It’ll make an interesting conversation at the dealership. “Would sir or madam like her BMW i3 with an engine. Or without? It is on the options list”.
It’s a bold, brave move by BMW to jump into the electric car market with an all-new-from-the-tires-up model rather than simply an electrified version of its 1-Series, or even 3-Series.
It’s even bolder to build it using oh-so-expensive, yet oh-so-light carbon fiber and aluminum for pretty much the entire bodywork.
And bolder still to offer it with, or without a back-up gas motor so as to overcome the fears of those potential buyers with a serious case of ‘range anxiety’.
Without the gas engine you get an i3 with a 170-hp electric motor juiced by a 96-cell lithium-ion battery. Foot to the floor it should sprint from standstill to 60mph in a creditable 7.0 seconds and top out at 93 mph.
That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it’ll run out of juice between 80 and 100 miles. Charging the battery from a 240-volt outlet takes a lengthy four hours, and significantly longer with a regular 120-volt socket. That’s no real improvement over the steel-bodied and pretty conventional electric Nissan Leaf that costs a lot less than the BMW’s $41,350 sticker.
BMW’s solution? To offer a teeny 34-horse 650cc two-cylinder gas motor borrowed from the car maker’s scooter line, operating as a generator. Top up the 2.4-gallon tank, let it rip and it should take you another 160 miles. A total of 260 miles? That’s more like it.
But that scooter engine will cost you just almost $4,000, or two-grand a cylinder. Total price for the gas-aided i3: $45,200. Before government incentives.
What the i3 is however, is BMW’s first in a range of hugely-innovative electric vehicles. Next up, a year after the i3 goes on sale in the U.S. next spring, is the i8 high-performance coupe. You may have seen it driven by Mr. Cruise in the movie Mission Impossible 4.
As for the i3, it’s a truly fascinating product. While it may not be the cutest BMW you’ve seen, this tall, two-box hatchback with offer seats for five and tons of luggage space.
The doors are especially interesting in that they feature rear-hinged, half-width rear panels. Open a front door then swing out the rear one and the entire side of the car is completely open making getting in and out a breeze. If it sounds a little familiar, the old Honda Element van used a similar design.
Don’t expect too much luxury – luxury translates into extra weight, which the i3 shirks. Total weight of the car is a supermodel-skinny 2,700 pounds. The inside panels, for example, are made from hemp-reinforced plastic.
I guess I expected a little more from BMW in moving the electric car ‘needle’ further along. Tesla’s Model S may be considerably more expensive – base price $69,900 – but it provides so much more in terms of range and performance. It also looks gorgeous too, which the BMW certainly isn’t.
That said, I can’t wait to drive it. Though with my range anxiety, I’ll take mine with scooter-power.