BMW i3 : This is the future of electric cars.
BMW i3 unveiled in London, New York and Beijing
BMW has unveiled its brand new i3 electric car in a trio of synchronous events taking place in the
‘megacities’ of London, New York and Beijing. Built largely from carbonfibre, the 2013 BMW i3 is the
world’s first ‘premium’ electric car, but also one of the most technologically advanced vehicles on sale.
Designed to provide a zero emissions solution chiefly aimed at city centre dwellers, the new i3 goes
on sale in November, priced from £25,680 (approx. $39,000). However, a Range Extender version
complete with on-board generator will also be offered for those who want to travel further. Is this the
future of the car?
1.What is the BMW i3?
The BMW i3 is a ‘compact’ car – but due to the unique nature of its design it offers a great deal of
space inside, being taller than a BMW X1 with a wider track than a BMW 7 Series.
Conceived as an electric vehicle from the very start, the i3 carries nothing superfluous and has all of
its components very cunningly positioned to maximise interior room and safety.
2.What is the range of the BMW i3?
The first thing anyone wants to know about an electric vehicle is how far it can go on a single battery
charge. And in the i3’s case, your initial response may be one of disappointment, with BMW saying it
can cover between 80 and 100 miles (approx. 129-161km). Contrast that with the latest Nissan Leaf,
which claims 124 miles (approx. 200km).
However, not only does BMW quote this figure in terms of ‘everyday driving’, it also says that the
included “Eco Pro” driving mode should increase this by 15%, with “Eco Pro+” extending it 15% again.
3.Is there a solution to ‘range anxiety’ in the BMW i3?
BMW has been researching electric car use in the real world since 2009, with prototype programmes
involving the MINI E and the later 1 Series ActiveE. And it feels that the i3’s range should be more
than enough for the vast majority of daily commutes.
This is supported by a UK government report that found the average British daily commute is around
25 miles (approx. 40km). If that still doesn’t satisfy you, there is always the i3 Range Extender, which,
with its on-board petrol generator, can travel up to 180 miles (approx. 290km).
4.What kind of engine or motor powers the BMW i3, and how powerful is it?
Both versions of the i3 are powered by BMW’s own design of electric motor, with the Range Extender
using its on-board generator to supplement the batteries rather than drive the wheels directly.
The motor produces 170hp and 184lb ft of torque, the latter being available the moment you touch
the accelerator, ensuring superb response. Since it also weighs just 50kg, it sets a new benchmark for
electric vehicles. BMW describes it as smooth running with minimal vibrations and low noise levels.
5.How fast is the BMW i3’s 0-62mph time, and what is its top speed?
When we think of electric vehicles it’s all too easy to imagine golf carts or milk floats – things that are
clumsy and slow. The BMW i3 should dispel this myth immediately.
Thanks to that powerful electric motor and a kerbweight of just 1,195kg, the i3 does 0-62mph (approx.
100kmh) in just 7.2 seconds – hot hatch territory. The heavier Range Extender falls slightly behind at
7.9 seconds over the same benchmark, but both reach a top speed of 93mph (approx. 150kmh).
6.What is the BMW i3 made from, and how much does it weigh?
The secret to the i3’s low 1,195kg weight is in its optimised construction and the materials that it’s
made from. It becomes the first ‘mass produced’ car to be built largely from carbonfibre-reinforced
plastic (CFRP) – which is both very light and immensely strong. Formula One cars use similar
Other weight savings come from the extensive use of aluminium; forged suspension components save
15% over standard equivalents, for example, while all the screws and bolts are aluminium instead of
7.Why is it important that the BMW i3 was born electric from the start?
Conceiving the i3 as an electric car right from the start has allowed BMW to finesse every single
element of the vehicle’s design. Take the electric motor – which is exactly as powerful as it needs to
be to deliver satisfactory performance and range. Increasing this would also have meant increasing
The obsession with weight and efficiency has even influenced the wheels. These forged aluminium 19-
inch (approx. 48cm) items are lighter than they would be in steel, and unusually narrow. This helps
achieve a good ‘contact patch’ between the tyre and the road surface while enabling them to cut
smoothly through the air.
8.Will the i3 still be fun to drive like a proper BMW?
Following in long BMW tradition, the i3 is rear-wheel drive – although in this case the electric motor is
also mounted over the back axle, instead of under the bonnet. Carefully positioning the batteries
under the floor also gives the i3 a very low centre of gravity, which should aid stability when cornering.
The steering is also very direct, with just 2.5 turns lock-to-lock, and a turning circle of just 9.86m
(tighter than a Ford Fiesta). With a relatively long wheelbase for its size (2.57m) and a very stiff
structure, BMW is promising “agility is the defining characteristic of the driving experience”. Good
9.What is one-pedal driving in the BMW i3?
Having said that, the i3 will have some unique aspects to its driving experience – not least of which is
the prospect of ‘one-pedal’ driving. While both an accelerator and a brake pedal are fitted (being an
electric vehicle there is no clutch or conventional gearbox), BMW reckons you can get by without the
brake 75% of the time.
This is because whenever you lift off the accelerator, the electric motor goes into a regenerative
mode that recoups energy otherwise lost when slowing the car and uses it to recharge the batteries.
The effect is so pronounced that a little bit of foresight and planning ahead will mean you hardly need
to use the brakes at all.
10.What are the BMW i3’s Life and Drive modules?
