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The Body BMW i3 Electric

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BMW i3 (Harvey Schwartz)



Beautifully odd-looking, quirky, upscale, light on its feet, and electric. Few cars can fit that description, but it fits the BMW i3—a popular choice among moderately well-heeled, tree-hugging consumers. Then came the Bolt with its 238-mile range to knock the wind out of the i3. But wait, now may be the best time ever to shop for an i3. You can now get one for a song. And you can thank Chevy for that. Harvey Schwartz reports.

Words and pictures by Harvey Schwartz

First introduced as an all-electric car in 2014, BMW added a larger 33-kW-hr lithium battery, enabling it to go 114 miles on a single car or 180 miles with the optional two-cylinder Range Extender and larger fuel tank. The car is strictly for city/urban commuting with these specs and the limited number of city filling stations. It does the job very well, except for a few negatives that I found during my seven-day test drive.

First, you better have a house and garage with power close by as the power plug is only 15 feet long and is not good if you live in an apartment/condominium. Second, be ready to stop short when your foot is off the throttle, not on the brake. I quickly stop to 0 mph without the use of the brakes to recharge the battery. Sounds weird but it is the first plug-in hybrid that I’ve had that will not coast.

BMW i3 (Harvey Schwartz)


The i3 has doors that open like a Rolls (Harvey Schwartz)

You know it is a well-engineered and appointed BMW, so I did enjoy my stay behind the wheel except I couldn’t recharge the battery and had to use the two-cylinder gas engine. The BMW LifeDrive architecture concept built for the i3 is comprised of two modules; the Life Module and the Drive Module. The Life Module is the passenger cabin, the first-ever mass produced Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) passenger cell. Equally as strong as steel, while being 50 percent lighter than aluminum, the result is a car that weighs about 2,700 pounds. The Drive Module, which is constructed of 100 percent aluminum, consists of the 33-kWh 475 lithium-ion battery, electric drive train, front MacPherson strut and 5-link rear suspension with structural and crash components. The battery is mounted in the rear close to the drive wheels, giving impressive performance while also providing better traction from the 6X19 inch cast aluminum wheels shod with 155/70/19 inch, low rolling, all season radials. Each tire is the same width as a 16-inch tire.

Another benefit of the LifeDrive architecture concept is that there is no space-consuming transmission (mounted in the rear with the gas engine). It gives the i3 the interior the same space of the BMW 3-Series. The interior features sporty, high-back leather bucket seats/steering wheel and the same premium feel as a BMW 5-Series sedan. The steering column contains the gear changes and engine On-Off button. The pillar-less doors with rear coach doors allow for easy entry and exit. The instrument panel and doors use fibers from the Asian Kenaf plant, the roof panel is CFRP, 25 percent of plastic used is comprised of recycled materials, and the dashboard wood trim is crafted from responsibly-forested eucalyptus. Our i3 came with a centered 10.5 inch color screen/radio/map, made from the same plastic materials.

In order to reduce range anxiety that I always felt, a rear-mounted 650 cc, 34 horsepower, two-cylinder, gas powered Range Extender generator is available which doubles the car’s range. When the battery gets to a certain level, the Range Extender starts and maintains the battery’s current state of charge. The Range Extender never directly drives the car’s wheels. The Range Extender adds roughly 330 pounds and has a fuel capacity of 2.4 gallons.

BMW i3 (Harvey Schwartz)

The new BMW i3 is fun to drive, especially as you pass gas stations on your trip. It isn’t slow hitting 0-60mph in only 7.2 seconds with a top speed of 93 mph. There are three-driving modes-Comfort, ECO PRO and ECO PRO+. They are found on the center console.

The impressive electric motor, small turning circle of 32.3 feet-a major benefit of city driving-BMW’s near perfect 50-50 weight distribution, precise electric power steering and the stable fully independent suspension set-up, help make the i3 as satisfying to drive as other BMW’s.

The i3 is stretching the definitive envelope of what a conventional car can be and how it should look. The front end is a clear and simple design. BMW’s iconic kidney grilles headline the front end with the BMW i blue background. Under the kidney grille, silver layers sculpt the front apron. Contrasting black surfaces identify the functional load compartment under the hood and air intakes.

Aerodynamic Air Curtains give an aggressive appearance to the i3, while also helping to increase range by minimizing air resistance and drag. U-shaped LED headlights give a fresh take on the BMW light design and give the car more personality. Out rear, the large window gives great visibility and easy access to the trunk. The rooflines are optimized to give as much interior room as possible. The LED U-shaped taillights are houses in the rear window and appear to be floating. The rear diffuser is the lowest point on the car and lends to its aerodynamics and is shaped to show its powerful stance. The upper spoiler is nicely placed where the hatch meets the roof.

If you need to drive a city/urban type vehicle the i3 is not be missed.

BMW i3 (Harvey Schwartz)

SIDEBAR COMMENT

For the last few years, the BMW i3 has been a popular choice for those seeking a distinctly quirky but upscale electric car in the $40,000 range (before federal tax credits). In fact, the car’s been so popular that getting bargain deals from BMW dealers have been few and far between. That all changed with the introduction of the Chevrolet Bolt EV—a car curiously styled in the manner of the i3, but with a cheaper price tag and an EPA-rated 238 mile electric range. Bad news for BMW, but good news for EV shoppers. The bargain deals on the i3 have finally arrived. If you live with the shorter range of the i3 (and many consumers can), now may be the best time to shop around for a good deal. – Roy Nakano

THE MAIN INGREDIENTS

Name of vehicle:
2017 BMW i3

Price:
$41,350.00 (all EV)
$45,200.00 (with Range Extender)

MPGe:
137/city, 111/highway

Engine:
hybrid-synchronous electric motor/3.3 kWh lithium-ion battery/650cc gas Range Extender

Horsepower:
170

Torque:
184

BMW i3 (Harvey Schwartz)

Transmission:
Single-speed direct drive

Suspension:
F-MacPherson Struts/R-5-links

Brakes:
F-11.6 inch vented disc with single-piston caliper/R-10.6 inch vented disc regenerative, single-piston calipers

Wheels/tires:
6X19 inch aluminum wheels/155/70 all-season, low rolling radial tires

Dimensions
Length: 157.4 inches
Width: 69.9 inches
Height: 62.1 inches
Weight: 2,700 pounds/2,899 pounds with Range Extender

EPA size classification*:
Subcompact

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For more information about BMW products, go to bmwusa.com.

* Passenger car classes are designated by the EPA based on interior volume index or seating capacity, except the ones classified as special vehicle. A two-seater is classified as a car with no more than two designated seating positions.

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