Production BMW i3 revealed

30 July, 2013 | by topgear

BMW has revealed the final production version of its hugely anticipated i3 electric city car. That’s it in the picture above.

Designed and built from the ground up to run solely on electric power, it is, as we found out earlier this month during a prototype drive, a remarkably good little thing.

The salient details are blindingly simple. It’s got a 125kW electric motor, generating 250Nm of torque instantly, powered by a 230kg high voltage battery that consists of eight modules, sending drive to the rear wheels – and rear wheels alone. This keeps the steering uncorrupted, and gives it a tight turning circle.

It’s light, too. The body is extrememly lightweight, made from a range of materials including carbon fibre reinforced plastic, aluminium and even wood, meaning the whole thing weighs in at just 1195kg. The suspension is made from forged aluminium, the drive shafts are hollow, the 19in forged aluminium wheels are 36 per cent lighter than equivalent steel rims, the door trim is made from renewable materials, and even the ruddy screws and bolts are lightweight aluminium.

That low kerb weight means engineers could make the battery smaller for a given range, which cuts more weight itself, and allied to the 125kW motor and carbon fibre body, this results in a 0-100kph time of 7.2 seconds. Far from shabby, then. More importantly, it’ll do 0-60kph in just 3.7 seconds, a far more accurate reflection of its potential around town, while top speed sits at 150kph.

Of course, with any electric car, the usual talk of ‘range-anxiety’ will inevitably rear its head. As such, the ‘standard’ BMW i3 offers between 140 and 160km, but BMW also offers a i3 Range Extender. That car comes with a tiny 650cc petrol engine developing 24kW, mounted next to the electric motor just above the rear axle, that powers a generator to recharge the battery. There’s a tiny nine-litre fuel tank, and although the 0-100kph sprint for this models drops by over half a second to 7.9s, crucially, you get up to 290km of claimed range.

BMW reckons you can even drive the i3 using just one pedal. Obviously, there are brake and accelerator pedals, but as soon as you lift off the accelerator, the motor switches immediately from drive to generator, feeding power back into the battery. The side-effect of this is to slow the car down. If this brake-energy regen causes the same effect as proper braking, the i3 even illuminates the brake lights.

Now, when we tested the prototype i3, the motor braking wasn’t as powerful as in the Mini E. But, because it’s RWD, any more power on the rear brakes would make it unstable on slippery surfaces. That’s not really ideal.

Inside, there’s the option of four different interiors, allowing buyers to customize the interior to their specification, all featuring sustainable materials including wood, natural fibres and naturally tanned leather.

At this point, you’re probably wondering about a couple of things – recharging and, erm, price. Well, the standard ‘Fast Charging’ unit will replenish the battery up to 80 per cent within three hours – with a special BMW ‘Wallbox’ – or between eight and ten hours from a standard household socket. And as for price? Prices for the standard i3 start at R380k – or R420k for the Range Extender.

It’ll go on sale in November this year (in Europe), though you’ll be able to order it from August. As mentioned, we’ve driven it, and came back suitably impressed. Are you? As a reference point, the Nissan Leaf is over 350kg heavier, less powerful and has a lower range than this i3…

 

     

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