The BMW i3 has made its first public appearance at the Frankfurt motor show today as the part of what the German car maker promises will be a complete range of alternative drive models to be sold under its new i brand.
The i3 is a contemporary-styled hatchback that remains faithful in basic appearance to the earlier i3 concept revealed at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show but adopts a five door bodystyle in place of the original three door arrangement for added practicality and ease of entry to the rear.
The i3 is priced at £30,680, but with a £5000 electric car rebate it will end up costing buyers £25,680 in the UK. Alternatively, BMW is also offering the i3 on a three year lease scheme with a deposit of £2995 and 36 monthly payments of £369.
Conceived under the working title Mega City Vehicle – a name meant to focus attention on its suitability for urban driving, the i3 represents a number of firsts for BMW, which is reputed to have spent up to €2 billion in research, development, testing and production processes for the new four-seater.
Included among the innovations adopted on the BMW i brand’s initial model is a lightweight inner body structure made entirely out of carbon fibre sourced from US-based SGL Carbon but woven and cured at BMW’s plant in Landshut, Germany.
At 1195kg, the i3 weighs 90kg less than the existing 114i despite using a battery that is claimed to weigh a significant 230kg. The inherent strength of the assembly used to support its carbon fibre reinforced body panels has allowed BMW’s design team to do away conventional B-pillars and provide rear-hinged coach style doors at the rear.
At 3999mm in length, 1775mm in width and 1578mm in height, the i3 is 326mm shorter, 10mm wider and 158mm taller than the second-generation 1-series hatchback. It rides on a chassis whose wheelbase is 120mm shorter than that of its existing entry level model at 2570mm, providing the new electric car with relatively short 707mm front and 722mm rear overhangs.
The i3 is the first series production BMW to rely purely on electricity for propulsion. But in move harking back to the company’s most illustrious combustion engine models it eschews front-wheel drive for a more traditional rear wheel drive layout in the interests of interior packaging, low speed maneuverability and what officials describe as class leading steering response.
Power is provided by a synchronous electric motor mounted within an aluminium sub-assembly above the rear axle. The in-house produced unit, known under the BMW eDrive banner, provides 168bhp and 184lb ft of torque – some 10bhp less but 5lb ft more than the Mini Cooper S’s turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder direct injection petrol engine. Drive is sent through a single ratio gearbox mounted to the end of the electric motor, offering the choice of three driving modes: Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+.
Electric energy to run the motor is provided by a 22kWh lithium ion battery produced by Samsung and bearing a warranty valid for up to six years or 100,000 miles. It consists of 96 individual cells mounted within the flat floor structure and has been design to allow the replacement of damaged cells on an individual basis. By packaging the battery as low down in the i3’s carbon fibre body structure as possible, BMW claims to have achieved a centre of gravity lower than that of the X1.