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BMW introduces the i3 electric car with optional range-extending engine


July 29, 2013

The BMW i3 is set to hit the road in November

The BMW i3 is set to hit the road in November

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After years of prototypes and testing, BMW has pulled the silken cloth off the i3, its first all-electric car and the first member of its "i" sub-brand of green cars. The global premiere was a triple-city affair, taking place simultaneously in Beijing, London and New York. The US$42,000 electric hatchback employs some of BMW's most advanced technologies to date.

Electric done BMW-Style

In research that was conducted during its Project i, which involved 1,000 participants and more than 12.5 million driven miles, BMW found that the average daily driving distance was around 30 miles (48 km). When viewed through that prism, the i3's 80 to 100 miles (129 to 161 km) of range looks more than ample. BMW says that ECO MODE can add an extra 12 percent on top of that.

For those that don't believe the range is ample, BMW offers an interesting option. Unlike other automakers, who have kept models strictly electric or strictly hybrid, BMW is hedging its bets with the i3. In addition to the all-electric version, buyers can choose to equip the i3 with a 34-hp 650cc range-extending two-cylinder engine, essentially turning the car into a Volt-like series hybrid. That engine will not power the wheels but will serve strictly as a back-up power reserve, adding range and versatility.

BMW says that the range extender, which has a fuel capacity of 2.4 gal, roughly doubles the car's range, which still falls well short of a traditional gasoline car. More important than outright range, however, is the fact that, with the range extender, drivers can refuel at gas stations rather than having to find an electrical charge station. Gas stations are far more readily available than charge stations and also provide quicker refueling.

The i3's basic powertrain specs remain much the same as when BMW introduced the last i3 concept at the LA Auto Show last year. The 170-hp electric motor, which twists out up to 184 lb-ft of torque, receives its power from a 22-kWh, liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery. Thanks to the optional SAE DC Combo Fast Charging hardware, that battery can fill to 100 percent in about 30 minutes. The 220-volt Level 2 J1772 charger, meanwhile, takes care of business in about 3 hours. The motor works in concert with a single-speed transmission to send power to the rear wheels.

The i3 can't compete with the upcoming i8 when it comes to speed, but it will offer drivers ample pep for daily commuting. It can accelerate to 30 mph (48 km/h) in 3.5 seconds and 60 mph (96.5 km/h) in about double that time. The car's top speed is 93 mph (150 km/h), which is electronically limited to conserve electricity.

The i3 uses regenerative braking to help keep the battery running as long as possible. The regeneration is speed sensitive, employing braking at lower speeds and coasting at higher speeds. As BMW tells it: "Rather than switching straight to energy regeneration when the driver eases off the accelerator, the electric motor uses zero torque control to separate from the drivetrain and deploy only the available kinetic energy for propulsion. In this mode, the BMW i3 cruises using virtually no energy at all."

Lightweight materials and compact design

The powertrain may be the technological highlight of any EV, but electric cars also tend to have a lot of other technologies at work, pulling the most range and efficiency possible out of that powertrain. The i3 sets a new standard in this regard. According to BMW it uses the first mass-produced carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell build in the auto industry. BMW has committed to bringing carbon fiber, more common in supercars like the Lamborghini Aventador, into the mainstream, and the i3 is one of the first models that makes good on the promise.

The CFRP is used in the construction of what BMW terms the "Life Module" (i.e. the cabin area), helping to slim the i3 down to roughly 2,700 lb. That weight is distributed at a near-perfect 50:50 ratio. The "Drive Module" (i.e. chassis) is made of all aluminum, and other lightweight materials like a magnesium instrument panel cross-member add to the weight savings.

In addition to its light weight, BMW says that the CFRP Life Module, combined with crash-activated front and rear aluminum structures, offers ample safety and protection. The company coordinated with international crash test agencies to thoroughly test the integrity of the design and reports that CFRP's rigidity and high impact absorption allow it to maintain form and protect occupants well. The battery is positioned in the underbody of the car, where it is least likely to be affected by the impact of a crash.

The debut i3 is in the form of the four-door, as opposed to the Concept Coupe from LA. When compared to the original i3 concept, it loses the extreme glass doors, but maintains the expanded rear side window of the Concept Coupe. The rear-hinged rear coach doors create an open, B pillar-less entry into the car. Other exterior design features of interest include U-shaped LED head and tail lamps, contrasting black surfaces, a large rear windshield, and aerodynamic air curtains.

