BMW's lightweight, electric i3 looks like it's from the future (pictures)

More mobile gadget than compact car, there's nothing on the road that looks like the 2014 BMW i3.


Antuan Goodwin

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2014 BMW i3 with Range Extender

Although it shares many design cues and materials, the compact 2014 BMW i3 with Range Extender is very different animal from its big sister.

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City car, city sized

The compact hatchback is a city car with a small, easily parkable footprint.

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Design elements

Along with its two-toned design, the i3 shares its metallic blue detailing and U-shaped LED illumination with the larger, more exotic i8.

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Integrated lights

The tail lights are integrated and flush with the glossy tailgate.

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Shiny mobility

The i3's design is makes it seem more like a shiny mobile gadget than an automobile.

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Electric motor

The i3 is powered by a 125 kW electric motor on its rear axle. In more familiar terms, the i3 is good for 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.

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Belt line

The i3's belt line dips dramatically to enlarge the rear windows.

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Coach doors

The front doors open like you'd expect, but the back coach doors are rear hinged.

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Optional range extender

The i3 is available with an optional range extender, a two-cylinder gasoline generator that adds to the EV's cruising range.

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Electricity goes here

The i3 can cruise for about 74 electric-powered miles after a full charge.

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Recharging the battery pack takes about 5 hours from a level 2 fast-charging station. In a pinch, drivers can plug the EV into a standard wall outlet using the included charging cable, but that dramatically increases the charging time to well over 12 hours.

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Gasoline goes here

When the battery level dips below 5 percent, the optional range extender kicks in to add about 75 more miles of cruising range.

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Range extender

The range extender doesn't have a physical connection to the powertrain; it just generates electricity. It also can't refill the battery pack, merely sustaining about a 5 percent charge.

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Regeneration and recapture

The regenerative braking system is very aggressive. As soon as the driver lifts a foot from the accelerator, the vehicle begins to slow, reclaiming energy.

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Front seats

Inside, the i3's cabin is airy and spacious. The front seats are thinner than in a conventional vehicle, freeing up valuable knee room for the rear-seat passengers.

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Light interior

The dashboard is low and the windows large, which lets a lot of light into the EV's cabin and aids in driver visibility.

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Materials mix

BMW uses an interesting mix of materials in the cabin. There's wood, wool, exposed carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, leather and metal.

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Premium interior

With its multilevel design and mix of materials, the i3's dashboard is a gorgeous work of art.

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Floating at the center of the dashboard is the color display for the the standard navigation and infotainment system.

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iDrive controller

That central screen is not touch sensitive, so drivers interact with it via the iDrive controller. I'm not a fan, but other CNET editors are enamored of this control scheme.

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Navigation is standard and features routing algorithms that take into account the range and efficiency of the electric powertrain.

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The i3's steering is very responsive -- almost to a fault. I found the front end to be a bit too darty and twitchy at first, but quickly got used to the compact's agile handling.

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Gear selector

To free up space, the i3 doesn't use a standard console shift lever. Instead there's this weird steering-column gear selector.

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Shifting the i3

The driver nudges the selector forward to choose Drive and backward for Reverse. Park is activated by a button atop the stalk.

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Eco Pro+

To help the driver to exceed the EPA's estimated 74 mile EV range, the i3 features three driving modes. Comfort is the default setting. Eco Pro adjusts the throttle map for more efficient driving. Eco Pro+ is the most extreme setting, limiting the speed to 56 mph and deactivating the climate control.

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Instrument cluster

The instrument cluster is another tablet-like LCD which showcases the current speed, estimated EV range, and estimated range extender range.

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Driver aid

The i3 is available with some fairly advanced driver aid and intervention tech, but our example was equipped with only a rear camera and parking distance sensors.

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