The i3's arrival will signal the launch of BMW's all-electric i-brand, which will also include the BMW i8 supercar, coming in late 2014 or early 2015.
The BMW i3 is expected to be priced somewhere between $50,000 to $70,000 and will be available as both a pure electric and with a range extender which uses a two-cylinder petrol engine to provide charge where necessary.
The full-electric BMW i3 is powered by a 50kg electric motor coupled to high-density lithium-ion batteries (eight modules each including 12 cells) located on the floor. In traditional terms, it measures 125kW of power and 250Nm of torque from a standstill. The electric motor will rev out to 11,400rpm with a single gear.
In terms of performance, the rear-wheel-drive i3 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds and 80-120km/h in just 4.9 seconds, making its in-gear acceleration faster than the turbocharged BMW 135i.
BMW has limited the i3’s top-speed to 135km to maximise efficiency and range. It says that during normal driving conditions the i3 should manage roughly 130-160km on a full charge, but can go up to 170km in Eco Pro mode and potentially even 200km in Eco Pro Plus, which only maintains power to the absolute essentials.
The i3’s body is made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic and aluminium, a combination that BMW says saved roughly 350kg of weight compared with an i3 made using traditional methods. Given the weight of the batteries is 230kg, the net benefit has been a car that weighs just 1195kg (1325kg when coupled with a range extender internal combustion engine and fuel tank).
To keep the entire BMW i3 production as green as possible, the electric vehicle is manufactured in Leipzig using 100 per cent renewable energy (wind power). Overall, that results in 50 per cent less energy and 70 per cent less water used to produce the i3 than conventional BMWs.
BMW Australia will initially launch the i3 with three primary dealers in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane but aims to ensure that all BMW dealers Australia-wide will be able to service and maintain its electric fleet. It’s still unclear as to whether the pure-electric or the range-extender version would be the preferred choice for Australia buyers; BMW is betting 50:50 to start with.
Although a BMW wall charger will be offered to customers at around $1000-$1500 installed, the i3 can be charged using a regular wall socket, which will get from empty to 80 per cent in roughly 11 hours. The wall charger reduces that time to six hours, while AC fast charging stations bring that down further to three hours, with a DC equivalent at just 25 minutes for the same result.
BMW has invested heavily into the i-project, with the company’s Australian managing director, Phil Horton, emphasising the i-brand’s importance for the German manufacturer’s future.
“Taking a holistic approach to electric vehicles, these are very much purpose-built vehicles," Horton said.
"That is not to say that what has been on the market so far in terms of taking a standard vehicle and adding electric vehicle [drivetrains] is necessarily wrong, but clearly with the i-brand we are looking at it from a completely clean sheet of paper.”
Although the i3 is designed for mega-cities, those with 20 million-plus population, Horton believes it will still have a strong appeal in Australia.
“We clearly do believe that there’s potential for this brand here. It is designed to address a whole host of issues about living in a city, with traffic congestions that we have in Melbourne and Sydney.”
So far more than 2000 Australians have shown interest in the i3 and i8 with numerous deposits already in place for the i8.
CarAdvice is heading to Europe later this month to drive the BMW i3, so stay tuned for our comprehensive review.