BMW designed the i3 as a city car through and through, using short front and rear overhangs to improve maneuvering in tight driving and parking spaces. The car has a turning radius of 32.3 feet (9.8 m), helping it to remain nimble around cramped city centers. Thanks to the elimination of the typical transmission tunnel, the open interior offers a "Slide Through Experience," allowing the driver to easily slide over and jump out the passenger door to avoid exiting onto a busy street, or perhaps when the space is too tight to open the driver-side door.

Futuristic interior

While naming the cabin the "Life Module" seems a little dramatic, the i3's interior does separate itself from the average car. In addition to the Slide Through Experience, the loss of the transmission tunnel increases space and creates a more open feel, which is further promoted with front and rear bench seats. A clean, functional dashboard keeps the driver focused on his mission of navigating from point A to B. The freestanding steering column houses all of the controls he'll need to push forward, including the instrument cluster, start/stop button and gear shift selector.

BMW reminds driver and passengers they're in the most eco-friendly of rides using a portfolio of available sustainable materials it calls "Next Premium." The sustainable eucalyptus wood trim showed in the concept stages carries over to production, as does the olive leaf-tanned leather. Parts of the instrument panel and door panels are made from natural fibers procured from southern Asia’s Kenaf plant.

Navigation and infotainment is handled by a SIM card-powered BMW ConnectedDrive system tailored specifically to electric driving. BMW i Navigation delivers a real-world driving range estimate and mapping visualization, taking factors like elevation and distance into account. The system also provides information about nearby charging stations.

On the road, the driver has access to a ConnectedDrive agent at all times of the day. The agent can provide information about things like charging stations and points of interest. BMW's Intelligent eCall provides emergency assistance, sending information about the location, number of front-seat occupants, and crash severity to the BMW ConnectedDrive Call Center, which notifies the appropriate 911 dispatch.

The i3 also leverages the latest mobile technology to enhance functionality both in and out of the car. An Apple cable connects iPhone owners with apps and phone features. The BMW i Remote smartphone app offers functions like battery monitoring, car location, and door locking and unlocking.

Pricing and availability

The BMW i3 will launch in Europe in November and in the United States in the second quarter of 2014. It will be available in three trim levels – Mega World, Giga World and Tera World – starting at US$41,350, before any federal or state tax credits or BMW's destination and handling fee. All three trim levels include the ConnectedDrive system, Intelligent eCall, i Remote app, trim-specific 19-inch wheels, a 7.4 kW onboard charger and LED headlights. The main differences are in interior materials and equipment. The Range Extender i3 model will start at $45,200, before destination and handling fee or tax incentives.

Product page: BMW i3

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

Gotta hate these useless press release photos car makers give to news outlets. Geez, BMW! Show me the trunk! What's under the hood in the front? Come on, lederhosen!


While the volt was promoted as a serial hybrid before it's introduction, unfortunately it wasn't to be. They claimed some vague marketing reason and actually shipped a parallel hybrid.

More info at: http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2010/10/gm-admits-chevy-volts-gasoline-engine-can-power-the-wheels-so-is-it-still-special.html

And: http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/alternative-fuel/cells/chevy-volt-hybrid-drive-system

Seems like the worst of both worlds. Two transmissions (electric and gas), extra weight, and extra cost. The I3 is the first true series hybrid that I know of.


Can the range extender be removed from the car when not needed... Or is it hard mounted into the vehicle..

(making it removable would be a great Idea...)

Also. stop saying that the Volt is a series hybrid... It is a parallel hybrid variant... Noting that parallel hybrids are able to achieve higher efficiencies under some operating regimes, so it isn't negative to market it as such... (People may feel a little ripped off when they find out that their great new electric car, still has a mechanical link from the engine to the wheels...) Obviously this vehicle has no such connection, and the range extender appears to be purely a generator.

Keep the concepts coming. Great to see.

(Quote for the die hards: "In effect, the gas engine supplies power directly to the transmission, which is just like a parallel hybrid." "...caused some consternation because over the Volt's development GM has stated that the gas engine never directly powers the car. While that's not entirely true,..." Popular Mechanics


"It's time we make an electric car. I know, let's make it look terrible!" -every designer from an established car company

I thought BMW was smarter than that but they're really going ahead with these ugly things.


