BMW i3 Concept (2011) first official pictures

Published: 29 July 2011

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This is the BMW i3 Concept, a near-production preview of Munich’s new urban vehicle. Previously known as the Megacity Vehicle (MCV), it’s an all-electric carbonfibre and aluminium car that BMW will sell from 2013 as part of its new ‘i’ range – the i8 supercar has also been unveiled today. Both the BMW i3 and i8 concepts will be revealed at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show in September.

Is the BMW i3 just an electric Mini with a different badge?

Oh no. Beneath the stylish skin is BMW’s new LifeDrive architecture. The Drive element comprises the suspension, battery and drive systems, plus the aluminium structural and crash elements, while the Life part is the high-strength and lightweight carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell.

The LifeDrive set-up features in both the i8 and i3, but it’s different in the latter because of its all-electric configuration. The Drive element sits low, containing the big lithium-ion batteries (held in place and protected by aluminium ‘profiles’) for optimum weight distribution and a low centre of gravity, and the Life element is mounted on top. Think of the body-on-chassis configuration of American pick-up trucks – albeit a little more complex – and you’ll be along the right lines.

And this i3 is electric?

That’s right. An electric motor (mounted over the rear axle and driving the rear wheels via a single-speed gearbox) produces 168bhp and 184lb ft, the latter from zero rpm – it’s 40% smaller than the motor found in the Mini E. With a 1250kg kerbweight it’s enough, BMW claims, for 0-37mph in less than four seconds, and 0-62mph in under eight seconds. Top whack is 93mph, and the batteries can be fully charged in six hours from a domestic plug, or up to 80% in 60 minutes from a high-voltage socket.

But, just in case you’ve got range anxiety, there’s an REx (or range-extender) option, which installs a three-cylinder petrol engine into the i3 to power a generator and keep the batteries topped up. Stick with solely EV power and BMW reckons on a 80 to 100-mile range, or 140 miles if you really push it. An Eco Pro mode helps increase the range, and the Eco Pro+ mode dials back the air-con, heater and other ancillaries as much as possible.

Size-wise the i3 is 3845mm long, 1537mm tall and a chunky 2011mm wide, making it shorter and taller than a Ford Fiesta, but very nearly as broad as a Lamborghini Aventador. The 2570mm wheelbase is lengthier than the Blue Oval’s supermini, and although the 200-litre is pretty small, the rear bench folds and there’s a cubbyhole in the nose. 

What else?

The horizontal LifeDrive split means there’s no traditional transmission tunnel, leaving space for full-width benches both up front and in the back. And (how cool is this?) there are suicide doors too – though BMW would rather we call them ‘coach’ doors.

Both the i3 and i8 feature a ‘three-layer’ interior, with the outer, supporting structures in white, the inner layer consisting of the seats and storage areas, and the black level inbetween made up of the instrument panels and other technical elements. There’s a 6.5in screen for the instrument panel, and a 8.8in central screen.

Browse BMW i3 cars for sale

And BMW is very proud of the materials used in the interior: some of the instrument panel and door paneling uses natural fibres, the leather seats are naturally tanned, and 25% (by weight) of the interior plastics come from recycled or renewable raw materials.

What about the exterior styling of the new BMW i3?

Lots of aerodynamic elements crafted over transparent surfaces serve to make the i3 look much more interesting than any other small car. It’s not quite as extreme as the i8, but there are still ‘AirCurtains’ to ensure optimum air flow around the wheel arches, and aeroflaps in the sills behind the front wheels, both of which are claimed to substantially reduce drag. There’s also a completely smooth and enclosed underbody. The kidney grilles are blanked off (there’s no engine to feed), the wheels are tall but narrow 19in items, and there are energy saving LED headlamps, too.

And while the styling is fairly futuristic, so are some of the mobility solutions. Beyond the necessary smartphone connectivity (so you can check the charge of your EV remotely), the i3 also features BMW’s new Front Protection system, with a camera that scans the road ahead and warns of potential collisions – it can also detect pedestrians below 37mph and brake the car. Parking Assistant steers and manoeuvres the i3 into tight spaces without you need to do anything, and Traffic Jam Assistant steers, accelerates and brakes you in traffic jams at speeds up to 25mph, as long as you keep one hand on the wheel. Plus the ‘Last Mile Navigation’ system can guide you on foot for the last steps of your journey, and the ‘Intermodal Route Planning’ finds your best sat-nav route using private and public transport.

UK sales start in 2013, and prices are expected to be in excess of £20,000. 

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By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy