BMW i3 pictures and hands-on: The premium electric megacity car
If you were playing buzzword bingo at the launch of the BMW i3, then "megacity" would probably be the winning word, so keen was BMW to tell us exactly who should be buying the new BMW i3.
It's a term that makes us think of Judge Dredd, throwing us into a vision of the future. It's fitting then, that we're talking about BMW's new electric vehicle, its first step in what will be a line of "sustainable mobility solutions".
In the flesh the BMW i3 is an interestingly designed car. Under the surface is perhaps the most significant aspect: a carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) "passenger cell" that makes up the frame of the car, fused with aluminium chassis components. BMW says it is going to be producing carbonfibre reinforced plastic on an industrial scale as its lightweight material of the future.
The BMW i3 weighs 1195kg as a result, shedding weight to reduce energy demands and make sure that you're not spending that precious battery power on hauling an overweight beast up those hills.
But from the exterior the BMW i3 has a distinctive look. It has a high ride height that makes it look more like a pumped-up hatch or baby SUV. The advantage that brings for the driver is better visibility as you're cruising around town/megacity, which is exactly what this car is designed to do.
It's a slightly odd beast. From the sides, there's a flash of Land Rover Evoke in the rear quarter, there's a drop in the bodyline to give the rear passengers a slightly bigger window and from the front, the pronounced front bumper seems to lift and squish the distinctive BMW kidney grille a little.
From some angles it looks futuristic, modern and exciting; sometimes we'll blink and be reminded of the Fiat Multipla. But we do think it's enhanced by the two-tone finish, the striking contrast of orange and black will certainly turn heads as it silently rolls down those megacity boulevards.
Large 19-inch wheels help add to those SUV looks, but the tyres are pretty skinny, 155mm wide for the regular model, slightly wider at the rear if you opt for the range extended model. From some angles it perhaps looks a little more like a super-mini than it intends to, thanks to those skinny tyres.
But many of those mixed feelings melt away when you open up the large front doors, and flip open the rearward-opening coach style back doors. There's no central pillar, so it's surprisingly accessible. The height makes it easy to sit into and although the front seats will fold forward to give better access, we found we didn't need to do so, we could just sit straight into the back.
They're impressively comfortable and finished in soft BMW leather. The advantage of that dropped door line is evident, so you don't feel quite so walled in. But there's more space than there appears to be at first glance from the outside. We saw four European motoring journalists happily sitting inside and chatting away, so this really is a car that will carry four adults.
Slip into the front and it's perfectly comfortable and finished with the sort of quality you would expect. Perhaps we're not entirely sold on the fusion of wood, leather and wool materials that BMW has chosen - there seemed to be a lot going on in the interior finish of those front doors - but there's no doubting the quality.
The interior has been designed to be open which is where the BMW i3 really impresses. It starts with the lack of centre door pillar, extends to the lack of transmission tunnel and finishes with a dashboard that appears to float. The steering column then extends out towards the driver, the only intrusion in the lounge that is the interior.
The space helps to bring that futuristic vision to reality again. Big levers are gone, the drive mode selector moved instead on to the steering column. It's a bit of a lump, but it's out of the way. The driver also isn't faced with a collection of dials, instead there's a display for the driver and a larger central display. Neither were powered-up while we were in the car, so we can't really judge how the split between driver information, navigation and entertainment will play out.
We do know that the BMW i3 will be a very connected car and not just to the mains. Having had a good look at the BMW ConnectedDrive Remote app for BMW i, we know you'll be able to monitor the status of your car from your phone, as well as set timers for the most cost-effective off-peak charging, run the climate control before you get in, and have navigation that doesn't start and stop at the car, but extends to your journey on foot, or via public transport too.
We're yet to get the BMW i3 out on the road, so we don't know how this electric car will drive in the real world. BMW tells us that the driving experience is hugely important and hasn't been sacrificed and that's a key point, because at £25k you're asking people to step away from their BMW X1 or BMW 3 series, and pay £10k more than they would for a Nissan Leaf.
But the BMW i3 is about a different approach to motoring. With a range of around 80-90 miles and a charging time of about 8 hours, the BMW i3 is being pitched towards those making short journeys in cities. Like many electric vehicles, it's designed as a zero emission alternative to the SUV you're using to run the kids to school or for your daily commute.
If that distance sounds like it is just too short, there's a range extender version too, which adds an engine back into the mix. The 650cc engine, with a 9-litre petrol tank, is used to generate electrical energy, almost doubling the range. It sits alongside the electric motor and, importantly, you don't lose any boot space if you opt for it - but it will cost a few thousand more when you buy the car.
The BMW i3 is an important step forward for electric cars. It's practical and it's premium and pitched at those who can probably afford to make the switch away from a conventional car. It's also from one of the top automotive marques and BMW reinforced today that it's serious about EVs, it's investing heavily in sustainable solutions and renewable energy to make the BMW i programme as green as possible.
The BMW i3 brings welcome attention to the world of electric vehicles, but the barriers remain the same. The range and the refuelling times will still define how you can use this type of vehicle. Narrowing the pitch to megacity dwellers removes that barrier to an extent, but once you set the environmental arguments to one side, you can still buy a lot of "normal" car for this sort of money.