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2014 BMW i3: First Look

Competes with: Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt
Looks like: Pablo Picasso’s vision of a Fiat 500L
Drivetrain: 170-hp electric motor, rear-wheel drive, 22-kwh lithium-ion battery
Hits dealerships: Early 2014

The first round of electric vehicles has been here for a while — the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and a few others have been on sale for a few years. Now we’re starting to see the second-generation of EVs, and the first out of the gate is the new 2014 BMW i3, unveiled in production form earlier today.

The i3 is the first vehicle from BMW’s new i sub-brand, which the company plans to use to focus on cutting-edge alternative transportation like the four-seat city car seen here. Unlike other alternative energy vehicles like the Volt, the i3 is a completely new design built around an electric powertrain. It consists of two parts — the “Life Module” passenger compartment and the “Drive Module” powertrain, and both are extremely advanced.
The Life Module is made almost entirely out of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, the first time any mass production car has featured such technology. Using a new process developed by BMW and its partners, the passenger compartment’s carbon fiber construction results in a structure that’s as strong as steel but weighs half as much.

Under the hood, the car is powered by a 22-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which is slightly smaller than the Nissan Leaf’s. It uses the latest charging technology to enable the car to charge in less than three hours on a 220-volt system. An optional DC Fast Charging capability (typically only available in very limited areas due to the massive power requirements) will let the car charge to 80% in just 20 minutes or 100% in 30 minutes.

The Drive Module is all aluminum and houses the vehicle’s powertrain. Power is supplied to a motor at the rear wheels, making the i3 something of a novelty but in keeping with BMW’s sporting philosophy — it’s a rear-wheel-drive electric car. The car is rated at 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, good for a zero-to-60 time of seven seconds and a top speed of 93 mph. Range is said to be between 80 to 100 miles if driven normally, but two selectable drive modes can extend that. The Eco Pro mode will increase that range by about 12%, according to BMW, with the Eco Pro+ mode boosting it another 12%, likely by adjusting things like throttle response and climate control to conserve energy.
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