BMW i3 Concept: First Look

By Colin Bird  on July 29, 2011

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  • Looks like: BMW is proudly attaching its emblem to this little electric
  • Defining characteristics: It’s an full-blown electric car, gunning for the Nissan Leaf 
  • Ridiculous features:  Expensive carbon-fiber bodywork usually reserved for sports cars
  • Chances of being mass-produced: 100% confirmed

BMW has been hyping its electric-vehicle platform for a few years now with the likes of the BMW ActiveE and Mini E pilot vehicles, but today we got the closest glimpse of the automaker’s first production-intent all-electric car — the i3 concept.

The BMW i3 concept, previously known as the 2013 Megacity EV, will be optimally equipped to operate in city environments, the automaker says. The four-seat i3 concept has an estimated 93-mile range and can be charged to 80% of its capacity within an hour when using a quick-charging unit.

What’s different about this EV compared with the Nissan Leaf is the use of lightweight carbon fiber materials and what BMW says are more driver-centric focused ride and handling attributes.

The i3 concept is primarily composed of a carbon fiber/plastic composite. The material’s weight should completely offset the usual weight that accompanies an electric vehicle’s battery pack, which can be between 550 and 770 pounds of additional weight compared to a gasoline car, BMW says.

The weight decrease means the i3 should get better efficiencies out of its lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor. The mostly carbon fiber body will also “provide superb safety in the event of a collision,” BMW says.

The compact electric motor and single-speed transmission are stored underneath the rear cargo area, which means there is a secondary cargo compartment under the hood with approximately 7 cubic feet of space available. The front and rear seats are bench seats, with a high-mounted center console. BMW says this means both passengers and the driver can exit from either side of the car, which can be helpful if you park too close to a wall or a high curb on one side, for instance. The rear-hinged rear doors means there is no need for a center B-pillar structure in the i3, which should help entry.

BMW will also maintain its driver-centric focus with the i3. The EV features a rear-wheel-drive format, a dynamic wheel load transfer system and a slip control system to make sure that every available unit of power is transferred to the ground. The i3 is powered by a 170-horsepower electric motor, which generates 184 pounds-feet of torque; that’s the same motor found on the BMW ActiveE. The i3 accelerates from 0 to 37 mph in less than four seconds and from zero to 62 mph in less than eight seconds. It has a top speed of 93 mph.

The agile handling could be the distinctive attribute that separates the i3 from the Leaf, which has similar range and power attributes (though the Leaf is actually pretty agile, too). Of course, there aren’t many vehicles made out of carbon fiber today that cost less than $100,000, so the big difference will likely be with pricing. No, we don’t expect a six-digit price tag for the i3, but don’t get your hopes up for a Leaf-like $350-a-month lease either.

The BMW i3 will be built in a new German car factory and is scheduled to go on sale in 2013.

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