In July, we got our first look at the i3, BMW's new, electric compact car. At the Frankfurt auto show, BMW brought a swarm of the odd little cars, and we took a closer look.
Along with a dozen floor-standing models, BMW had i3s driving a track that wound its way around the BMW floor space at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, serving to prove this electric car not only moves, but does it silently.
Among the colors on display was this silver and black model. All i3s at the show were two-tone, with white, silver, or bronze body panels accentuated by black trim. Blue highlights, BMW's color of choice for its electrified cars, appeared as accents. The unique thing about the i3 is that the body is made of carbon fiber, visible on the car's doorsills.
The little grille follows the shape of BMW's kidney grille, a long-time design cue. The i3 can be had as an electric-only vehicle, or with a gasoline range extender, a small engine onboard that only serves to recharge the battery pack. On just its battery pack, the i3 has a range of 80 to 100 miles. With the range extender, it can go a total of almost 200 miles.
At 19 inches, these rims look big, but the tires are surprisingly narrow, likely a means of reducing the rolling resistance and thereby increasing the range. The i3's electric motor is at the back, driving the rear wheels, but the narrow tires and 7.2-second zero-to-62-mph time don't suggest it will be any type of performance car.
The design of the i3 looks as quirky in person as it does in photos. Designed more as urban transport, it lacks the aesthetic appeal of other BMW models. BMW says the odd dip at the rear windowsills makes it easier for children, who are more likely to be sitting in the back, to see out.
The charging port can handle a standard J1772 electric-car charging plug or a DC fast-charging plug. BMW says that, with the fast charger, the i3's battery can be brought up to 80 percent capacity in under 30 minutes. From a standard wall outlet, the i3 takes about 8 hours to charge.
With its carbon fiber body, the i3 weighs just a little over 2,600 pounds, very light for a modern car. Yet, BMW notes the body structure is strong enough that the passenger compartment remained uncompromised in a 40-mph frontal offset collision test.
Carriage doors give easy access to front and rear seats. However, a latch point that protrudes at the center can catch your head when exiting the back seats. This door style also means that a rear door cannot be opened without first opening the corresponding front door. Plastic cupholders integrated into the middle of the rear seat limit the i3 to four passengers. Some of the specifications for the i3, such as range, are similar to those of many other production electric cars on the road, but the cabin appointments show some interesting design elements.
The i3 has a free-standing LCD over the steering column, which serves as a virtual instrument cluster. A large stalk sticking out from the right of the steering column works as the drive selector. There is no shifter on the console.
Similar to BMW's standard model lineup, the center LCD sits up as a free-standing piece. It shows standard cabin tech features, such as navigation, phone, and stereo. The navigation system has BMW's Eco Pro mode, which searches for routes with few hills so as to improve efficiency.
BMW further proved the i3 is fully operational by using a few of them as shuttles on the extensive grounds of the Frankfurt auto show. The rear seat proved roomy during a 5-minute drive, but the ride quality proved a little rough when the little car went over paving stones.