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Green Car Reports' Best Car To Buy Nominee: 2014 BMW i3

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The 2014 BMW i3 is the most audacious expansion of a well-known car brand in many years.

BMW--the maker of "ultimate driving machines"--is using electric propulsion, a carbon-fiber reinforced body, and a Scandinavian Modern interior not in an expensive luxury sedan, but in a subcompact hatchback city car that it intends to build and sell in volume.

And that's daring.

2014 BMW i3 Electric Car: Connectivity, Navigation Highlights

2014 BMW i3 Electric Car: Connectivity, Navigation Highlights

Enlarge Photo

That the resulting car is seductively soothing to drive even in grim stop-and-go urban traffic is a surprise.

MORE: 2014 BMW i3: First Drive of BMW's Radical New Electric Car

That the i3's handling is only average may be a bigger surprise.

But from its first announcement, the 2014 BMW i3 was clearly going to be on our short list of candidates for the Green Car Reports annual Best Car To Buy award this year.

MORE: Green Car Reports' Best Car To Buy 2014: The Nominees

And now that we've driven it, we're convinced that it's a strong contender for the award.

2014 BMW i3 Electric Car: Connectivity, Navigation Highlights

2014 BMW i3 Electric Car: Connectivity, Navigation Highlights

Enlarge Photo

Unlike the world's best-selling plug-in electric car, the Nissan Leaf--which will soon log its 100,000th sale--the BMW i3 is not a utilitarian transportation appliance.

It's a car with panache, a definite point of view, and one that's highly suited to its mission.

The challenge in the U.S. is that its mission is one that many BMW buyers have likely never had to assign--or buy a car for.

In the U.S., virtually no one says to their better half, "Honey, we need to go buy a city car."

Instead, U.S. drivers buy cars with the greatest possible capability--even if, statistically, that capability is rarely if ever used in multi-vehicle households.

(The average U.S. household now has more than 2 vehicles; the average affluent U.S. household has more than 3.)

2014 BMW i3, 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

2014 BMW i3, 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

Yet on technology alone, the BMW i3 is significant.

Its running gear is contained in an aluminum rolling platform that includes its crash structures, houses the lithium-ion battery in the floor, and contains the electric motor under the load bay powering the rear wheels.

Next to the motor is an empty space that can hold the i3's optional range extender, a two-cylinder adapted motorcycle engine that can power a generator to keep the car running for almost as many miles as its battery pack.

(Those BMW i3 ranges and design specifications result from California's zero-emission vehicle rules, and qualify it as a "BEVx," meaning that even when it runs in range-extending mode, the state's powerful Air Resources Board views it as an electric car with no emissions.)

MORE: Green Car Reports' Best Car To Buy 2014: Technology Trends

The body--whose lines, like those of the Leaf, are an acquired taste--is made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP).

2014 BMW i3, 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

2014 BMW i3, 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

It is so strong that it can dispense altogether with a center pillar between the standard front doors and the small, rear-hinged "coach" rear doors.

Many of these technologies, BMW says, are being pioneered in its 'i' line of electric cars and will spread into other, more conventional BMW models in due course.

In that sense, the BMW i3 and its brethren are something of a prototype for the cars of the future.

But the BMW i3 is far from a compliance car. BMW expects to sell 10,000 i3s in 2014--the company has reservations for almost all of them already--and has talked about volumes of 30,000 a year.

For all those reasons--not least that it's a serious production car and a daring leap forward in technology, packaging, and design--the 2014 BMW i3 is clearly a finalist for Green Car Reports' Best Car To Buy 2014 award.

For details of all of this year's nominees, along with articles from the previous years' awards, see our Best Car To Buy page.

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© 2014 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.