Let me tell you what I and most other consumers want for an electrical car. 4 door sedan with gorgeous looks inside and out. Range of about 250-300 miles and a price no more than 30K. Till this is done electric cars will always be an after thought when it comes to buying a car. Having said that my hats off to Tesla as they have done an amazing job so far. They will come up with the car I am wishing for with in the next 3-5 years of not in 2.


Show me a 2 seater conv. that is sporty & fun to drive.

I suggest that BMW consider a 2 seater convertible that would be a fun commuter, think electric Lotus 7-ish that old school sports car drivers would call "spidery" which would be hugely popular, instead of just another puffed up (mini-ish) blob-mobile with two big nostrils, a set of flashy rims and tall tires!

For similar money you can buy a electric classic Bug from Zelectricmotors http://www.zelectricmotors.com/about that may or may not be a convertible but we know they are fun to drive, especially around town...


It is a nice idea and design to have the electric range up to 100 miles. The range is an plus over other e-cars.

To overcome the anxiety of the range, in each and every gas stations the car manufactures should have the fast charging stations and all cars must have universal connectors rather than having its own proprietary chargers.

However no car is near to Chevy Volt in design and technology. They set the standards in electric cars. But failed to market it. And also bad media gave negative image about the car. Many wrote he reports on Volt without driving the car. Just for your information I was proud owner of Chevy Volt.

Tesla Model S is a super car, but it is far beyond reach to mass. Only few can buy it not to save the money on gas> The person spends 100 grand it does not matter to him to spend few dollars on gas whatever the price may be.

The price of e car should be in the range of $30,000 which is affordable to many.

roh vemula

Tesla has them all beat, if Tesla can come up with a car in the $30K range with a choice of range as they do now, they will take the market.

The rest of these manufacturers are putting out nothing that is inovative and starting at $40K, I don't think so!.


Why can BMW make the i3 a hip car - or at least not so ugly? The new i3 is almost as ugly as the Pontiac Aztek. It seems they think electric car owners do not care about the car atheistic look.

James Ng

With performance figures nearly identical to the Mini Cooper S, and 50/50 weight distribution it sounds like a fun track day car. I'm also guessing that the potential torque available from the electric motor just might be electronically limited as well for the sake of range.


Closer to a practical EV, but not close enough (no cigar). Too pricey. This is not a fully functional car at 100 mile range, 200 if you want to part with another $4000. And what about the battery life? When it goes how much to replace?

The range is fine except for my once a year trip. Then I need 400+. Why couldn't they have made the gas tank 7-10 gals? Or extend the range by lower weight (2 seater) and lower drag. Curtains? How about sealed wheel wells and undercarriage? And slicker body?

Don Duncan

The article stated that you could slide from drivers seat out the passenger door. The pictures then show a center console and a center post of some kind extending down from the dashboard. If you are a monkey you can slide over all these obstructions but for most of us this sure looks like a hassle. Also I think it would be difficult to make this car look any uglier. KEREMZ - We all want a vehicle that gets phenomenal mileage and range, cost practically nothing, is gorgeous and is sporty, carries everyone and everything we need. I have been waiting for that all my life. I haven't been holding my breath. Pipe dreams are a fantasy.


People love to #$#@! and moan. BMW makes a cheap EV, by luxury car standards addresses range anxiety and all they say is "it doesn't look good" "should be a roadster." Two-seat roadsters are not very popular because they're not practical for most people. If you want that buy a Tesla. Can't afford it -then you can't afford an electric car that drives like a gas sports car. This one looks like a dozen other cars out there -Hyundai Veloster or Honda CRZ. Not for you, don't buy it.

Duncan -Big engines and gas tanks are heavy. Heavy limits the electric range, defeats the purpose of an EV. Rent a car for your one 400 mile trip a year, better off avoiding the wear and tear on your own auto anyways. How much more weight do you think they can lose and keep the price at $40,000. It weighs less than most cars and has carbon fiber. Your dreaming.

Joe F

I simply LOVE the looks. And it has such a strong identity. I hope it does really well.