When reading about the BMW i3 you’ll find reference to the Life and Drive modules. This is to do with
the way the car is constructed, which separates the area containing the passengers – the Life module
– from the chassis that houses all of the not so oily parts – the Drive module.
This would in theory allow BMW to produce other i3 bodystyle variants very easily; though nothing
has been confirmed at this stage, a three-door coupe has been shown in concept form. This Life/Drive
idea is often touted as cutting edge, but in reality harks back to early motoring, when most cars were
constructed this way.
11.How much does the BMW i3 cost to run, and what kind of batteries does it use?
The BMW i3 is fuelled by eight lithium-ion battery packs, each containing 12 cells and housed within
an aluminium cell right in the centre of the car. This protects the batteries from damage in the event
of an accident, and helps achieve perfect 50:50 weight distribution – again, enhancing the handling.
The combination of these batteries with that highly efficient electric motor means the i3 consumes
around 0.21kW/h of energy per mile. That equates to a cost per mile equivalent to a diesel engine
that can return 400mpg. Which, in case you were wondering, doesn’t exist.
12.How long does it take to charge the BMW i3?
Every BMW i3 sold in the UK will come with a 7.4kW Fast Charging system; you’ll need the optional
BMW i Wallbox to make this work, but it can give you an 80% charge in three hours and a full charge
in four. Under the current government grant scheme you can have an i Wallbox installed for £315
The i3 also comes with a cable for a standard domestic socket, but a full charge via this method takes
8-10 hours. A public fast charger using a 50kW DC supply offers an 80% charging solution that takes
30 minutes to an hour. A mobile phone app allows you to monitor and control charging remotely.
13.How green is the BMW i3?
As an all-electric car, the BMW i3 is a zero emissions in motion vehicle – meaning it emits 0g/km CO2
while it drives along. The Range Extender version isn’t quite as green, averaging 13g/km thanks to the
inclusion of its two-cylinder 650cc 34hp petrol engine.
How green it is when charging depends entirely on the nature of the electricity supply. But BMW is
working with partners to offer customers energy supplied by renewable sources. The factory that
builds the i3 is also entirely ‘off-grid’, being powered by on-site wind turbines.
14.What other services does BMW offer to i3 customers?
BMW is offering a number of supplementary services to i3 buyers under the title 360º Electric. A
BMW i ChargeNow card enables customers to use different public charging systems with a single card,
while BMW Access allows them to accrue points which can then be used to ‘rent’ other BMW Group
cars when required. So you’re not totally limited by the i3’s range.
BMW Maintenance is exactly what it sounds like – a servicing scheme for the i3. There are 47 BMW
dealerships in the UK that are “i3 agents”, but any dealership can help with servicing. A BMW
Inclusive servicing package costs £375 (approx. $574), and covers the i3’s servicing costs for five years
or 60,000 miles (approx. 96,560km).
15.What’s special about BMW ConnectedDrive on the i3?
Every i3 comes with a mobile phone SIM card installed, and is said to be “the world’s first fully
networked electrically powered car”. An i Remote app allows smartphone access to the car at any
time, while other features include an electric car specific navigation system that will even incorporate
public transport options.
The Driving Range Assistant takes into account current traffic situations to give you the most accurate
prediction about remaining possible range, with a dynamic range display as part of the navigation
setup. ConnectedDrive will naturally help you find nearby charging stations.
16.What is the BMW i3 like on the inside, and what specifications does it come in?
The i3 is very spacious inside its Life module – since all of the mechanical components are tucked
away in the Drive module nothing intrudes into the cabin – except for the steering wheel. The interior
design is also close to stunning, with dual screens in place of traditional instruments and some
Four different “interior worlds” are on offer for the i3: Standard, Loft, Lodge and Suite. In keeping
with the i3’s green outlook, all will be fitted out with sustainable materials, including sustainably
sourced wood, natural fibres and naturally tanned leather.
17.What is the warranty on the BMW i3 and how safe is it?
The BMW i3 comes with a three-year unlimited mileage vehicle warranty, while the batteries are
covered for eight years or 100,000 miles (160,900km). In reality BMW reckons the batteries should
last the life of the car.
As for safety, not only does the extensive use of carbonfibre make the BMW i3 immensely strong –
accidents should be far more ‘survivable’ in this than in a conventional car – it comes with a full suite
of stability and traction control electronics. Plus a pyrotechnic kill switch for the batteries in case of
18.Is the battery included with the BMW i3?
The BMW i3’s price includes the cost of the batteries. You do not have to lease it separately – unlike
all of the Renault electric vehicles and some versions of the Nissan Leaf.
In other words the price you see is the price you pay. Although BMW is offering a leasing scheme in
addition to outright purchase.
19.How much is the BMW i3 and when does it go on sale?
Prices for the 2013 BMW i3 start at £25,680 (approx. $29,300) for the standard electric version and
£28,830 (approx. $44,100) for the i3 Range Extender. Alternatively, you can lease one for 36 months
with a £2,995 (approx. $4600) deposit; monthly payments start at £369 (approx. $565) for the
standard car, rising to £480 (approx. $735) for the Range Extender in Suite specification.
The BMW i3 is available to order in August.
20.What’s the verdict on the BMW i3?
While we’re yet to drive the finished article, the BMW i3 certainly promises big things for electric
mobility, representing a serious assault on public opinion from one of the world’s most prestigious
It’s fast, efficient, safe and probably plenty of fun. We cannot wait to give it a try.