Southern California drivers are quite familiar with the sight of electric cars.
Our endless commutes, high gas prices and lack of bad weather make energy-efficient travel more useful here than other parts of the world.
Some BMW drivers might look at the parade of Priuses flying solo in the carpool lane and think, “Why not me?”, only to realize that they don’t want to give up the premium comfort and precision of the Ultimate Driving Machine.
Fortunately, the good people in Munich have heard your prayers, and BMW’s electric flagship has been turning heads and racking up awards since its introduction to the marketplace in 2013. The i3, BMW’s first zero-emissions mass-produced vehicle, is the Ultimate (Electric) Driving Machine.
BMW’s engineers outdid themselves with the i3. The car is the first real-world application of the “skateboard platform” concept, where the chassis is a completely separate unit from the passenger cell.
BMW named this construction method “LifeDrive” – the skateboard chassis is the Drive module, and the passenger pod is the Life module.
The Drive module and much of the framework is aluminum, and the Life module is made from carbon fiber with composite body panels. The lightweight materials allow the electric-only version of the car to weigh just 2,900 pounds.
The “range extender” option, which adds a small conventional engine and even smaller 1.9-gallon fuel tank, packs on another 300 pounds, though this option is still about 200 pounds lighter than a Nissan Leaf. (Note: the motor engages to keep the battery charged, so the car never runs on the motor directly.)
Despite the lack of mass, the 4-door ultimate (electric) driving machine seats four occupants, and its dimensions are slightly larger than the Mini Cooper and BMW 1 Series but smaller than the BMW 3 Series.
Like other electric cars, the i3 can’t match the premium stylings BMW is known for, but it does include a dynamic sweeping roof and beltine for a sportier shape than most electrics. The design is impressive enough to establish a new benchmark for what electric cars can look like.
Of course, the ultimate (electric) driving machine couldn’t show its face around the dealership (or the Dealership Alternative!) without great balance and precision handling. The car goes from 0-60 in less than 7 seconds, and offers quick, responsive steering that BMW drivers expect.
While the i3 has an accelerator pedal and a brake pedal like other cars with automatic transmissions, most drivers find themselves only using the former.
The acceleration pedal also acts as an engine brake, as the drivetrain regenerates the vehicle’s kinetic energy to recharge the battery.
This slows the car down noticeably – in fact, one BMW study showed that drivers used the “natural” slowdown from releasing the accelerator pedal in about 75% of urban traffic situations.
The above advances and more have made the i3 a leader in its class. As of July 2014, the BMW i3 was certified by the EPA as the most fuel efficient vehicle of all years, regardless of fuel type. The EPA estimates the i3’s range at 81 miles per charge, or 127/107 MPGe. The optional range-extending gas engine boosts the total range to 150 miles, easing some dead-battery concerns.
Selected Awards (2014)
- World Green Car of the Year
- World Car Design of the Year
- iF Product Design Gold Award
- UK Car of the Year
- German Design Award
- Automotive Interiors Expo Award
BMW i3: The Ultimate (Electric) Driving Machine
The BMW i3 walks a very delicate tightrope – maintaining BMW’s high standards while creating something entirely new, under exacting specifications. If electric cars are leading us into what Car and Driver calls “a smarter, dorkier future,” the i3 might be the first to earn a seat at the cool kid’s table.