BMW i3 Promises Adroit, Lightweight Fun

Who says “urban transportation solutions” have to be boring?

The all-electric i3 next year will weigh as little as 2,756 pounds comparing very favorably to other electrified cars weighing somewhere midway between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds.

Last week writer Greg Kable of Autoweek caught up with BMW product developers in Sweden who were testing near-production ready versions of it and the i8 and he said the car proved entertaining indeed.

Comparing the i3 to a Mini Cooper, the BMW is 4.7 inches longer and 5.2 inches higher, and boasts a 0-62 mph time of 7.2 seconds thanks to a rear-mounted electric motor with 168 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque via a fixed-gear transmission to the rear wheels. Its 50-75 mph is said to be 6.0 seconds, top speed limited to 93 mph.

All-electric range is said to be a real-world 80-100 miles, and the range-extended version can push this to 186.

The tall car uses narrow low rolling resistance tires on 19-inch wheels to provide some extra ground clearance for the flat-floor with lithium-ion batteries packaged inside and 20-inch wheels are optional.

This is from a car ostensibly intended for such scintillating duties as city driving in gridlock traffic, parallel parking in sardine-can sized spaces, and mixing it up with buses, taxis, other cars and various motor powered and human-powered two-wheelers.

The writer described its handling dynamics shown off a bit by Patrick Mueller, BMW i drivetrain development chief, who thrashed the i3 around a skidpad “with an armful of opposite lock and oversteer without ever backing off.”

This is still a BMW, Mueller said with a grin, and so BMW felt it necessary to bake in a healthy dose of fun-to-drive factor.

The i3’s regenerative braking is also said to be aggressive to the point that BMW has programmed the red brake lights in back to illuminate when the driver merely lifts off the accelerator and prior to actually touching the brakes.

It’s set up to regain as much kinetic energy as possible, and Mueller said “[This] will set our cars apart from the electric-car competition.”

Today Automotive News reported the i3 will start at around $40,000, according to Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America. Actual pricing won’t be announced until the Frankfurt auto show this fall. And no doubt options – including possibly the range extender from a C650 GT step-through motorcycle – will add to the potential outlay.

It will qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit in all-electric form, and BMW is discussing with the federal government whether the range-extended version will as well.

Most of BMW’s 338 dealers are expected to offer the i3 and i8 next spring, and have until June to opt out. BMW does not however expect it to be a volume seller, Willisch said, considering the yet-small size of the electric vehicle market.

Autoweek, Automotive News