BMW has revealed the first two cars that will form the core of its alternative propulsion "i" sub-brand. The i3 is a pure electric compact hatchback — around the same as a Mini, but taller — that's aimed at urban commuters, while the i8 is a plug-in hybrid supercar that builds on the Vision EfficientDynamics concept.
Power is provided to the rear wheels by an electric motor positioned over the rear axle. There's 125kW of power and 250Nm of torque at the driver's disposal, and this allows the car to go from rest to 100km/h in under eight seconds; top speed is limited to 150km/h and range is estimated at between 130km and 160km. Aiding performance, as well as efficiency, the i3's body is made from lightweight, but expensive, carbon fibre-reinforced plastic; all up, the i3 weighs 1250kg.
A large bank of Lithium-ion battery cells reside in the i3's undercarriage below the passenger compartment. Recharging from empty takes about six hours, although a high-speed charger allows the batteries to fill to 80 per cent capacity in an hour.
In terms of practicality, the i3 seats four people all up, with entry and egress to the rear seats via doors that are hinged backwards. The capacity of the boot is 200 litres and, like a mid-engined sports car, there's additional storage space under the bonnet.
To complement its future-friendly drivetrain, the i3 is able to park itself, controlling all throttle, steering and braking functions. So long as the driver keeps a hand on the steering wheel, the Traffic Jam Assistant is able to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, as well as accelerate, brake and provide minor steering inputs in stop-start traffic up to 40km/h.
Smartphone applications will allow owners to plan their journeys around charging stations, monitor and configure car charging and thermally precondition the car's batteries — the latter is especially important in extremely cold or hot climates where battery temperature has a large effect on range, efficiency and performance.
The i3 is currently in the concept car stage, so some of its more fanciful features are likely to be toned down for production. Neither of BMW's i cars have been confirmed for Australia, but the local arm of BMW is hoping to have them on sale locally in 2015.