A camouflaged prototype spotted by our photographers is almost identical to the current G20-generation 3 Series, although the addition of mandatory ‘electric test vehicle’ stickers and subtly reshaped front and rear ends hint that it's an early test version for a zero-emissions model. Plug-in hybrid prototypes are also required to wear stickers, but the lack of exhausts at the rear strongly suggests an electric powertrain.
The forthcoming i4 will be BMW's first electric saloon, and the firm is yet to officially confirm plans for an electric 3 Series. A BMW spokesperson declined to comment on the test pictures but in a statement said: "By 2023, the BMW Group portfolio will include 25 electrified models, and half of those will be fully electric.”
BMW design chief Domagoj Dukec recently told Autocar that the decision to launch an i4 rather than an electric 3 Series was because "electrification is still at the point where some people doubt if they should go for it or not, and it’s still a little more expensive. So electric cars need more emotion, and we believe an electrified i4 makes more sense than an electric 3 Series."
But with sales of electric cars rising rapidly – and costs likely to drop as manufacturers achieve greater economies of scale – it's likely there could be suffient demand for an electric 3 Series by 2023.
It’s not yet known what powertrain an electric 3 Series would use, but it’s unlikely to share the performance-oriented i4’s 523bhp, four-wheel drive set-up, given the 3 Series’ practical, executive billing.