BMW unveils i3, the first car under its all-electric 'i' sub-brand

In a world that’s beginning to focus increasingly on the environment, zero-emission vehicles are being touted as the future of mobility. With electricity and hydrogen emerging as the only possible alternatives for fossil fuel, automobile manufacturers are forced to splurge their resources into one of these two in the hope of achieving future supremacy. BMW, the world’s largest luxury-car manufacturer, has decided that electric cars are best-placed to eventually replace those with internal combustion engines on urban roads. When a manufacturer of BMW's caliber decides so and goes as far as investing in a new "i" sub-brand to distinguish it’s range of pure-electric cars, it ought to be taken seriously.

So, the ‘i’ not only separates the electric line-up from the rest of the ultimate driving machines, but also gives BMW a tech-savvy image that’s automatically bestowed upon anything that starts with the 'made-famous-by-Apple' alphabet.

With all this lurking in the background, BMW unveiled the i3, the firm’s first pure-electric car that’s destined for mass production. When the wraps came off the strangely-styled hatchback at simultaneous events held in New York, London and Shanghai representing five continents, BMW heralded the car as a new era of electro mobility that was designed grounds-up to take in a stack of batteries instead of the usual cylinder block, head and pistons. Well, so how different is the i3 from, say, a Nissan Leaf or a Chevrolet Volt?

Firstly, the i3 looks different. In fact, the design borders on the lines of being 'strange' and 'weird', ensuring that heads turn wherever it goes. Not all those heads would nod positively though. Except for the kidney grille, none of the regular BMW cues are found in the i3. Contrasting shades of body panels, the non-linear window line, the floating roof panel and the non-existent pillars characterize this urban hatch.

Then comes the material used for its construction. The innovative "Life Drive" architecture comprises two modules, the Life Module and the Drive Module. The former is essentially the cabin that ditches steel in favour of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP). Yes, that carbon-fiber part is the same that's used in exotic super-cars and it is incredibly strong that the i3 sports a pillarless design with rear coach doors. Housing all the power-train components is the Drive Module that's completely made of aluminium. From magnesium to an assortment of renewable materials such as wood from eucalyptus trees, fibers from Kenaf plant and extracts from olive-leaf, the i3 has parts made of everything.

At the heart is a hybrid-synchronous electric motor that produces 170-hp of power and 184 lb-ft of torque, giving the i3 a real-world EV range of 80 to 100 miles. Powering the motor is a lithium-ion battery pack that's takes about 8 hours for a full charge from a normal DC power outlet. Quick-charging options are available too, as expected. For those who are still skeptical, a gasoline-powered 650-cc 2-cylinder range-extender that holds charge without powering the wheels is also available as an option.

Though the interiors are not as unconventional as the exterior design of the i3, it is still different to remind the occupants that this isn't any average car. Available in three trim levels - Mega World, Giga World and Tera World, the i3 is a true BMW and comes equipped with all the regular safety and driver-assist technologies that luxury cars are famous for.

Expected to go on sale in mid-2014, the i3 will be followed by the i8, an eco sports-car that rose to fame in the Hollywood movie Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol. With Audi continuing to tease us with the 'e-tron' concepts and Mercedes-Benz well-entrenched into the hydrogen fuel cells, BMW has stole a march on the opposition in terms of electric mobility with the 'i' sub-brand. Will it pay off? We think it will, but we might have to wait for a long time to see that happen.

All that is good, but will this 'i' grace the 'I'ndian roads? We hope it does.


  1. I think BMW should have made it look like a normal petrol-powered car, like Tesla did with the Model-S. And please stop making Petrol-Electric engines they don't really help.

    1. You are right, the i3 tries too hard to look different.