THE BMW i3 – The Electric Car With Plenty of Spark

Posted on November 27, 2013

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The electric car. Something about it conjures up images of late Seventies science fiction in which we would all be eating protein pills, communicating via our walkie-talkie wrist watches, and lounging around in our silver onesies.

Whilst this rather optimistic view of our future seems somewhat quaint today, the truth is that many of the fanciful ideas from books such as Future Cities have come to pass. In fact, the Internet, smartphones, 3D printing, and the all the rest have gone on to surpass our wildest imaginings.

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However, whilst we’ve pushed forward in so many areas, the electric vehicle is one that we’ve been rather less progressive with.

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Perhaps it is because electric transportation has not been able to shrug off the associations with our old-fashioned futurism, or perhaps our society, infrastructure, and petrochemical industry simply hasn’t allowed electric vehicles to integrate easily. Perhaps it is because there is something inherently primal in the sound of a roaring internal combustion engine. Whatever the reason, electric cars have never really taken off.

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However, all that is set to change as BMW launch the i3.

BMW’s involvement in electric vehicles is not exactly new. Development started in 2007 when BMW set up their “i” division. Since then, they’ve gone on to trial their electric drivetrain in the MiniE, stopped the show in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol with the i8 hybrid, and developed the i3 concept. During development, the i3 was known as the Mega City Vehicle and it has to be said that if you were attempting to disassociate your product from the realms of fanciful sci-fi, this was not the name to give it.

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“Doors? Where we’re going, we don’t need doors.”

However, the concept car was duly unveiled in 2011 at the Frankfurt Motor Show and it was something of a showstopper. There is something rather beautiful in the design of the i3 concept.  It wasn’t just the ecological and environmental benefits of the car. This was a concept that looked properly designed.

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Side by side comparison of the cockpit in the i3 concept and the production i3

Now the i3 is finally here and it should be noted that the production model has changed quite a bit from the early design sketches and the prototype. However, what it may have lost in clean lines and clear doors, it has made up for in many other respects.

Unlike some electric cars, the i3 has been entirely built from the ground up, allowing it to take full advantage of the benefits of not requiring a conventional engine as well as enabling it to employ innovative new materials into the design.

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It looks like an iPhone, but due to international copyright laws, it’s not.

The majority of the car is constructed from carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) making the vehicle extremely strong and extremely light and this will mark the first time that this material has been so extensively used in a mass-produced car. The chassis is extruded aluminium, which means that all together the i3 weighs in at just 1200kg.

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Unable to exit from the right, Doug had no choice but to wade to work.

BMW has also utilised a number of sustainable materials in the i3’s construction, including kenaf fibres woven into the door panels, naturally tanned leather, responsibly sourced eucalyptus wood, and recycled plastics. All this might seem to be pushing the “green” just a little too far, but actually using these sustainable and responsibly sourced materials makes sense as they further reduce the Co2 emissions created in the car’s construction.

From a design perspective, the cabin is an impressive move forward. Although not enormous, the interior feels bigger than it is, mainly because of the lack of centre tunnel bisecting it and the simplistic design of the console. The openness of the cabin makes it easy to exit the vehicle from either side and the coach doors lend an additional dimension of space to the car.

All of this sounds very groovy, and it is. But, if we’re really honest with ourselves, the two major factors that will cause the biggest objections to an electric car have nothing to do with design. We want to know how far it can go and how long it takes to charge.

Well, this is where the i3 does really step up because its range is a purported 100 miles and a full charge takes just 8 hours. BMW also offers an optional range extender that uses a small petrol engine to charge the battery and can extend the range by approximately 80 miles and there’s also a fast charge to 80% that takes just 4 hours. If you’re ever unsure, the status of the car can be checked on the i3 app on a smartphone.

The i3 is also reportedly pretty nippy and manoeuvrable, which is great for city traffic and its top speed is a respectable 93 mph.

So, has the electric car finally managed to rid itself of the sic-fi stigma? Time will tell, but with the launch of the i3, it might be time to invest in that tin foil suit.

Dublo

For more info on the i3, go to http://www.bmw.co.uk/en/new-vehicles/bmw-i/i3/2013/start.html

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