2014 BMW i3: First Drive Of BMW's Radical New Electric Car Page 3

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2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013

2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013

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The company even suggested that it may try to discourage buyers from choosing the range-extended model, perhaps by letting them take home a battery-electric version for a week.

If buyers truly found that the car didn’t have enough range for their week’s worth of travels (assuming overnight plugging in), BMW would then let them upgrade to the range-extended version. We’ll see how (or whether) that idea plays out in real-world sales.

But because the company has said that the range extender is not for daily use, but for emergencies and unusual situations, it remains unclear whether the i3’s performance in range-extending mode will be compromised.

Asked directly about the case of a 12-mile uphill grade of 5 percent at highway speeds with four people in the car, the powertrain executive for the car said that passengers wouldn’t notice any difference in performance.

Until we drive a BMW i3 in range-extending mode, we can’t assess whether the car’s a viable Chevy Volt competitor. Both cars have four seating positions, with somewhat tight rear seats. The BMW comes in almost $10,000 more expensive, but then it has a German luxury brand rather than an all-American bowtie on the grille.

Styling mish-mosh

The 2014 i3’s most successful aspects are the front and front three-quarter views. The only clues to its carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body shell and separate aluminum chassis carrying all the running gear come when you open the door and see a few exposed, unpainted plastic surfaces.

From the front, the electric car leads with a slightly more geometrical version of the classic BMW twin-kidney grille. It’s more of a polygon than the rounded-corner grilles on gasoline and diesel models.

The two blanking plates that sit where air would normally pass into the “engine compartment” are outlined in a medium blue tone—signaling the car’s unusual battery-electric powertrain.

The base of the windshield is quite far forward, giving the front an appealing snub-nosed appearance. But move around to the side, and strange things start to happen.

There’s a very practical dip in the window line for the second door, but then the belt line rises again to a level above that of the front doors—giving the car three different horizontal lines on the side, plus a window line that dips down from the roof to make the rear window shallower than it could be.

BMW calls this “stream flow” design—we’ll see it on other BMW “I” cars, including the upcoming i8 plug-in hybrid sport coupe—but it goes far beyond the window lines of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe and the Honda Odyssey minivan, the only other cars to have a rear window lower than the front.

Then, at the rear, it all falls apart. The tailgate is a shiny black glass hatch that contains the rear lights in it, but sits slightly ahead of the body sides that flank it, which protrude in a way that looks like vestigial fins. Then there’s the rear bumper shield, which rises high up to the base of the load floor—which is higher than you’d expect because it has the electric drive motor underneath it.

Scandinavian modern loft

Inside, to our eyes, the BMW i3 is both distinctive and modern.

The designers worked hard to convey a sense of space, and they succeeded, even if some of that interior volume sits beyond the dashboard or in places that it’s not all that useful to passengers.

The design chief for the i3 said that starting with a clean sheet of paper and building a car like no BMW that came before let them consider what would be the most appropriate interior for a city car. And he cited the open feeling and minimalist furnishings of a loft apartment as an inspiration.

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