BMW i3: The Best City Car on the Market

By · July 30, 2013

BMW i3

BMW i3

BMW is known and loved for the smoothness of its engines. So, it'll be hard for some people to wrap their mind around the fact that this famous manufacturer is launching a car powered by a motor rather than an engine. Electric cars have a short range. The BMW i3 will have a short range. End of discussion. Or is it?

The i3 has a 22 kilowatt-hour battery, and that is its total rated capacity. Usable capacity will be less than that, probably only about 19 kilowatt-hours. It's a choice and BMW is very clear about it. More batteries or more motor means much more weight, and BMW's management said no to more weight. The BMW i3 will be a short-range car. That's okay because there's an optional range extender. Range is important, but what matters most for the i3 is that it's light, fun to drive and looks cool.

BMW i3

BMW i3

The lightness of the i3 is incredible. Consider this: the base Ford Focus—the gasoline model not the electric one—weighs 2,920 pounds. The BMW i3 tips the scale at only 2,635 pounds.

Ever heard of an EV lighter than a gas car? Welcome to the world of BMW i. Compared to the Ford Focus EV, the i3 is an astonishing 1,015 pounds lighter. And it has more power, with a 125-kW motor when the Ford EV only makes 107 kW. The i3 is also quite aerodynamic with a low drag coefficient of .29. We're still waiting for our test-drive, but the odds are good that it will be a fun ride. Note also that the i3 is rear-drive like sports cars, unlike all the electric competition which is front-drive.

BMW i3

BMW i3

The Cool Factor

Men like BMW cars, and women like men who drive Bimmers. And, of course, women also like driving BMW cars. So BMW won't disappoint here. The i3 will be one of the most distinctive cars on the road. The Tesla Model S turns heads, but there are other cars on the road with similar looks. On the other hand, the i3 looks like nothing else. The side window line is unique. Some people will find it weird. BMW said it allows small children sitting in the back to have a better look around.

There's also what BMW calls the black belt. It stretches from the frond hood to the rear hatch, and it's all black. The flush integration of the tail lights is especially striking. Then, the BMW i3 will probably be the only car in the world since the 1950s to come standard with a three-color paint job. There's the main color (silver or orange on our illustrations), that black belt, and a third contrasting color below the doors and around the front kidneys.

And those doors! They could have used a standard four-door car design, but they went with small rear-hinged doors, like on the Mazda RX-8. It's just cool. See this interview with the car's chief designer.

The interior looks great too. It's airy, with an impressive mix of colors and materials. The instrument cluster is very small—probably sized like a smartphone not to give too much importance to the propulsion system (although longtime BMW customers might believe that something is missing.) The infotainment screen is larger, but it should be the other way around. The navigation system though, is probably the best in the industry because it can guide the driver to the closest parking lot, then it sends all information to the driver's smart phone that will continue to guide him by foot to his destination. That's impressive.

Okay, so some people will complain about the small battery in the i3, but BMW has lot of data from its hundreds of Mini E and ActiveE development prototypes. The data clearly indicated that range wasn't much of a concern. Of course, there's not enough range for driving cross-country, but the BMW i3 has way more range and other features, and the cool factor, to make it the best city car on the market.

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