As promised, today was the global debut for the BMW i3, the luxury carmaker’s first in its “i Series” of electrified cars and featuring several innovations intended to match the company’s reputation for being a cut above.

The i3 will be the smallest BMW and approximately the size of a 1 Series, but with interior space on par with a 3 Series, and with range somewhere near that of a Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus Electric. A gas-powered 650-cc twin cylinder range extender will be a $3,850 option and the vehicle is slated for sale in the second quarter of 2014.

As the “world’s first mass-produced car” using carbon fiber reinforced plastic, the i3 has been built from the ground up as a pure EV.

BMW says CRFP is “equally as strong as steel, while being 50 percent lighter, and 30 percent lighter than aluminum,” and the estimated weight for the all-electric version is 2,700 pounds.

BMW i3 cutaway

A cascade of further benefits have been touted for the light but strong design as BMW notes.

This has numerous advantages over “conversion” vehicles, in which the original combustion engine is swapped for an electric motor. The engineers can design whatever works best, in terms of construction, dimensions and configuration of the electric drive system’s components. The car’s development is dictated by the characteristics designed into the car by the development team and not by the constraints imposed by a pre-existing vehicle design.

A smaller 22-kwh lithium-ion battery weighing about 450 pounds was deemed sufficient as there is less total vehicular mass to move around. The smaller battery also means less cost and shorter recharge times.

BMW i3 charging

At the same time, the sturdy structure is said to be safe for occupants.

Constructed of aluminum, the “Drive Module” combines the battery, electric drivetrain, MacPherson strut and 5-link rear suspension system along with structural and crash components. The rear-mounted motor is close to the rear drive wheels. BMW says it gives impressive performance characteristics while also providing better traction.

In this case, 0-35 mph is said to take 3.5 seconds, 0-60 mph is said to be in around 7 seconds, and top speed is 93 mph. This is quicker than the much less expensive Chevy Spark EV which boasts a 400 pound-foot torque figure and around 7.6 seconds to 60.

Rated power for the i3 is 170 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque.

BMW i3 Driveline

The car’s 80 to 100 miles on a single charge can be increased by up to approximately 12 percent in ECO PRO mode and by the same amount again in ECO PRO+ mode, says BMW.

charger cord

Recharge time is three hours with the use of a 240-volt Level 2, 32-amp J1772 charger. An optional SAE DC Combo Fast Charger charges the BMW i3 80 percent in 20 minutes, and 100 percent in 30.

The rear-mounted optional 34 horsepower range extender generator roughly doubles the range.

“When the battery gets to a certain level, the Range Extender starts and maintains the battery’s current state of charge,” says BMW. “The Range Extender never directly drives the vehicle’s wheels. The Range Extender adds roughly 330 lbs. to the vehicle curb weight and has a fuel capacity of 2.4 gallons.”

LifeDrive Architecture

The LifeDrive architecture concept entails a Life Module and aforementioned Drive Module which includes more than the bare powertrain as integral.

The Life Module is the name for the passenger compartment, and BMW notes there is no transmission tunnel to impede into interior space.

BMW i3 side

The separation of the Drive Module adds to the greater than might be expected interior space for the small car and its weight distribution is nearly 50/50.

Inside the vehicle makes use of sustainably manufactured materials including an instrument panel surround and door trim use fibers from Kenaf plant. Olive-leaf extract is used to tan interior leather surfaces. A new bio-polymer based on castor oil is used even to construct the key. The owner’s manual is also made from renewable resources, and the car is made in Leipzig at a plant that relies on solar power.

Adding to the list of high quality renewable sources and recycled materials is the Next Premium interior, which BMW says blends sustainable resources with a premium feel for the same interior quality as the BMW 5 Series Sedan. Twenty-five percent of the plastics in the interior and 25 percent of the thermoplastic parts on the exterior are made from either recycled materials or renewable sources.

BMW i3 interior

A magnesium cross-member for instrument panel saves 20 percent weight versus steel, and the layout is oriented toward the driver.

The design is pillar-less and the rear doors are coach style to allow for easy entry and exit to rear seats.

Three trim levels.

All i3 trim levels have a turning circle of 32.3 feet, making it easier to maneuver in an urban setting.

The name BMW is giving its trim levels – which it has not broken out prices for – is “World.” A Mega World, Giga World and Tera World will fill out the lineup.

The Mega World includes 19-inch forged alloy wheels, navigation, the ConnectedDrive infotainment system, eCall collision notification system, an alarm, a 7.4-kw on-board charger and LED headlights and tail lights. Recycled materials are used for the cloth interior.

BMW i3 interior

Next up is the The Giga World package which upgrades the wheels, includes a leather wrapped steering wheeling and wool cloth. It has a garage door opener, sunroof and satellite radio.

The Tera World tops them all with a leather interior, and includes as standard ConnectedDrive and other driver assistance systems.

A Driving Assistant Plus safety system is optional and the i3 has a Collision Warning system that prepares for braking and can stop the car at up to 35 mph to help prevent an accident.

The package includes active cruise control and a stop and start feature.

Ultimate Driving EV

With the perky acceleration and light weight – positioned low and split front to rear, BMW promises a fun-to-drive car that is aimed at more mundane inner-city duties.

Studies have been done as part of BMW’s Project i, involving more than 1,000 participants covering over some 12.5 million miles. BMW found that the average daily distance covered was around 30 miles meaning the range extender is deemed in some cases superfluous.

BMW also touts safety as having been thoroughly engineered in and even emergency rescue procedures have already been worked out.

“In standard cutting tests, the process of rescuing occupants from a BMW i3 involved in an accident was comparable to that for a conventional vehicle,” said BMW. “In some respects, indeed, it was more straightforward since the lighter components can be more easily cut than high-strength steels, for example.”

BMW i3 doors open

The Drive Module was also designed with sustaining a crash with minimal safety risk in mind, as were side impact tests.

It’s a small and indeed light weight car, coming in hundreds of pounds lighter than a Leaf or Ford Focus Electric.

BMW is getting a head start over rivals at Mercedes-Benz Audi with the electrification of the automobile, and cites trends that lend themselves to the effort.

“Since 1999 according to the DOE, average gasoline prices in America have increased from approximately $1.136 to $3.618, or about a 218 percent,” says BMW. “In the same time, the pricing of electricity has increased from 6.6 cents to 9.9 cents, a change of only 50%, making electricity a far more attractive commodity from a pricing standpoint.”

BMW i3 city

Pricing including destination will start at $42,275 and the range-extended version will begin at at $46,125. The battery will include an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty. Included is roadside assistance if the battery loses a charge during a trip and the navigation system does shows charging station locations.

BMW is also offering house calls for customer test drives and special training for dealers. A fee-based loaner vehicle program, arranged by dealers is also available.

For more info, you can consult BMW’s dedicated i3 Web pages.