T N Args

Joe F- Spot on! The carpers out there will never be satisfied. New tech is always expensive and usually the realm of pioneers who are willing to sacrifice their $$ to help eventually drive the cost down. Tesla doesn't sell a $30K car for a reason; there's no profit in it... yet. The article mentions that BMW Project-i used 1000 participants, driving 12.5 million miles to conclude that this is where the market is. Fact is, BMW doesn't need to consider the whining fringes who think they are better designers, or the neurotic dreamers who demand an anti-gravity machine with a free-energy motor for $5000! The i3 will sell just fine without them...


QUOTE - "The BMW i Remote smartphone app offers functions like battery monitoring, car location, and door locking and unlocking." That sentence just lost them my purchase! As if iPhone use in cars isn't killing people already! If battery condition is not on the dash, it should be ... knowing the level inside the house is not needed, would you check your petrol level inside your house if available? If I want to remote lock/unlock a car all I should need is a thick keyfob, not yet another app! {Needs to unlock car ... looks at phone to find right app ... walks into pole!} I wonder if they will offer to pay for the many broken pairs of glasses?

The Skud

What I am most curious about is the seeming lack of intelligence that went into the design of these cars and battery systems in the first place. I mean hey, I am no genius but I can see plain as day that the emperor has no clothes and they have done this back@$$wards.

Wouldn't it make more sense to take your battery setup, call it a energy pack, and make it so it is easily removed (slid out of its holder) via robot arms on a rolling carrier system (batteries are heavy as a rule) at the charging station and the replacement fully charged energy pack slid back in place in moments? We have the technology to determine the amount of energy that was used in the original battery pack and the remainder can be deducted from the cost of the replacement energy pack. The energy packs cost the consumer nothing more than the cost of the refill of energy. You pay for the first energy pack with the purchase price of the vehicle. Computers make keeping track of how much energy was used and the cost of the renewed power pack energy simple and easy.

THEN...............................AFTER you have this energy pack and re"fueling" station system designed and functional do you go ahead and design whatever kind of frame to hold the energy pack and body you want for your passenger car or truck. Sticking a not so easily removed battery inside the vehicle was not, and will not, prove to be very smart, unless of course they come up with easily and rapidly charged batteries, which doesn't seem too likely in the near future. And even if they do, so what? Instant refueling even gas powered cars don't have. All you would need do is roll up to the "refueling" station and the robot would roll forward, do the swapping and calculating of fees and Zip Zam Zoop you'd be on your way. Never even have to leave your vehicle until you park in front of the restaurant/comfort station to empty your water tank and refill your tummy.

I suspect that by doing it all back@$$wards a lot of folks are misled. See if they can't come up with a fast way of refueling, as it is for gas powered vehicles, no one will want one because of the driving range mileage issue. Real genius if you are trying to delay or stop the coming of electric powered vehicles. If you own gas stations and/or oil company stocks then this is a real good way to go. I bet that most automobile and truck manufacturers own large amounts of stock in both gas stations and oil production companies and have absolutely NO INTEREST in having electric vehicles replace their gas burning jalopies. Because electric vehicles will make the use of oil be mainly for lubrication of moving parts, and hell, that can be made (maybe better) from other stuff than petroleum.

I think the system I crudely described could be easily implemented as soon as the need for the robotically operated battery changing stations became viable as all vehicles would be using the exact same re"fueling" setup. Meaning the batteries and robotic in and out system for small trucks and autos. For semi-trator trailer rigs would be some differences in size and scale but so what? The government would probably have to make the energy pack and recharging systems designs usuable by anyone with no royalty payment to anyone. So they could be made by Ford or Honda or Toyota or anyone else who wants to jump in the ring. Sometimes standardization is a good thing. Like lightbulb sockets and electrical wall oulets.

Sadly, they may force Porsche to finally redesign the 911 to use battery powered motors and they already have no luggage room.............

I have thought about this for a while I sure would like to know where I am wrong in my thinking. The electric battery thing, not about Porsches. Porsche drivers will just go ahead and pay the $30 a gallon price for petrol. And Porsche will keep on making 911s.

Tom Type

Would be great if in articles we only used the metric system. Quote wikipedia "The metric system has been officially sanctioned for use in the United States since 1866, but it remains the only industrialised country that has not adopted the metric system as its official system of measurement."

