Carrying worldwide hubbub and a level of pride that would probably glow in the dark, BMW lifted the curtain on its 2014 i3 5-door hatchback (or 5-door mini-SUV, if you prefer). That curtain was lifted simultaneously in New York, London and Beijing to reveal the production iteration of BMW's all-new (literally -- BMW says that not an ounce of any previous BMW is in this car; we say "hmmm") electric vehicle that's made of from aluminum, plastic and carbon fiber.
BMW's primary goal in creating the 2014 i3 was to do a completely original "megacity" car -- something environmentally positive and ultra-friendly in an urban context that you could still commute with and fearlessly run on the freeway. Though small, the car is not pocket-sized, which will make drivers more confident when venturing out of the city and into traffic with trucks and big SUVs.
The aluminum portion of the i3 is chassis/platform, the foundation on which the car's passenger cabin rides and rests. That passenger cabin is composed primarily of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic -- much of it left unpainted just to show how cool it is -- with the pieces glued together with a bonding substance that's so strong, it'll last something like forever (or at least for the life of the i3). Thermoplastic cladding and bumpers are laid on top of that and add color.
Using premium materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum is rare, almost unheard of in cars, but the benefits are worth it, exponentially so in an electric car: You save weight. The batteries in electric cars like the BMW i3 add pounds like crazy. So the lightest materials you can use to build the car without sacrificing strength, bulk and crashworthiness are worth their lack of weight in gold. Carbon fiber, for example, is 50-percent lighter than steel and stronger, so at around 2,700 pounds, the i3 can run circles around a Nissan Leaf (roughly 3,300 pounds), Ford Focus Electric (3,640), and Chevrolet Volt (3,781) without breaking a sweat on its way to a 0-60 mph time of about 7 seconds.
Producing zero emissions by definition and 95-percent recyclable according to its maker, the BMW i3 lives its environmental aspirations. Electric power's cheap, too, compared to gasoline. The i3's electric power is delivered to the rear wheels and stored for delivery in a 450-pound lithium-ion battery that, along with the single-speed transmission, resides tucked away beneath the vehicle's flat floor, showing off the added performance benefit of a low center of gravity.
Charging the system is a good, better, worst situation with the "good" being a 220-volt home-charging station that BMW will happily add to the price of your i3 financing. That system will give you a full charge in three hours, but the "better" -- and also added-cost option -- solution is the SAE DC Combo Fast Charging compatibility that will give you an 80-percent charge in just 20 minutes (a full charge in 30). Now, the worst: A 110-volt charge (think of an extension cord running from the kitchen out to your i3 in the driveway) takes 24 hours to complete.
With a full charge, the i3 electric car will get you between 80-100 miles, depending on the terrain and with how much spirit you take advantage of the 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of right-now torque. If range anxiety is an issue, BMW also offers the i3 with a "Range Extender" set-up consisting of a small 2-cylinder gasoline engine that automatically starts up when it senses that the battery is running low. The 34-horsepower Range Extender doesn't power the car, it simply serves to keep car's battery charged, essentially doubling the i3's electric range.
The i3 interior is not a typical BMW affair, nor are the doors you enter that interior by: The front doors are what we're all used to, but the second row is accessed by opening rear-hinged doors -- call them carriage doors, suicide doors, whatever -- that swing away from the front of the i3 to ease entrance to the rear seats. The seats are surprisingly thin, but still welcoming. Only the rear passengers are asked to make a compromise -- for legroom. The interior materials are refreshing to behold and touch, including some of the door panels and instrument panels fashioned using Kenaf (crossword puzzlers, pay attention) plant fibers sourced from southern Asia. Also worth noting is the small-car-generous cargo space under the rear hatch.
What with being eligible for carpool lane stickers and as much as $10,000 in tax breaks, plus there's that nifty Bavarian DNA, the well-stocked BMW i3 is priced at a reasonable $42,275 for the "Mega" trim level. That price includes look-good stuff like 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights, and eucalyptus wood trim. Techno goods include a navigation system that also allows you to find the nearest not-being-used charging station. If you wish, you can sail up toward $50,000 and beyond by choosing the "Giga" or top-tier "Terra" i3 versions, where you get progressively more, including partial leather in the Giga and full leather in the Terra. The Range Extender i3 starts at $46,125.
BMW is currently getting dealers ready for the launch of the i3, which is not just a new car composed of new materials, but a conscientious new philosophy of cars -- the "i" standing for "innovation," BMW insists. The results of the company's latest vision of the future of driving, the 2014 BMW i3, is scheduled to arrive in dealer showrooms in the spring of 2014.
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