The i3 is the first electric vehicle from the BMW Group, and the German manufacturer claims it is also the world's first premium car designed from the ground up as an EV.
Powering the BMW i3 is a 125kW/250Nm electric motor, which drives the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission and propels it from 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds.
The motor sources its energy from lithium-ion battery cells integrated into the i3’s underfloor section, giving it a lower centre of gravity than conventional internal combustion-engined vehicles, which BMW says contributes to an even weight distribution and benefits driving dynamics.
A full charge from either a standard household power socket (about eight hours), a BMW i Wallbox or a public charging station (sub-30-minute on fast charge) provides a range of 130-160km in what BMW calls “everyday conditions”, and a potential range of up to 200km.
The i3 will also be offered as a Range Extender plug-in hybrid, which pairs the EV’s electric system with a 25kW/55Nm 647cc two-cylinder petrol engine generator. Fitted with a nine-litre fuel tank, BMW estimates an everyday range of 240-300km from the hybrid, and up to 340km with the car operating in its most efficient driving mode.
Weighing 120kg more than the electric model (1315kg vs 1195kg), the i3 Range Extender is seven-tenths slower to triple figures at 7.9sec.
At 3999mm long, 1775mm wide, 1578mm tall and riding on a 2570mm wheelbase, the BMW i3 becomes the smallest model in the Bavarian brand’s showroom, measuring less than a foot longer than its Mini Cooper hatch cousin.
The car’s unique architecture is based on what the brand calls the LifeDrive structure, which comprises a carbonfibre-reinforced plastic passenger cell and an aluminium module encompassing the powertrain, battery and chassis.
BMW says the fresh architecture gave its designers enormous freedom when it came to forming the i3, with short overhangs intended to express its nimble driving characteristics, and large glass surfaces and visible carbon structures creating a sense of lightness.
The final production design remains largely true to the i3 concept that debuted at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show. The front end is defined by a blue-lined kidney grille, U-shaped LED lamps and a powerfully contoured bumper. The profile features rear suicide doors and lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels, while the distinctive rear end sports a black tailgate and bumper and embedded LED tail-lights.
The cabin boasts what BMW calls a layering structure, with a range of woods, leathers and other renewable raw materials of different colours and textures spread across the dashboard, doors, seats and floor.
Both the instrument cluster and the central display are freestanding screens that are controlled by the prominent iDrive controller in the centre console.
The gear selector and vehicle start/stop button share a control element branching out from the steering column, with a rotary dial turned forwards or backwards to select the desired direction of travel.
BMW also claims the i3 is the world’s first fully networked electric car, offering a wider-reaching exchange of information between vehicle, driver and the outside world than any zero-emission vehicle currently on the market.
A SIM card is fitted standard, providing occupants access to BMW’s ConnectedDrive suite of services, including a number of smartphone-linked navigation and energy management applications unique to the i3.
Standard features include rear parking sensors, extensive smartphone integration via Bluetooth and USB, and a variable luggage compartment. Options include equipment upgrades such as adaptive LED headlights, electric glass roof and climate control, to driver assist systems like parking assistant, rear-view camera and speed limit information.
BMW Australia will introduce the i3 around the middle of 2014, a few months after its European launch in November. The Range Extender hybrid appears certain to headline the initial local line-up, with the EV a lower priority but not ruled out at this stage.
Local pricing has not been announced, though in Germany, the UK and the US the i3 will start at a price point slightly higher than the entry-level BMW 3 Series, potentially suggesting a price tag up to $60,000 in Australia.