It took a lengthy research effort – featuring prototypes such as the Mini E and BMW 1 Series Active E, and developing carbonfibre composites to new heights on strength, longevity and cost-effectiveness – to bring BMW to the point where it was ready to introduce this car. In the meantime it has watched rivals come to market with quicker-fix battery cars, but now comes the pay-off.
The i3 is more innovative than anything that the early adopters of EVs have been offered so far. Like the Tesla Model S, it is a ground-up electric car, not a platform-engineered adaptation. Something others have followed - just look at the Hyundai Ioniq and Jaguar i-Pace.
But unlike even the Tesla, it is constructed predominantly from carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP). That CFRP has been micro-engineered to balance weight and strength against cost in pioneering proportions. It undoubtedly adds to the purchase price of the car, but CFRP also allows BMW to offset the 230kg of the lithium ion battery pack from which the i3 draws its power almost entirely.
BMW initially installed 60kWh battery packs at the i3's launch, but 30 months on it has been replaced with a more powerful Samsung-developed battery pack, which remains the same size but is more dense that its predecessor – meaning it can hold 50 percent more charge. The 94kWh i3 is also fitted with a new, improved charging system, including a DC charger designed to charge the i3 up to 80 percent in 40 minutes, which translates to a range of 100miles.
BMW also off a home charging unit called the i Wallbox Connect, which will provide 11kW of power to charge the battery, meaning it can provide the i3 with a range of 112 miles in under three hours, which is supposedly five times quicker than doing the same process through a three pin plug. This teamed with BMW's Digital Charging Service aims to provide users with 'a smart ecosystem' where charging costs are optimised and those with solar panels can make the most of the electricity they have gathered.
As part of the weight-saving mission, this car also has hollow driveshafts, lightweight cabin fittings – a honeycomb windscreen wiper, even – and forged aluminium suspension and wheels.
And what wheels: five inches wide but 19 inches in diameter, for excellent aerodynamics and low rolling resistance. Will we see a consequent shortage of mechanical grip? Possibly. But there’s no problem with its turning circle; it’s a decidedly wieldy 9.86m.
The extended range version – fitted with a two-cylinder engine/generator to quell any range concerns and therefore the heaviest that any i3 is likely to get – weighed 1315kg. That’s 150kg lighter than the Renault Zoe Dynamique Intens we tested.