Lloyd D'Rose

Somehow I expected more - Still only one motor which has to be large with torque to get the car moving from stand still, and the attention to fast accelaration and speed limiting to 93 miles an hour - does this mean a larger more powerful motor has been used than is neccessary - if you actually only had smaller motors which could actually max out at 80 miles an hour and perhaps be smaller? - so needs less rpm - perhaps small wheel mounted motors - Multiples can be used at start up to get the car moving and high energy requirement, where as for moving acceleration single or low mulitples could be enough As I say I expected something more than what a Nissan leaf etc can already do.


Another expensive ($40k+ projected) answer to a question that nobody asked fostered by California = the broke state whose bonds nobody buys anymore..........


Joe F.: I'm dreaming? Yea, dreaming that just one car company will use the design concept originated over twenty years ago at RMI (hypercar) plus the technology like "motor in wheel" & "drive by wire" & low friction tires, ect.

I make one long trip (2000 miles) plus a few shorter ones (800 miles) every year. Renting a car just to drive a $45000 EV every day is not cost effective. I have been a member of the EV club for thirty years. If Aptera founders had not screwed up and lost their company I would have been driving a great EV for years now. No dreaming required.

Building a realistic EV is not rocket science. If one company (Aptera) can do it, others can. The so-called attempts are puny and half hearted. When I see no details on the two fundamental design elements, curb weight and drag coefficient, I know it is not a serious EV.

Don Duncan

So don't.didn't see BMW begging you.

wheel motors have problems of their own. Aptera couldn't do it, and neither can you. You are still dreaming.

Joe F

Does it have an air condition to cool the salon in hot seasons. If yes what would then be the range if he AC is on? would the AC kill the power in the car? I live in a country where i need an AC for more than 5 months a year.

Majed Hosneddine

electric cars will never cost in the 30k price range. Fascist governments (black, red, or green doesn't matter) might distribute the cost over the taxpayers. Stored electricity vehicles are toys. Far more good would be done with low cost energy recovery systems using flywheels, hydraulic, or pneumatic energy storage systems. I like pneumatic for a variety of reasons including a ready source of high pressure air for filling the tires.


It is good to see the varios car manufacturers embarking on and into total new area's of automotive excellence, whether Hybrid, dual fuel, electric, hydrogen, etc.

The end game will be standardisation across the planet for whichever refuelling strategy wins in the end and which will be the cheapest to run and purchase, volume sales to drive costs down will win.

Then it's only a small matter of time before political pressure to increase taxes because of lost revenue will put us all back in the same playing field, however this time we will be driving a cleaner, greener car.

Ah but I must admit I still love my V8 and do take it out of the shed for quick blast around the neighbourhood , gets rid of the cobwebs and gives me a buzz, but then back to the real world and mundane transport.

John S

"Tom Type" - Your "swappable" battery Idea was put into practice in Israel (didn't work). Can you imagine getting ALL manufacturers in the world to agree on the one size battery that would fit ALL cars. They have only just agreed on a universal electric plug for recharging. Battery technology continues to advance as does charging technology (faster). Toyota is developing a "plugless" charger (just park over it and it will charge the battery). The ideal battery (300 mi range and 5 min. recharge at the same cost as an ICE to manufacture) is just a matter of time. A few years ago I paid $4,500.00 for a 42" flat screen TV. I can now buy one for $380.00 or less. In time "the economies of scale" will kick in and cost, range, size, power and charging time will satisfy most expectations. Tesla's battery location is ideal (in the floor) for driving dynamics and space but they need an "optional" small on-board generator like the BMW i3 until the "ideal battery is developed - IMO.


"Don Duncan" says: "Building a realistic EV is not rocket science. If one company (Aptera) can do it, others can" - EXCEPT, Aptera DIDN'T do it. Others HAVE. GM, Nissan, Ford, BMW Tesla and so on DID. Unless you can buy one, it hasn't been "built". Prototype cars and experiments don't count. Want to know about "curb weight and drag coefficient", try "Google", it's NOT that hard. BTW - the Aptera was ugly and impractical and deserved to die. Accept the fact that current EV's are just "not for you" just like a Ford F-350 is not for me, I love my FX 35, and THAT car is probably "not for you" either. I am strongly entertaining the purchase of the BMW i3. Carbon fiber, 100 mile range, rapid re-charge, range extending generator available - Damn cool stuff.

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