetic energy from
slowing and uses it to recharge the battery while
driving and to extend its range. The i3’s pedal
resistance is more aggressive than most. Designed for
"one-pedal" driving, the accelerator has a lot
of push-back when released to recapture as much energy
as possible and also reduce the constant game of footsie
drivers play with the brake and accelerator pedals.
first, I felt like I was wrestling the accelerator, but
eventually I came to appreciate how effective it was at
moderating speed. Especially when entering corners, I
rarely needed to brake.
i3 will be available in three trims, pricing for which
won’t be announced until early next year but is likely
to cost $1,500 to $2,500 per tier. The test cars BMW
made available to the media were outfitted at the
highest, Tera level, with 20-inch wheels and leather
i3 seats four, but not with a lot of comfort. While the
front offered an enormous amount of leg room, the seats
themselves felt firm rather than luxurious. And the rear
seats don’t offer nearly enough leg room when the
front seats are pushed all the way back.
in to the rear seats is, at least, easy. Passengers
access the back with coach doors that swing toward the
back of the car. Accessing the cargo area is done with a
hatch that, with the rear seats collapsed 50/50, offers
as much interior space as a 3 Series. Even better, for
an electric car, the rear cargo area hasn’t been
compromised by the batteries, which are housed in the
bottom, middle portion of the vehicle. It’s entirely
interior of the i3 is elegant, if unusual, and recalls
midcentury modern design. The dash is made from recycled
carbon fiber that has a heathered, felt-like appearance
but only a slight texture when touched. It’s trimmed
in a matte-finish eucalyptus that was, of course,
in the broad, swooping dash are two screens. The one
before the driver indicates the driving mode, projected
range, energy consumption and speed, while a larger,
horizontally mounted screen in the center is equipped
with navigation and a built-in range assistant. In
addition to being the main interface for multimedia,
radio and telephone, the screen’s nav mode also shows
how far the driver can travel based on its state of
charge and even remembers how the car is normally driven
to help determine its projected range.
the cabin is quiet and the interior is nicely finished,
drivers expecting a true BMW luxury experience are
likely to be disappointed by the i3. A Tesla it is not.
It’s more like an upscale Prius.
22 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, direct drive
Up to 125 miles per charge
time: 3 hours (with level 2, 220-volt charger), 30
minutes (with DC combo fast charger)
to 60 mph acceleration: 7.2 seconds
speed (governed): 93 mph
price, excluding destination charge: $41,350. A $7,500
federal tax credit applies.