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BMW electric: what is Munich doing to electrify?

Published: 03 March 2020

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BMW’s electrification plans and the brand’s pace surrounding the subject has varied wildly, between pioneering and glacial, over the last decade.

Cars like the i3 city car and i8 sports car were way ahead of their time when both arrived in 2013 but they were, and continue to be, hugely costly for Munich to develop and sell. What’s followed has been a series of plug-in hybrids and arguably little else.

But the brand has big plans ahead, aiming to get 25 electrified vehicles on the road by 2023. That might sound like a big target but be careful - electrified does not necessarily mean emission-free.

In this handy guide, we talk you through all the different electric BMWs - explaining today's range and revealing which battery-powered models are waiting in the wings. Keep scrolling for everything we know so far on BMW electric.

BMW electric

What has BMW done up until now?

As we mentioned, BMW’s i division has produced two cars: the i3 and the i8. The former is a carbonfibre-clad, high-sided hatchback and, notably, a full battery-electric car. The latter is a plug-in hybrid sports car using a three-cylinder engine from a Mini and a battery pack for pretty potent performance.

Both cars still look like brand new products today, but both aren’t long for this world as BMW comes to terms with the massive costs of development production. A more conventional model will replace the i3, while BMW has teased a potential replacement for the i8.

BMW i3 i8

Elsewhere, BMW’s plug-in hybrid range is exploding in size; there are BMW ‘i Performance’ PHEV models in the 2-, 3-, 5-, 7- and many of the X ranges. BMW has already announced that an X1 and X2 xDrive25e is on the way, and it’s a given that the most recent 1- and 2-series models will also gain a PHEV model.

In terms of battery-electric cars, three are confirmed for production by the end of 2021: the iX3 SUV, i4 Gran Coupe and iNEXT. All three of these have been teased by various concepts.

BMW iX3: the brand’s first electric SUV

BMW concept ix3

The BMW iX3 is, as the name suggests, an all-electric version of the X3 SUV. While predominantly designed for the Chinese market and built there, BMW’s intentions are still for this to be a global model; makes sense given its on-trend SUV shape. BMW is aiming for a 74kWh battery pack, claiming around 273 miles. A 282bhp, 295lb ft electric motor is applied here, and BMW says dimensions and the amount of passenger space inside is unchanged from a regular X3.

And that’s half the point of BMW’s next-generation electric cars: normalising them to the average car buyer. While the i3 and i8 have been dramatic first steps, the world needs to pay attention to EVs – BMW thinks that making them look as close to combustion-engine versions will appeal.

BMW i4: silent running Gran Coupe

BMW i4

Unveiled online – instead of the cancelled Geneva motor show – the new concept previews the forthcoming production i4, expected in 2021. It’s a hugely significant car for Munich; the first proper EV since the i3, and the beginning of a glut of i cars – think iX3 to iX5. 

It’s just a concept, but the specs will likely mirror what we see in the production model. With that in mind, BMW says the Concept i4 will have a range of 373 miles (WLTP), 523bhp, and a top speed of 124mph. Acceleration is as brutal as you’d expect from an electric Gran Coupe: the 0-62mph sprint takes around 4.0 seconds. Competitive, and around the same as of one Beemer’s own V8-powered cars.

BMW iX5: next-gen tech inbound

BMW inext

Currently codenamed iNext, the next all-electric SUV will also go into production in 2021. BMW is already testing prototypes of the new full-size BEV and promises Level 3 automated driving when the car goes on sale. Its powertrain will be similar to that of the i4, so is promising a rough 370-mile range and all-wheel drive.

iNext is one of two so-called ‘enabler models’ within the BMW range, which act as high-tech showpieces and halo cars for BMW. The most powerful of three versions is expected to draw energy from a 105kWh battery and lay down up to 400kW (circa 536bhp) of AWD e-power, with a 2.8sec 0-62mph acceleration time and a range of over 375 miles.

All the electric Mercedes-Benz cars

The next BMW i8

BMW teased us with a concept named the Vision M Next at the 2019 Frankfurt motor show. The Vision M Next will be a huge milestone for M division, ultimately paving the way for a full-electric M car. But that’s still a long way off.

Design-wise, the M Next essentially takes two reference points. The first is the mid-engined, spaceframed BMW M1 sports car that laid exotic foundations for the M division in 1978. The second is the radical BMW i8. Launched in 2014, still on sale now, the i8 was BMW’s first plug-in hybrid, and used a three-pot turbo and twin e-motors for all-wheel drive. It too pinched M1 cues. But when we interviewed then R&D boss, now-actual-boss, Klaus Frohlich in mid-2019, he reassures us that his ‘power PHEV’ is more than motor show eye candy: ‘We are no-nonsense guys, we deliver what we promise.’ Expect a production equivalent to be on sale in 2022.

bmw vision m next

The Vision M Next will be a huge milestone for M division, ultimately paving the way for a full-electric M car. But that’s still a long way off. ‘As a BEV [the Vision M Next] would be 2.1 tonnes, not 1600-1700kg. That’s a big, big difference. Long term, beyond 2025, there will possibly be M BEVs, but M is not a letter for technology, it’s a letter for performance.’

With its plug-in hybrid drivetrain, Fröhlich says the Vision M Next will absolutely deliver on M’s promise. When it so overtly plays on the M1 that started it all for M division, we’ve got everything crossed that it does.

What other electric BMWs might be on the way?

The i3 replacement, known as U11 is to be badged iX1, and adds drag-cutting design elements to what is, in principle, the third generation X1. The EV spin-off will offer a choice of 38 and 76kWh batteries leveraging ranges of 115 and 190 miles when it goes on sale in early 2022, one year after the PHEV edition.

i7 will effectively be an EV derivative of the next 7-series, known as project G70, and earmarked to go into production in late 2022. In contrast to the iNext, which boasts a bespoke body, i7 due in 2023 differs from the 7-series to the about same extent the iX3 is a visual evolution of the X3.

Further electric reading

  • What is an electric car and should you buy one?
  • How much does it cost to run an electric car?
  • Best used electric cars
  • Future electric cars: upcoming EVs
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