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Is i3 electric everything it claims?

Is the arrival of BMW?s new i3 electric car a ?truly pivotal moment for the future of mobility ? a revolutionary shift in every aspect of car production,? as North American president Ludwig Willisch proclaimed at its recent unveiling?

Let?s see:

The i3 isn?t the first EV built from the ground up for battery power. Nissan?s Leaf and Tesla?s Model S were designed that way, too.

All three are superior to competitors that replace a conventional car?s gas-burning bits with a battery pack and electric motor. They also demonstrate a stronger commitment to electric mobility.

The i3, though, stands out in construction, with a carbon-fibre passenger compartment, aluminium chassis and thermoplastic skin. These materials make it safer, lighter, better-handling, more spacious and far more durable than any alternative.

This method will be revolutionary, though, only if copied in other BMW vehicles and by competitors, particularly for mass-selling models. But carbon fibre and aluminium are expensive, and making them consumes huge amounts of electricity. They won?t go into widespread use unless costs and energy demands fall.

BMW isn?t providing details about the i3?s battery pack and energy-management system, made in-house using lithium-ion cells from South Korea?s Samsung. Although the pack?s capacity, at 22 kWh, is similar to cheaper competitors?, its motor delivers substantially more horsepower.

The company says real-world range is 130 to 160 km, or up to 200 in the ?greenest? EcoPro driving mode. That?s better than other EVs, apart from the far-costlier Model S, but not a step-change.

Similarly, the zero-to-100 km/h time of 7.2 seconds, and top speed of 150, lead most others, but not overwhelmingly.

The i3 is, so far, the only purpose-built EV offering a range-extending gasoline engine. Chevrolet?s Volt only seems similar: Its engine is integral, not an optional ($4,000) add-on. The Volt provides only one-third the i3?s range and operates like a regular hybrid on long trips.

BMW designed the i3 for urban and suburban use, for which its range is fine. The little engine reassures drivers they won?t get stuck with a dead battery; it?s not for cross-country jaunts.

(The extender?s weight, by the way, cuts battery range by about 10 per cent.)

The i3?s performance wins hands-down: The light weight, low centre of gravity, 50/50 weight distribution, instant torque, tight turning radius and array of BMW suspension and steering components all contribute.

Although every carmaker pushes connectivity, the i3 seems a step ahead, in part because of its focus on urban driving.

Among other features, it not only locates charging stations and advises whether they?re in use but also assesses terrain and traffic conditions to determine whether the car has enough range left to reach a destination, and even proposes alternative routes and driving styles to help out.

It also incorporates walking, biking or transit into potential routes, and helps locate parking spots, even in residential driveways whose owners join the ?Park at My House? app.

With a base price of about $45,000, the i3 isn?t far above the Volt or Ford Focus EV and is below Toyota?s battery-powered RAV4.

But other, albeit lesser, EVs are cheaper and prices are dropping, leaving the i3 toward the premium end, where it won?t sell in huge numbers.

On the other hand, BMW insists it will make money on each i3, while others sell at a loss to build a market or comply with environmental regulations.

Speaking of the environment, most carmakers green their vehicles by using recycled or biomaterials, and their operations by installing renewable energy, cutting energy consumption and reducing waste.

Again, the i3 goes further: Interior and exterior plastics are 25-per-cent recycled, dashboard and door coverings are made from a grass grown near the Leipzig assembly plant, and waterpower generates electricity for the carbon-fibre plant in Washington State.

Conclusion: The i3 is no ?revolutionary shift,? but an evolutionary leap that should inspire competitors to up their game.

wheels@thestar.ca

  • Is i3 electric everything it claims? Re: Gorrie-BMW i3 pic - One more__On 2013-07-30, at 11:40 AM, Peter Gorrie wrote:____One more pic of BMW i3 from new York unveiling. Shot by Peter Gorrie, July 29, 2013____
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