What we absolutely know for certain about the i5 is that it is a potential future car to be made by BMW.
OK, we can say a few more things than only that, but will try to avoid blurring the distinction about what “will” be and what could be.
The i5 was reported to be in planning stages as early as October 2013 when the ink was not even dry from the first i3 launch reports.
Rumors of its final configuration have come and gone, BMW has not spelled out too much and reports have conflicted thus the back-and-forth conjecture.
Assuming the production-pending i5 is announced as expected, it does appear to be the closest thing yet from BMW to a “Tesla fighter” by today’s armchair spec-sheet reckoning.
According to Automobile Magazine’s European Bureau Chief Georg Kacher, it could be approved for production by October, and may be for sale by 2019. Other reports have suggested launch dates of 2018-2020, even later.
It is at least certain BMW does want another i-Series, as it’s trademarked all the potential name combos it could through i9 and is committed to its sustainable sub brand.
How it will be positioned is also up for speculation however. Automobile’s European Bureau Chief – who may have good contacts, one would surmise – said in late April the i5 will split the difference between the semi-exotic i8 plug-in hybrid and i3 electric city car with optional range extender.
Germany’s Autobild however suggested a couple weeks prior only 30,000 annual units and low-six-figure pricing – and the way BMW likes to pile on option pricing, we’re talking much more of an exclusivity factor.
Either way, it appears probable BMW hopes to broaden its appeal with powertrain options to satisfy consumer expectations for short-range and long-range travel distances.
If it goes for more volume than Autobild suggests, it may do so by cutting costs where possible, trickling down lessons learned to date.
While you as a potential consumer are thinking about a possibly cool car, this endeavor is being driven by 1) a corporation that wishes to make money, and 2) Type-A personalities who want to make their mark.
Tesla has its Elon Musk, and last year Car & Driver noted former BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer who green-lighted the i-Series to leave behind a legacy of leading the German brand to the green future.
Following on Reithofer’s heels, Kacher notes BMW Chairman Harald Krüger and R&D chief Klaus Fröhlich who took a knife to various future cars underway and cut off a slew of BMW and Mini projects while leaving Reithofer’s i5 goal intact.
Rumors have abounded for the car varying from avant garde B-pillarless design to crossover to traditional sedan.
The latest ostensibly plausible view is that the i5 will not look like a bloated i3 an artist’s rendering suggested last year, but may be based on the Chinese long-wheelbase 5-Series sedan.
According to Kacher, Americans and Chinese prefer sedans to spacepods, and to save costs – assuming BMW needs it to stay competitive for higher volume – could be achieved by sticking to a less-exotic three-box design.
If so, it may not receive extensive carbon fiber reinforced plastic in its construction. This is not clear, but a Chinese 5-Series certainly does not.
If it does get CFRP, economies of scale hoped by relatively larger sales volume could help offset this, and at very least it could get other materials and engineering techniques developed for the i3 and i8 and befitting the next “i” model.
Or, its high price as Autobild suggests will take care of the production cost problem of the upscale car BMW settles on.
A fuel cell variant co-built with Toyota appears unlikely, at least before well after 2020, says Kacher.
Rather, a 250-mile range all-wheel-drive all-electric version and plug-in hybrid version could come along.
The all-electric model may see its battery mounted along the center and low but weight estimates have been broad between 880 pounds and 1,450 pounds – which really means no one knows for sure.
Battery capacity could be in the neighborhood of 75 kilowatt-hours to support the range goal, and this energy will be routed to a 225-horsepower rear and 135-horsepower front motor.
Zero-to-sixty could arrive in the mid-low four-second range and torque vectoring could add exceptional cornering prowess for the car targeted in the middle-3,000-pound range combined with low-as-possible center of gravity and rigid chassis and body.
The real screamer however might be one that burns gasoline as an option, namely the plug-in hybrid version of the i5.
It’s believed the i5 could be fitted with a Power eDrive PHEV system making fuel savings at will more of an option, the could have a greater fun factor while still saving fuel, and would be less of a glorified virtual compliance car.
In contrast, the i8’s EV range is about what a Prius plug-in gets on a good day, 14 miles, and regardless, it’s best enjoyed by performance enthusiasts with gas engine on.
Of course an i5 PHEV would be most viscerally invigorating in petrol-using mode too. As for what that gas-engine might be, the i8 uses a turbo 1.5-liter three-cylinder similar to the naturally aspirated unit in a Mini Cooper, but this too is up in the air for the i5.
Word has it a four-cylinder may be in the offing, but whatever they decide the goal according to Autobild and as reported by the BMW Blog is upwards of 640 combined horsepower.
This would be derived from a 218-horsepower gas engine plus 272-horsepower rear and 150-horsepower front electric motors.
The car could alternately move briskly in EV mode but not as far as the engine accounts for mass on a car targeted for sub-3,450 pounds, so battery capacity might be sacrificed, but the tradeoff would be combined motor and engine output for superior go-power.
With cars like the Tesla Model S P85D boasting 691 horsepower in 2015 spec, one might suspect 640 horsepower would be a minimum bar for just-OK bragging rights, or perhaps this too will be boosted by production two-three years from now?
Then again, if BMW achieves within a couple hundred pounds of its mid-3000-pound goal, it would undercut the high-4000-pound Model S by nearly one-third and power-to-weight ratio could be superior even with less horsepower.
Finally, build quality is something BMW aims to beat Tesla in as well.
In a recent teardown of the i3, engineer Sandy Munro said that car was the “most advanced vehicle on the planet” with groundbreaking assembly techniques, exotic materials and more.
What We (Really) Know About The BMW i5
Next to Target Tesla, BMW is late and chasing a moving target at that. However, BMW has engineering prowess and determination, and no other German automaker has shown as much dedication to plug-in electrification to date.
Despite the latest-rumored spec sheets that vary as time goes by, BMW has not announced specifics but has only shown hints along the way.
Whatever it is – assuming it’s even called “i5” – it will need to be special in this very fluid market where innovations keep happening, and global pressure is on to perform.
We suspect BMW does know this and that’s the plan.