Photo by Vince Taroc.
Just about everything that goes into BMW's 2014 i3 may seem impractical, such as its broad use of exotic materials, bulbous shape with coach doors, and range limit. Yet, this vehicle is an automotive engineering marvel that's also a fun, smooth drive.
Battery-electric vehicles have not widely been added to commercials fleets, mostly due to their still-limited range and underwhelming residual values. Tesla Motors is producing a EV that will let you to travel 265 miles in luxury, yet the cost of entry is above $80,000. The next tier of EVs can reach an EPA-rated range of at least 80 miles, including the i3 (81), Chevrolet Spark EV (82), Volkswagen e-Golf (83), Nissan LEAF (84), Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric (85), and Fiat 500e (87).
This range level is a moving target that should see an uptick in the next few years, especially if General Motors can deliver on its plan to offer the 200-mile Chevrolet Bolt for around $30,000 in early 2017.
While we wait for this tipping point, there's no reason why we can't appreciate engineering feats such as the i3. BMW offers its i3 in three trim levels with futurist nomenclature — Mega World, Giga World, and Tera World.
Let's start with the vehicle's extensive use of carbon fiber, plastic and aluminum as a strategy to lighten weight and reduce the vehicle's carbon footprint. The i3's body, or "life module," is comprised of resin transfer molded carbon-fiber composite structures. The "drive module" that includes the powertrain, chassis and battery makes extensive use of aluminum.
Photo by Vince Taroc.
BMW carries its approach into the interior. The base model i3 uses SensaTec vinyl and sustainable cloth sourced from recycled materials. Leather replaces the vinyl on higher trim levels. BMW has also added a eucalyptus veneer dashboard.
The cabin has a roomy feel, and BMW has integrated plenty of high-tech features. The Business Navigation system feeds infotainment data to a 6.5-inch high-resolution screen that appears to float above the dashboard. Multimedia and HVAC controls are clustered above two air vents with buttons laid out in two rows. Instead of a gauge cluster, we get a 5.5-inch digital display showing data about operating modes, speed, and charge level.
The vehicle's exterior design has been polarizing, and if you're not a wild adherent it may grow on you. The i3 retains the automaker's kidney grille. The car's "coach" doors should turn heads with the two side doors open. The rear seating area isn't overly spacious, but should suffice for most passengers.
The i3 offers a fun and smooth ride, and can be operated in three modes — Comfort, Eco Pro, and Eco Pro+. If you hope to achieve a range beyond the low 80s, operate it in that third mode, which limits the top speed to 56 mph without climate controls.
The i3 retails for a starting price of $41,350, and is eligible for a federal tax credit of $7,500. California offers a $2,500 rebate. The BEV is eligible for a white HOV sticker that state, while the hybrid is eligible for a green one. BMW is offering additional fleet incentives of charging stations.
Editor's note: Check out our expanded coverage of the BMW i3 that includes a video and slideshow.