EFTM First Look: BMW i3 Electric Car

There’s a common trend among car companies globally to demonstrate their vision for the future and their environmental sustainability.  We’ve seen the Nissan Leaf, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and of course the Holden Volt.  This week, EFTM got a first look at the BMW i3.

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

Designed from the ground up, the BMW i3 is everything innovation from BMW.  Built to showcase the future for BMW and to lead off a new sub-brand for BMW the i3 will be available in Australia in mid-2014.

Everyone knows the M series when it comes to BMW – speed, performance, power, the raw thumping BMW passion in a select range of vehicles.

To balance the world of BMW a little, the i series of vehicles will stand for a visionary mobility, inspiring design and a new appreciation for premium when it comes to new cars – or at least that’s what BMW is hoping.

In late 2014 BMW Australia will bring a pre-production i8 to the country – the i8 is the “Supercar to aspire to” from the BMW i range.

Today, there is a single i3 in Australia, flown in by BMW to begin the showcase of this new arm of the business.

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

Imagine this; Mini Cooper S performance, shorter than the BMW 1 series, space inside like a 3 series, and the premium appeal of the 5 series.  That’s how BMW pitch the i3.

Sitting inside the i3 there is no doubt it has all the hallmarks of BMW luxury, and the space is ample up front.  In the back once you get inside through the coach style doors which require the front door to open to get the rear door open, you’ll find seating for two adults, with space to be comfortable – on short drives anyway, I don’t think it really matches the 3 series for space though.

Drivers view in the i3

Drivers view in the i3

The driver has a 5 inch display as the dashboard console with a 10 inch display in the centre of the whole dash for the infotainment system.  A system I might add which features a Digital Radio which showcases the Australian digital stations beautifully.

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

Controlled by the familiar BMW single turn dial in-between the driver and passenger, a handy little innovation which will be in many BMW’s in 2014 is the ability to write on the dial to navigate through long alphabetical menus.  So no more twisting the dial for A then twist again for F and on and on and on to type out an address, now you can simply use your finger to write a letter followed by another and another to literally type the information on screen.


Storage under the "bonnet"

Storage under the “bonnet”

Under the “hood” is a 35litre storage space.  There’s no engine there.  The whole vehicle is essentially two separate parts.  Down low an aluminium base or drive module which has the battery and electric motor, while on top slips a fully carbon fibre composite occupant module.  Reminded me of the way a Formula One car is split into cockpit and mechanical with the cockpit providing ultimate safety for the driver, and in this case all the occupants.

The battery sits along under the floor between the wheelbase and weighs 230kg.  This is offset by a several hundred kilogram saving in weight by using carbon fibre for the occupant module.

With an 8 year 100,000km warranty the battery has 22kW of power, 18.8kW being usable – the rest keeps it going.

The two part construction of the 13 - Carbon Fibre upper matches to drivetrain and battery storage in the aluminium lower

The two part construction of the 13 – Carbon Fibre upper matches to drivetrain and battery storage in the aluminium lower

Rear wheel drive means we should see a nice driving feeling and combined with the low centre of gravity we can expect a very BMW feeling on the road.

Overall the fully electric version weighs in at 1195kg, the electric motor produces 125kW of power, and 250Nm of torque.  The range of the electric motor is 130-160km, when you step into the eco modes (and lose any seat heating or air conditioning) you might just push 200km.

Alternatively, and perhaps more appealing, the i3 comes in two optional configurations of power.  There is a range extended version which also squeezes in a 650cc two-cylinder BMW motorbike engine de-tuned just for this purpose.  With a 9litre tank on board you’ll extend the range almost double.

Rear luggage compartment

Rear luggage compartment

Importantly, the addition of the petrol engine, while it will come at an extra cost, won’t compromise luggage space in the back – it fits into a spot that’s just empty in the electric only version.

This range extended version is very similar in configuration to the Holden VOLT which uses the petrol engine to sustain the battery level as your drive.

Plastic body means no chips or scratches (as easy as on metal)

Plastic body means no chips or scratches (as easy as on metal)

On the outside there is one fascinating feature – no paint.  This helps the factory cut its energy use and stay sustainable off 100% renewable energy.  But the car is available in six colours you say? How is there no paint?  easy – the coloured body panels are all plastic – the plastic comes in the colour of the car and is not actually painted that way.  This also helps with any accidental door issues – such as shutting the front door before the rear door – the rear door bangs into the front door but doesn’t chip or scratch.

It has all the hallmarks of a BMW – the badge, the kidney grill – although it’s not a grill, it’s just a design – there’s not even a single hole within that kidney shape because of course there is no radiator.

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

Charging at home from your standard wall power point will take 11 hours.  Buy the optional i Accessory  the Wall Box and once installed by an electrician it will provide a 6 hour charge (at 3.7kW / 16amps instead of your standard 1.8mW / 8amps).

BMW i3 Wall Box charger

BMW i3 Wall Box charger

In public spaces AC fast charging can get you down to 3 hours, or, if in the rare occasion you find a DC fast charging station it’s just 25 mins to charge!

Note however, as with the range extended version, the wall box and much more, it’s an optional extra to have the DC and AC fast charging fitted to the car.

Like the Volt, this car appeals to two types of people – the green environmentally conscious, and the early adopter looking to be the first to have it, or be the “one with that BMW Electric car”

This is the start of a long journey for BMW, to educate Australia that they have this technology, and to create what is known as a “halo effect” around this car – they won’t sell in huge quantities, but they will earn BMW a reputation for innovation and environmental sustainability.

Then as time goes on, we’ll see elements of this, and future i series vehicles from BMW find their way into the mainstream BMW range – and who knows, maybe the circle will complete itself with innovations in the i series coming to M series BMW’s too.

The first BMW i3 in Australia revealed at BMW headquarters

The first BMW i3 in Australia revealed at BMW headquarters

There is no indication from BMW on price, however going by global pricing we can expect it to be between $50,000 and $70,000 – and that’s without looking at the options list.

Due on sale in mid 2014, the queue has already formed and orders are already being taken.  Stand by over the next 8 months for the BMW i3 roadshow in flagship dealerships across Australia.

Oh, and did I mention – there’s an app for that!  The BMW i Connected Drive app will let you check the range and power status, start the car and set the climate control before you even get in.


EFTM Travelled to Melbourne as a guest of BMW

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