Maybe, just maybe, BMW has found the delicate balance between those who think they want a pure electric car and those who are prepared to live with one and its limitations.
The BMW i3 all-electric sedan has a starting price of $36,450 (after $8,500 Ontario rebate), is guaranteed for eight years and is fully recyclable at the end of its useable life.
The i3 was designed from the outset as an all-electric car. That means no real need for an engine, gas tank even transmission tunnel to eat away at space or add weight.
BMW calls the concept LifeDrive and it consists of two components: the Life Module (passenger cabin) and Drive Module (propulsion).
The Drive Module is 100 per cent aluminum platform and houses a 22 kWh lithium-ion battery as well as the front MacPherson strut and rear five-link suspension. The 450 lb battery is placed between the two axles at the rear and ?plants? the wheels on the road surface.
Drive comes from a 170 hp (184 lb/ft of torque) electric motor that weighs just 110 lb located at the driver side rear over the two driven wheels.
For $4,000 extra there is the Range Extender option. It adds a 650 cc gasoline-powered two-cylinder in the back on the passenger side. When the battery gets low, the 38 hp (41 lb/ft) engine cuts in and acts as a generator supplying power to the battery. The engine never drives the wheels.
Recharging time using a 220-volt (32 amps) takes about three hours. The available fast charger provides an 80 per cent charge in 20 minutes and 100 per cent in 30 minutes. BMW offers three different charging station options, which are installed by Bosch.
The Life Module is made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), the first such passenger cell in the auto industry and also 50 per cent lighter than steel but just as strong. It attaches to the Drive Module.
Because there are no intrusions in the Life Module it has the passenger volume of a 3 Series BMW, but the footprint of a 1 Series.
Much of the interior is made from renewable and/or recycled products. Even the key housing is made from castor oil pressed from castor seeds.
It goes from 0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds (7.9 seconds with Range Extender) with a top speed limited to 150 km/h to conserve battery power. The all-important 80-120 km passing time is 4.9 seconds
Real world range is 130-160 miles in the normal ?Comfort? mode. By switching to ECO PRO mode or ECO PRO+ mode distance extends another 20 per cent.
Mixing horsepower and engine power is almost impossible, but the best estimate of the i3 would be 1.4/1.7/1.5L/100 km city/highway/combined.
One of the best ways to make the most out of the battery is by brake power regeneration. When the driver lifts his/her foot of the accelerator, the motor becomes a generator feeding the battery.
At the same time the deceleration of the motor as it harvests energy is not unlike mechanical braking. If the driver is judicious, something like 75 per cent of stopping can be done without using the brake pedal. Just so the guy behind you knows you are slowing, the brake lights come on.
With a very distinctive shape, onlookers will know the i3 is something special but it does not scream ?I?m saving the planet, I?m saving the planet? like you see with other designs.
With a remarkably tight turning circle of 32.3 ft and BMW signature near perfect 50:50 weight ratio, the i3 gives spirited performance.
I?d say the power off the line is as good as some V6s I could name. The rather skinny tires used to decrease rolling resistance gave better grip than they look.
Lift off the accelerator and the i3 brakes very solidly. Until you get used to it, power is very much on/off. There is, however, a sweet spot in the pedal travel where you can ?coast? using just kinetic power.
Because torque is almost immediately available, blending into the flow of traffic on a 400-series highway is done with ease. And because the only noise is the tires, there is none of the roar of an engine.
The first couple of times, it was a bit unnerving. I?m so used to having the note of the engine indicating merging power, that the lack of it made me check the speedo several times.
The interior is a wonderful blending of leading edge and reclaimed.
For instance, the trim panels have a slightly hoary look and feel that makes no bones about what it is and where it comes from which most owners will be proud to show off. These materials are high quality for sure but it underscores the lengths BMW went in order to make a truly recyclable car.
But don’t let that fool you. This has got to be one of the most connected cars yet. Using a smart phone there are a host of apps ? some of which amaze.
Check the temperature the night before and you can program the i3 to have the interior up to any desired temperature in the morning before setting out.
Public charging stations are becoming more prevalent but how do you find one?
Simple, download the app and the i3 not only searches them out, but signals which ones are in use. Find an open station and the GPS guides the i3 right to it.
Another thing that impressed was the ingress and egress thanks to the French doors. With no transmission tunnel, you can park and just slide across and open the passenger door to get out.
There are two iPad-like LCD screens, one in front of the driver with prime information such as speed and another on the centre of the instrument panel depicting just about anything and everything thanks to all those apps.
But for me, the fact the sun didn?t blot them out, even though they are placed high, is a good thing.
Known as the maker of the Ultimate Driving Machine since the middle of the last century, prestige and performance have been replaced by prestige and sustainability.
The first mass-produced car of this new era is the i3 and it opens up a whole new road in the history of BMW.
BMW i3 2014 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Four-door, five-passenger electric car.
MOTOR: Electric traction motor (170 hp, 184 lb/ft); Optional 650 cc engine/generator (38 hp, 41 lb/ft); one speed transmission
CARGO CAPACITY: 15.1 cu ft
FUEL ECONOMY: (estimated equivalent) 1.4,1.7/1.5L/100 km city/highway/combined
PRICE: $44,950; after Ontario rebate, $36,450
Metroland Media for Wheels.ca