BMW recently expanded the i3 line-up with a performance-oriented trim named i3s.
BMW took the extensive - and expensive - route of developing an all-new platform and architecture instead of basing the i3 on a production model. As a result, there are none of the compromises typically associated with EVs born out of a gas-powered car.
The clean sheet design takes two forms - the "life module" and the "drive module." The life module - the i3's passenger cell - uses carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) to trim weight while maintaining the strength of steel. The boxy i3 tips the scale at 2,961 pounds and earns the distinction of being the first regular-production car to pack a carbon fiber passenger cell.
The drive module is made out of aluminum and houses the car's drivetrain.
The i3's appearance might take some getting used to. Clearly intended to be a city car, the i3 is sized about like the automaker's entry-level 1-Series but its shape was designed both to maximize interior space and improve aerodynamics. At the rear, the car's diffuser is both eye-catching in blue (except on Solar Orange i3s) and aero-enhancing.
The i3 rides on 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in ultra-narrow 155/70-19 tires to reduce rolling resistance and improve the car's turning circle.
Suicide-style mini rear doors combine with a low, flat floor to give the i3 excellent access and a feeling of spaciousness inside. About as roomy as the automaker's larger 3-Series, the i3 is designed to emulate the midsize 5 Series in terms of the premium feel its cabin provides.
To that end, BMW selected upmarket materials, 25 percent of which are composed of either recycled or renewably-sourced materials. For example, the Eucalyptus wood trim used in its dashboard was "responsibly forested."
Since there is no conventional transmission, BMW saw fit to leave some space between the small center console and the dashboard itself. The design is a boon for urban users since it allows passengers to exit from either side of the vehicle.
BMW's iDrive control knob makes an appearance in the center console, where it operates a high-resolution iPad Mini-like display. The firm's touchpad-based Navigation Professional is optional on all i3s.
The i3 is powered by a 33 kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the passenger compartment and a 170-horsepower, 184-lb-ft of torque synchronous electric motor. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission, enabling the i3 to sprint from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. Top speed is reached at 93 mph.
The i3s benefits from an upgraded motor rated at 184 horses and 199 pound-feet of twist. The additional power lowers the i3's zero-to-60-mph time to 6.8 seconds. The s model also brings a full sport mode that makes the i3 more engaging to drive.
The i3 doesn't have to be fully electric: An optional 650cc, 34-horsepower two-cylinder gasoline-burning range extender works like a generator to provide the battery with additional charge. The range extender only kicks in when truly needed and it does not send power directly to the i3's drive wheels.
Without the range extender, the i3 is essentially relegated to urban motoring thanks to its 97-mile range. Range extender attached, i3 drivers can expect something closer to 180 miles. A full charge is available in four and a half hours when the car is plugged into a home charger.
Trim Level Breakdown
The i3 is available in three trim levels: Deka World, Giga World and Tera World.
Deka World comes standard with 19-inch forged aluminum wheels, navigation, BMW's ConnectedDrive infotainment system, keyless entry, a universal garage door opener, an alarm, a 7.4-kilowatt on-board charger and LED headlights. Cloth and "Sensatec" fabric cover the seats, while the steering wheel is wrapped in leather.
Stepping up to the Giga trim adds leather and wool cloth upholstery, a universal garage door opener, unique alloy wheels, a proximity key a sunroof and SiriusXM satellite radio.
Finally, Tera models feature full leather upholstery and anthracite floor mats.
In addition to 20-inch wheels, Navigation Professional and the aforementioned range extender, BMW offers the i3 with two option packages.
The Technology and Driving Assist package bundles a wide array of electronic driving aids including the wide-screen Navigation Professional with a touch pad and real-time traffic information, Traffic Jam Assist, Deceleration Assistant, ACC Stop & Go, Forward Collision Warning and Pedestrian Protection with City Collision Mitigation.
The Parking Assist package adds a rear-view camera, Park Assistant and Front Auto Park Distance Control.
All i3s regardless of trim level come standard with front and side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, brake assist, a brake drying function and traction control.
For the time being the BMW i3 is essentially alone in the premium battery-powered compact segment. Buyers on a budget can look at a fully-loaded Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Bolt, which both retail for several thousand dollars less. Patient motorists can also get in line for a Tesla Model 3.