First Look Kinda Sorta: 2014 BMW i3 Should Be Another Electric Car You'll Actually Want

By Jacob Brown | July 10, 2013
What you see before youisn't the 2014 BMW i3; you are looking at pictures of prototypes still bedecked in a little bit of camouflage, which will come off when the official 2014 BMW i3 takes place on July 29. What you see now is just a few strips of vinyl away from what has been a years-long project for BMW to bring an electric car to the masses, originally called its Mega City Vehicle. The first car BMW has designed from the ground up as an electric car, it adopts BMW's LifeDrive lightweight carbon fiber structure and styling unlike any other BMW, much less any other car, on the road. With it, BMW hopes to bring another premium EV to the market to compete against everything from the Nissan Leaf to the Tesla Model S.
What's New LifeDrive is a lightweight concept that BMW will be using in its new electric cars, focusing on an ultra-stiff carbon fiber structure. Whereas the BMW ActiveE 1 Series we drove more than a year ago borders on two tons, the BMW i3 comes in at 2,630 pounds in European configuration, including its relatively lightweight battery pack, which weighs 450 lbs. and has an energy density of 22 kilowatt hours, which is 2 kWh shy of the far heavier Nissan Leaf's battery.
Like every other BMW, the i3 is set up to have a 50:50 front to rear weight distribution, which BMW says will help contribute to the car's dynamic handling capabilities. Sticking with the urban mobility theme, the BMW i3 has an ultra-tight 32.3-foot turning circle, with 2.5 turns from lock to lock in the steering rack. And the car will put its power to the ground with an odd 155/70R19 tire size, which is about as narrow as you'd see on a 1990s economy car with a 19-inch rim. It looks awkward, but it works in providing a low rolling resistance that's optimal for an electric vehicle. Inside, the 2014 BMW i3 will feature a version of BMW's ConnectedDrive infotainment suite that's optimized for electric vehicles, coming with a smartphone-based route planner that will help i3 drivers find the location of chargers, public transportation, and walking paths to get where they want to be. ConnectedDrive will also use the car's navigation system to check elevation, availability of quicker routes, help the manage battery power for maximum range, and even suggest switching into Eco Pro or Eco Pro+ modes for better efficiency.
Motor and Drivetrain (Engine Optional) Like the BMW ActiveE 1 Series, the BMW i3 will adopt a 170-horsepower electric motor that will power the rear wheels. BMW says the motor weighs just 110 pounds. Combined with the 22-kWh battery pack, the i3 will be able to travel an estimated 80 to 100 miles per charge, using a standard Level 2 charger that will allow it to charge up to 80-percent capacity in just 20 minutes when paired to an available DC quick charger at a public station.
Because of the car's svelte proportions, BMW says the 2014 i3 will be able to accelerate from 0 to 60 in about 7 seconds on up to an electronically limited 93 mph top speed. The i3 also has a "one-pedal" driving style that is aggressive in brake energy recapture that when the driver steps off the accelerator. Consequently, the BMW i3's weight, power, and performance are nearly on par with the E30-series BMW 3 Series from the 1980s and early 1990s. That car could travel much farther than 100 miles, though. What's BMW solution to that problem, you ask? The BMW i3 will be available with a 650 cc two-cylinder engine borrowed from its motorcycle division that produces 34 horsepower. If you're worried about that lack of grunt, there's no need to fret, as the engine will be sitting in the back of the car only to be used to feed energy back into the battery pack. That will help extend the i3's range by approximately 60 miles via a 2.4-gallon gas tank that will be located in the front of the vehicle.
Our Thoughts We've not yet seen the vehicle in the carbon fiber reinforced plastic, so we can't tell you how its interior is or what its details are like. We've only gotten to poke around the original BMW i3 and i3 coupe concept cars a handful of times. That said, this narrow, frumpy-looking car should be much cooler in-person than it appears in pictures.
In fact, we think it's going to be really cool. The 2014 BMW i3 is bringing carbon fiber technology to the masses, and it should have plenty of performance to satisfy most people. It's a different sort of vehicle than anything we've ever seen from BMW, and we think there's certainly a market for it. But how big is that market? Both the Cadillac ELR and Tesla Model S occupy that green luxury niche. What can BMW bring to the table that those can't? What it will all come down to is price. In Europe, BMW is pricing the car at around 40,000 euros, or approximately $53,000. Is that too much for an electric car? If you ask Tesla or Toyota with its RAV4 EV, it's not. But this isn't a large luxury sedan or crossover. It's a small city car. When the 2014 BMW i3 comes to the U.S., we think its success will largely depend on two things: How many BMW loyalists can be swayed to go electric, and at what price will customers consider this new small-car entry from Bavaria's sports sedan Goliath?