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First drive: 2014 BMW i3

AMSTERDAM — Sustainable mobility is a buzz phrase that’s not going away anytime soon. Key players in the auto industry are taking divergent roads to achieve the goal. Some are touting plug-in hybrids, while others are looking toward all-electric conveyances. Regardless, the thrust is to reduce the footprint the automobile leaves in its wake. BMW’s take is found in its new i brand, a subdivision anchored by two electric/hybrid-electric cars.

The i8 combines an electric motor with a gasoline-powered engine, making it one of the world’s premiere green supercars. The second car, the i3, takes a slightly different approach — it is a fully electric design that’s available with an optional range-extending gasoline engine.

What the two have in common is a platform purposely built to accommodate the powertrain of the future — it was engineered to house and protect the battery as well as accommodate the power electronics and running gear. In the i3’s case, the body is comprised of a carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell that rides atop an aluminum structure that houses the battery, electric motor and the brain that keeps things humming along.

In this instance, the i3 gets its motivation from an electric motor that drives the rear wheels through a single-speed transmission, a 22 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery (only 18.8 kWh is actually used), and an intelligent management system designed to extract the best from the combination. In this application, the electric motor generates 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque the instant the electric motor begins to turn.
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