BMW's staple mid-size car to undergo its mid-life facelift 12 months for now – and there's a new electric version bound for China, wearing a very familiar name.
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The facelifted 2023 BMW 3 Series has been spied testing, providing a less-camouflaged look at the long-wheelbase, all-electric variant bound for China that's slated to wear the i3 nameplate.

While the prototype 3 Series 'LCI' (facelift in BMW parlance) spied features a heavy layer of camouflage over its front end, it does appear that it will escape the buck-toothed grille treatment recently applied to the new-generation 4 Series range and M3/M4 twins, instead retaining the slim kidneys fitted to the front of the current model.

Mirroring the extent of the updates to the high-riding X3 SUV earlier this month, the updated 3 Series' headlights appear to be slimmer, and feature a new 'angel eye' LED daytime-running light signature that runs over the top of each light unit, rather than below.

The all-electric test car spied (more on that drivetrain in a moment) features largely closed-off lower air intakes – given its powertrain doesn't require as much cooling as a combustion engine – though expect M Sport models to feature a far sportier design.

Changes around the side and rear are minimal, though similar vent-like detailing behind the front wheels to the i4 electric vehicle and 4 Series Gran Coupe appears to feature. The LED tail-lights' signatures have been carried over from the pre-facelift model.

Expect petrol-powered 'LCI' models to score revised rear bumper designs, versus the minimalist, exhaust-less number worn by this i3 prototype.

We've yet to catch a clear glimpse inside the cabin, though rumours suggest the facelifted 3 Series will benefit from the same iDrive 8-equipped twin-screen dashboard as the new i4 electric car, combining a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 14.9-inch infotainment touchscreen into one curved panel.

Any suspicions the prototype spied runs electric power are confirmed by the 'Electric Test Vehicle' sticker on the front doors and rear bumpers – meaning we're looking at the long-rumoured, all-electric version of the long-wheelbase 3 Series 'L', destined solely for the Chinese market.

Above: 2022 BMW i4 interior, with the iDrive 8 twin-screen dashboard.

Interestingly, the latest rumours from trusted BMW insider and BimmerPost forum member ynguldyn suggest the 3 Series L EV will be known as the i3 L – a relative of the i3 name applied to BMW's long-running electric city car, due to end production in June 2022.

If true, it would mark a dramatic departure from form for BMW, which has typically shied away from reusing existing nameplates on unrelated cars, namely the brand's reluctance to use the M1 supercar's name on a go-fast version of the 1 Series, selecting 1 Series M Coupe instead – though the additional 'L' might have provided enough differentiation to permit the nameplate's use.

Due to enter production in March 2022 – meaning two unrelated BMW i3 vehicles will be sold concurrently for a three-month period next year – ynguldyn claims the Chinese i3 L will offer a choice of two electric powertrains: eDrive35 and eDrive40.

The eDrive40 should share its 250kW/430Nm electric motor and 80.7kWh battery with the twin under the skin i4 eDrive40, while the eDrive35 is tipped to develop around 224kW – an option that, in time, will likely make its way to the i4. Both options will be rear-wheel drive.

The 2023 BMW 3 Series facelift is expected to be unveiled around the middle of 2022, with production rumoured to start in July 2022, according to ynguldyn – four months after the i3 L, suggesting the LCI update could debut first on the Chinese EV.

An Australian launch for the updated 3 Series is likely in late 2022 or early 2023, as a Model Year 2023 vehicle.

Despite the combustion-powered, pre-facelift version being offered in right-hand drive, an Australian launch for the long-wheelbase i3 L is unlikely, given its positioning close to the new i4 (due locally in late 2021), and niche electric-vehicle sales in Australia.

Adding weight to the China-only theory is the taped-over badge on the left side of the prototype's boot lid, which appears to be a string of Chinese characters not dissimilar from the emblem fitted to the current 3 Series L (bottom).

Below: The current BMW 3 Series, in petrol 330i form

Below: The long-wheelbase BMW 3 Series L (or Li)