The engineers promise the BMW i3 quasi-electric car will be just as fun to drive as any other vehicle they make. It's a bold claim, but they've got some technology to back it up. Here is how it works.
The i3 was designed to be all about maneuverability. Therefore, it has a very small turning circle (32.3 ft), a stiff suspension setup, very direct steering and short overhangs. You get 170 horsepower and peak torque of 184 lb-ft, which is instantly available from the hybrid synchronous electric motor that weights just 110 lbs. That equals to 0-62 mph in seven seconds and a 4.9 second sprint from 50 to 75 mph. Top speed is, unfortunately, limited to 93 mph.
As weight is always an issue with electric cars, the i3's construction pretty much fixes that.
The carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic passenger cell cancels out the 450 lbs extra weight of the lithium-ion battery back, which is positioned low in the middle of the floor. Together with the electric motor mounted close to the driven rear axle, that provides a near perfect 50:50 weight distribution.
The equally important unsprung weight is also low thanks to the 15 lbs forged aluminum wheels and the specially developed 155/70 R19 tires. Those are very skinny, but BMW says the contact patch barely differs from that of the tires fitted on conventional cars, so they're supposed to be grippier than it sounds.
That fancy electric drive revs to 11,400 rpm, but what's the range?
The i3's battery pack consists of eight modules (each with 12 individual cells), producing a rated voltage of 360 volts and generating approximately 22 kilowatt hours of energy. Recuperation mode is activated the moment the driver lifts off the accelerator.
The management system controls both the charging and the discharging processes, as well as the operating temperature of the cells, and BMW designed this battery to last for the full life of the vehicle. However, it's even possible to replace individual modules in the event of a fault.
Europeans can charge their car from a home BMW i charging station, while in the US, it can also be charged from any public charging station with a SAE J1772 connector. When the BMW i3 is plugged into a public DC fast-charging station (50 kW) it only takes about 20 minutes for the battery to reach 80 percent capacity. Not bad.
After 1,000 test customers clocking up more than 12.5 million miles, BMW says the i3 is capable of covering a distance of 80 – 100 miles from a full charge. This number can be increased by 12% using Eco Pro, and another 12% using Eco Pro+ mode. I guess that means a significant lack of power. If even that's not enough, the i3 can be ordered with a range-extender engine, which maintains the charge of the lithium-ion battery at a constant level while on the move as soon as it dips below a specified value.
This role is performed by a 650cc two-cylinder gasoline engine developing 34 hp, which is mounted adjacent to the electric motor above the rear axle. The range extender increases the car’s maximum range in day-to-day driving to around 160 – 180 miles. That's still no Volkswagen XL1 territory, but then again, the i3 is designed for a different purpose.
The gadgets don't stop with the drivetrain. There's an embedded SIM card connecting the car to your phone, to satellites and all the alien lifeforms out there. The i3 will tell you where's a parking place, alongside a pedestrian navigation function for finding the way from the parked car to the final destination and back again. My dad would love this.
Public transport info? No problem.
When back in the car again, naturally, there is collision warning with instant braking activated at speeds up to about 35 mph. There's active cruise control, and for a bit of extra cash, the i3 will perform the steering maneuvers at the same time as controlling accelerator, brake and gear selection, enabling fully automated parallel parking. You can also go for a rear view camera and other goodies to keep you in your lane.
The i3 is expected to cost about as much as a 3-Series. That's not bad for such a hi-tech vehicle, but more importantly:
Do you like the idea?
Photo credit: BMW