Preparing to set off on its own trip down Electric Avenue, BMW has just unveiled concept versions of its nascent BMW i3, a dedicated EV urbo-runner which is due to launch in production form in 2013, and the BMW i8, a plug-in hybrid sports car that will follow in 2014. While their appearances differ, both of these ultra-light, ultra-efficient vehicles were developed from the ground up with a primary focus on overall sustainability. Each also shares the automaker's innovative "LifeDrive" architecture that teams carbon fiber body elements with an aluminum-intensive structural component, and embodies dramatic design flourishes plus loads of advanced mobility/connectivity systems aimed at expanding the definition of what it means to be a 21st century "Ultimate Driving Machine." 

BMW i3 Concept

A pure EV in standard form, the BMW i3 Concept previews the full carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) "Life" module that will form the basis of its future production counterpart. In addition to helping trim curb weight of this four-passenger city slicker to a mere 2,750 pounds -- some 550-770 pounds below other conventional EVs -- the advanced CFRP upper structure also provides occupants with exceptional protection from crash impacts.

Like its i8 Concept runningmate, the exterior styling on the i3 Concept has been aerodynamically optimized and includes a fully-enclosed underbody and BMW's AirCurtains flow-channeling elements. It displays a boldly three-dimensional character with distinctive color-coded Sliver Flow/High-gloss Black layers that overlay and interlock in a way that contributes to an even more dynamic appearance and serve to further highlight the car's  prominent greenhouse area. 

The i3 Concept's front end, with its U-shaped LED headlamps and variation on BMW's twin-kidney grille, complements an equally stylized rear treatment that features similarly rendered taillamps and a hatch with retractable back glass. A set of 19-inch alloy wheels give the car a more planted look, while the absence of a B-pillar and front-hinged/rear-hinged doors simplify access to the i3's equally futuristic cabin.

Inside, the passenger compartment picks up on the "layered" look, and sets off its Porcelain White and Dark Anthracite hard bits with Blue Stream accent touches from the i3 Concept's exterior and Mocha Brown leather upholstery. Renewable and naturally-treated raw materials appear prominently throughout the i3 Concept's inner sanctum, and 25 percent of the plastic, by weight, is either renewable raw or recycled. In a break with tradition, both front and rear seats in the i3 Concept feature full-width lower cushions with individually adjustable contoured backs. The rear pair fold flat to add even more versatility to its 7.1 cu ft of cargo space.

The freestanding steering column on this groundbreaking BMW incorporates not only a multifunction steering wheel but the car's 6.5-inch digital instrument cluster, start/stop button and an abbreviated gearshift lever. A large 8.8-inch touch-sensitive central information display (CID) screen completes the package, and permits quick, direct access to control everything from basic audio  and climate systems to fully exploiting the capabilities of BMW i intelligent navigation and a plethora of other infotainment and mobility services.

Underpinning both the i3 Concept as well as the i8 Concept is the Drive module, a strong and rigid light-alloy underlayment that integrates the power module, battery pack and suspension along with various structural and crash/crush elements. Motivation for the i3 Concept is provided by a compact electric motor/generator mounted over the rear axle along with the control electronics, single-speed transmission and differential. Capable of making 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, it's matched with an equally compact, climate-conditioned lithium-ion battery pack that's mounted low under the floor to keep it out of harm's way and help optimize weight distribution. Capable of an 80-100 mile daily operational range, it can propel the i3 Concept from 0-37 mph in 3.9 seconds, 0-62 mph in 7.9 ticks and carry it to an electronically limited 93-mph top speed.

Beyond any juice collected via the car's regenerative braking system, fully recharging the battery pack takes about six hours using a standard 240V outlet. However, it only requires an hour to perform an 80-percent replenishment using a dedicated quick charger. For those with lingering range anxiety, BMW also plans to offer the i3 in an optional "REx" configuration. This range-extender variant will include a small gasoline engine to drive a generator that will keep the battery charged and the vehicle running solely on electric power. 

BMW i8 Concept

With an overt mission to deliver performance on a grandly green scale, the BMW i8 Concept blatantly ratchets up each of its LifeDrive elements. Its CFRP body shares the same color scheme, design sensibilities and attention to aero detailing, but endows everything with decidedly more aggressive flair. The i8 Concept's expressive front and rear treatments go wide and low to stress its leaner, meaner character which is further emphasized by even more stylized LED lights and a black translucent V-shaped element in that extends back from the grille to the base of its steeply-raked windscreen.

A 2+2 design, the BMW i8 Concept also dispenses with a B-pillar but features a large, front-hinged swing up/out door on each side to ease access to its interior. The cabin incorporates many basic cues seen in the i3 Concept but is considerably more driver-focused in layout specifics and design details. One other key difference: Where the i3 Concept has a virtually flat floor, the i8 Concept features a central tunnel that bisects the cabin and also houses its lithium-ion battery pack.

Delivering its one-two motivational punch, the BMW i8 Concept is fitted with both electric and internal combustion elements. Energized by the aforementioned battery pack, a front-mounted motor ships its 129 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. In the rear, the 1.5-liter turbodiesel used in the i8 Concept's predecessor, BMW's Vision ED, has given way to a new 1.3-liter/3-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine mated to a dual-clutch transmission that puts its 221 ponies and 221 lb-ft of twist to the pavement via the rear tires. Collectively, the stats total a most impressive 349 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, sufficient to send the 3,263-pound new-age GT from 0-62 mph in 4.6 seconds and carry it on to a 155 mph top end.

In addition to being able to travel up to 20 miles in pure EV mode, this sophisticated hybrid system delivers over 78 mpg on the European test cycle. Because the battery is much smaller than the one in the i3 Concept, the pack can be recharged in two hours using a standard 240V outlet. The BMW i8 Concept also is fitted with a sophisticated regenerative braking system as well as a full array of electronic dynamic/stability controls to make sure that its handling matches its appearance.

Expect to hear more details about both of these stunning BMW production-cars-to-be as well as the automaker's new "i" sub-brand when the pair steps into the public limelight at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September.

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