BMW i3 electric car revealed
The i3 is a Ford Fiesta-sized supermini that's designed for 'mega cities' such as London, where the ability to run on fully electric power is an advantage — and is expected to become more so in the coming years.
It is available as a fully electric model, or as a range-extender that uses a two-cylinder petrol engine (based on a motorcycle unit) to keep the electric motor's battery pack from being fully discharged.
The new model is on sale now; it costs from £25,680 after Government grants, which is around the same as a high-spec Nissan Leaf. BMW is also offering innovative lease agreements on the car, as well as the ability to access conventionally powered vehicles for a specified number of days per year.
What's the BMW i3 like?
The i3 manages to look like a BMW — without looking like a BMW. The twin-kidney front grille is present as usual, but it sits at the front of an extremely short bonnet. The vehicle is taller than most other small cars – it's about the same height as BMW's X1 crossover.
The supermini-sized i3 is powered by a 168bhp electric motor, mated to a single-speed gearbox and driving the rear wheels. Its top speed is 93mph, and it does 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds (0-37mph takes just 3.7 seconds). It has a range of between 80 and 100 miles in normal driving — more in the Eco Pro modes — and can reach a full charge in eight hours (or more quickly if you have a charging box installed on your house wall).
There will also be a range-extender version that includes a 34bhp two-cylinder petrol engine to keep the electric motor's battery pack from running flat. This version is not quite as quick (0-62mph takes 7.9 seconds), but its range is 80 miles longer. CO2 emissions for the range-extender model are 13g/km.
What's the BMW i3 like inside?
The dashboard layout mixes a minimalist, deliberately high-tech look with natural materials such as eucalyptus. It manages to feel airy in the front, but a little dingy and dark in the rear; the final production car will have an extra chunk of side glass, though, which may help matters here.
The main instrument panel will be a single LCD display, and BMW will offer a choice of central screens for infotainment and satellite-navigation (either a 6.5-inch standard unit, called Business, or a 10.25-inch widescreen system that will be called Professional).
The sat-nav will have extra functionality that will show you the current range on a map (based on your current driving mode and the range-maximising Eco Pro+ setting, and a number of other parameters, including your driving style). It will also point you towards charging points and, providing the network operators are playing ball, let you know if the plug sockets are free or not. Future applications will include the ability to reserve parking spaces alongside public charging points.
That aside, the cabin features familiar BMW switches for indicators and the stereo, and its iDrive controller is present and correct between the front seats. The gear selector is pretty novel, though; you switch the car on and off, and move it between Drive, Reverse and Park, via a large, clunky stalk unit mounted on the right side of the steering column. It'll take some getting used to – but it does free up space between the front seats.
Rear passengers have to wait until the front doors are opened before they can open up their own rear-hinged doors. Once they've done so, though, access to the back seats is decent enough, thanks to the absence of a central pillar on the side – and you can also fold the front seats forwards to further open up the aperture. Rear passengers will probably notice how high their feet and knees are — a result, no doubt, of the battery pack under the floor — so larger adults may grumble after longer journeys.
The boot is small by modern supermini standards — reasonably wide, but shallow because of the high floor. There are 200 litres of space with the rear seats in place, and up to 1100 litres if you lower them. There's room for a decent amount of shopping in there, though.
How much will the BMW i3 cost?
The i3 will cost £30,680 outright, but this price will drop to £25,680 when a Government grant of £5000 is taken into consideration. This means the car costs around the same as a top-spec Nissan Leaf, but around £10k more than a range-topping Renault Zoe. It'll be sold through a UK network of 47 specialised BMW dealers.
BMW has also confirmed that the car will be available on a contract hire deal; customers pay an initial £2995 (including VAT), then a monthly payment of £369 (including VAT). The contract lasts three years and includes 8000 miles per year.
These prices are solely for the full-electric i3, which has a range of between 80 and 100 miles. The range-extender model costs £3150 more than the EV version, starting at £28,830 after the Government grant. Contract hire deals on the range-extender will also be available.
UK-spec i3 models will get AC Fast Charging as standard. This can take the i3's battery from zero to 80% charge in just three hours, and perform a full charge in four hours.
The system can use BMW's optional i Wallbox, which can be installed at the customer's home for an additional £315; BMW says it is choosing energy partners who can offer 'green electricity' to make these wallbox charges emissions-free.
If an AC Fast Charging point is not available, the i3 can be charged using a regular household socket. This set-up is much slower, at eight to 10 hours for a full charge.
Ultra-fast DC Rapid Charging — that can take the i3 from zero to 80% charge in around half an hour — will be available as an option, although there are currently very few public DC charging points in the UK.
The BMW i3 is on sale now, with the first UK deliveries scheduled before the end of the year.
By John McIlroy