June 21, 2021

Will Plug-In BMWs Turn Enthusiasts On?

BMW fans can soon decide for themselves whether the company has delivered on its promise. On Friday in Frankfurt, BMW unveiled working prototypes of the i8, a plug-in hybrid sport coupe that will carry a six-figure price tag, and the i3, a four-seat battery-powered compact car aimed at a wider market.

The two cars are the first from the company’s new “i” subbrand for electric cars, plug-in hybrids and other alternative-power vehicles. While BMW hasn’t disclosed what other models may be in the works, the i8 and i3 appear to be the high and low ends of what may someday be a broader line of low-emission, high-mileage offerings.

Though officially labeled concept cars, the prototypes presented in Frankfurt are essentially the vehicles that will begin rolling off an assembly line in Leipzig, Germany, in 2013. BMW plans to market the cars in all of its main markets, including the United States, by the end of 2013, with the emphasis on urban areas.


There was never much worry that the i8, versions of which BMW has shown before, would disappoint purists. With a battery-powered electric motor turning the front wheels and a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine driving the back, the i8 will race from a standstill to 100 kilometers per hour (or 62 miles per hour) in 4.6 seconds, BMW says. That is faster than the most powerful version of BMW’s Z4 sports roadster and competitive with most incarnations of the Porsche 911.

The i8 is also a riposte to the Audi R8 E-tron and Mercedes-Benz SLS E-Cell, electric sports cars that have already been publicly shown in concept form and will go into limited production within the next two years.

The four-seat i8 can go 20 miles solely on battery power and will theoretically travel more than 100 miles on a gallon of gas when the engine and batteries are working together, with the electric motor providing a power boost during acceleration. The company concedes that hard driving will cut that figure in half; this BMW may be green, but it can also be aggressive.

It is less clear if the i3, presented as a city car, will rate a place alongside highly regarded BMWs like the 3 Series. The fuzzy renderings the company had shown before Friday, as it carefully rationed information about the electric-car project, looked more like a streamlined Mini than a prototypical Bimmer.

There had remained doubts as to whether the company was really willing to risk its prestige on a market for electric cars that, for all the hoopla, remained unproven. But based on the model shown in Frankfurt, BMW has clearly concluded that the i3 will cast a positive halo on its brand.

The car is visually a BMW, including the trademark double-kidney grille, which, however, is purely decorative. The battery-powered i3 doesn’t need a front air intake for engine cooling.

The i3 also preserves the rear-wheel-drive format that is another BMW hallmark. At the same time, designers have updated the design language for the iPhone generation. Familiar elements, including a prominent roundel badge and L-shaped taillights, mix with features like transparent roofs and side panels, the better to show off the carbon-fiber passenger compartment and the seats of leather tanned with environmentally friendly olive oil.

The i cars also signal that they represent a new kind of BMW. In contrast to the monocolor of most conventional cars, the i8 and i3 prototypes have what BMW calls layered schemes, swoops of carbon black and light gray on the body panels, with blue accents.

The i3 aims for Euro-coolness rather than the techno-nerdiness of a Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf.

“It is a BMW,” said Richard Steinberg, who is in charge of the company’s electric car operations in the United States. “It remains an ultimate driving machine.”

The performance metrics of the i3 seem respectably BMW-like. It can go from 0 to 62 m.p.h. in less than 8 seconds, faster than some variants of BMW’s 1 Series and 3 Series cars. Moreover, the i3 will deliver a nice kick from stoplights, reaching 60 k.p.h. (37 m.p.h.) in just 4 seconds, according to BMW. That is because electric motors deliver peak torque from a standstill. In internal combustion engines, torque increases, up to a point, with the engine speed.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/automobiles/will-plug-in-bmws-turn-enthusiasts-on.html?partner=rss&emc=rss