These are the clearest ‘spyshots’ of the BMW i3 yet, and that’s because they’re official photos released by BMW. Like the spyshots we’ve featured before, the two cars here are different – the orange car is a regular EV version of the i3 while the silver car has two fuel lids, which point to a range extended version of the car.
The 3,999 mm long BMW i3 is built on the LifeDrive platform, which we covered in 2011. In the i3, it has a wheelbase of 2,570 mm. One part of the platform called the Drive area contains all the eDrive components such as the electric motor, the electronics and the high voltage lithium ion battery, while the passengers sit in a lightweight carbon fibre reinforced passenger cell which is the Life part. As the motor sits at the rear axle driving the rear wheels, no centre tunnel is necessary.
Because this is a new platform that’s designed to contain EV components instead of trying to force the differently shaped batteries and motors into a platform designed to contain a combustion engine and a fuel tank, the positioning of the different components can be optimum, both maximising passenger space as well as ensuring weight is distributed low in the car in a perfectly balanced 50:50. BTW, remember those narrow but large wheels that we saw on the spyshots? We know the size now – they’re 155/70R19. BMW says this size allows a good balance between dynamics and drag.
The pure electric version of the car uses an electric motor can produce 170 hp and a peak torque of 250 Nm, all of which are available from the get go. The motor can rev up to 11,400 rpm and weighs 50 kg. 0 to 100 km/h takes just 7.2 seconds, which is pretty brisk, enough to qualify the 1,195 kg BMW i3 as an unorthodox-looking hot hatch of sorts. 80 km/h to 120 km/h takes 4.9 seconds, and the car is limited to a top speed of 150 km/h in the interests of efficiency.
Putting your foot on the accelerator pedal gets the i3 going, but lifting it off instantly starts recuperation mode, which reclaims the car’s forward kinetic energy to recharge the batteries. BMW engineers call this the single pedal control concept, though of course a brake pedal is available. The amount of recuperation is speed-sensitive – it generates a strong braking effect at low speeds but this effect is reduced at high speeds to allow the car to ‘coast’ along at maximum efficiency.
We had a try at this concept in the electric 1-Series we had the opportunity to drive last year, and it feels like heavy engine braking that activates anytime you lift your foot off the pedal. It’s possible to drive around the city without much use of the brake pedal, which encourages you to allow maximum energy to be reclaimed, without much going to waste through the mechanical brakes. And in case you’re wondering, yes, BMW has configured the rear brake lights to come on even during recuperation since the car would be slowing down more than normal engine braking.
The BMW i3’s 230 kg lithium ion battery will allow the EV to travel about 130 km to 160 km in everyday driving, and if you activate ECO PRO mode, you can gain an additional 20 km, and a further 20 km if you drive in ECO PRO+ mode. The range extender version adds a 650 cc two-cylinder petrol engine rated at 34 hp, mounted next to the electric motor above the rear axle. This engine can burn petrol from its nine litre fuel tank located in the front section of the car to recharge the batteries, increasing the car’s maximum range to about 300 km. The fuel lid can be seen below the A-pillar on the silver car.
The lithium ion battery pack consists of eight modules, each consisting of 12 individual cells, which together produce a rated voltage of 360V and is able to generate about 22kWh of energy. It is possible to replace individual modules in the event of a fault – you do not have to change the entire pack. The battery pack is produced at an assembly line at BMW Plant Dingolfing.
You may wonder how charging will work with the i3. You can either charge the car from a conventional domestic wall outlet, or have a BMW i Wallbox installed, which can charge the i3 in about six hours. There are different versions of the Wallbox available depending on the country as you know different countries use different current and voltage for their power grid.
A public fast charging station will charge the i3 up to 80% in just half an hour. The good news is we checked with a source in BMW Malaysia on whether the First Energy Networks’ public charging station network being built in Malaysia would be technically compatible with the BMW i3, the answer was yes.
The BMW i3 will be launched at the end of this month at multiple launch locations worldwide simultaneously, and we’ll be back then with more details on the production car.