The BMW i3 is Singapore’s first ever battery-powered electric vehicle (BEV) but even now it’s still at the cutting-edge of sustainable motoring
The line has been drawn in the sand: heightened awareness about issues plaguing the environment means that interest in electric cars has been rising for the past decade or so, and looks set to continue to do so. The message is clear – electric cars are here to stay.
Good thing that compared to other car makers, BMW is ahead of the curve on that front.
The German company is known for being innovative and beating competitors to the punch. For example, releasing the first anti-lock braking system for motorbikes with the 1988 K100, and kick starting the trend of sports utility vehicles having car-like comfort and handling with the 1999 X5. This is why it should be of no surprise that it’s done the same in the field of zero-emissions motoring; BMW was the first mainstream luxury automaker to put a full electric car into production with the BMW i3.
In fact, BMW was so far ahead of the curve that it realised the concept of an all-electric city car long before the BMW i3 debuted in 2014.
Like the BMW i3, the 1991 E1 Concept was a four-seater battery electric vehicle (BEV) with a lightweight body, a rear axle-mounted motor and a battery pack located under the floor.
Fast-forward nearly three decades, and it’s clear to see that BMW’s engineers have taken the same basic idea, but honed and refined the BMW i3 to be the best city car it could be. A facelift (or Life Cycle Impulse in BMW-speak) in 2018 has made the BMW i3 more capable than ever, and also introduced a sportier BMW i3s variant, so let’s take a look at why the first electric car to go on sale in Singapore is also the perfect one for our little island:
It’s purpose built as an EV, and its technology still hasn’t been matched
Five years is a long time in the lifetime of a car, but the BMW i3 really is a car that crystallises forward thinking. In fact, if you compare it to other EVs available now, it’s clear that BMW had all the right pieces in place back in 2014.
The key to the BMW i3’s prowess begins with the ethos with which the car was developed. Rather than adapting and modifying an existing platform, the BMW i3 is purpose-built from the ground up to be an EV.
BMW’s LifeDrive architecture exemplifies this. A unique combination of aluminium chassis and carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP, the stuff F1 cars are made of) body achieve the best balance of lightness and strength. In fact you can only find comparable technology in exotic supercars.
LifeDrive is something no other carmaker has managed to do – a high-volume, full-production CFRP passenger cell – because BMW pioneered completely new ways to make CFRP in order to create the BMW i3 and its sister car, the i8 coupe.
Additionally, the BMW i3 isn’t compromised by having to accommodate the powertrain of a conventional car.
For example, the eDrive electric motor is much more compact than an internal combustion engine, and doesn’t require a radiator to cool it, so the unit could be positioned on top of the rear axle, shortening the BMW i3’s length. This also frees up more space for passengers, which is why the BMW i3 can seat four in comfort despite being over 30cm shorter than a BMW 1 Series.
In place of a gearbox and exhaust system, the space under the BMW i3 can be utilised to store the batteries. Not only does allow for a completely flat floor in the cabin, it also lowers the car’s centre of gravity for better handling and stability.
Finally, the unique carbon fibre structure is so stiff that the BMW i3 doesn’t require a reinforcing pillar between the front and rear doors; this has the added bonus of allowing the rear doors to open backwards, greatly easing ingress and egress to the rear seats.
It’s not just sustainable, it’s sporty and fun too
The BMW i3 may be a ‘mere’ city car, but that doesn’t mean it’s slow. Like a chilli padi, the compact eDrive motor packs a punch – 170hp in fact, and 250Nm of torque, which is approximately equal to a conventional 2.4-litre petrol engine. This allows the BMW i3 to get from 0-100km/h in just 7.3 seconds, almost as fast as a performance hatchback.
Beyond the statistics, the nature of electric propulsion makes the BMW i3 feel even faster than the figures suggest. Electric motors develop all their torque from zero rpm, which makes for instant acceleration the moment you hit the throttle – no need to wait for an engine to rev up into its optimal power band – which means you’ll always get the jump on other traffic.
For an extra jolt of fun, look no further than the BMW i3s. The output of its motor is bumped up to 184hp and 270Nm, which drops the 0-100km/h time to a sports car-baiting 6.9 seconds. To handle the extra oomph, the BMW i3s also gets as standard fatter tyres, a wider track, and lowered sports suspension compared to the BMW i3.
READ MORE: This Singaporean BMW i3 driver pays nothing – yes S$0 – to fuel his car
Of course, enjoying the hilariously strong acceleration to its fullest will drain the batteries more quickly, but at least with the 2019 BMW i3, play time can go on for longer. That’s because its battery capacity has been increased to 120Ah, double that of when the car debuted. That translates into a real-world range of 260km, more than enough to cover the average Singaporean’s weekly commute.
It’s still looks like nothing else on the road
Unlike a sports car, the BMW i3’s silent running won’t turn any heads, but its looks certainly will.
Just like the BMW i8 Coupe, it’s representative of BMW i, which means there’s no doubt that the car you see before you is the future of motoring made present. That’s why the BMW i3 looks like a sci-fi passenger pod from the future, and distinctly different from anything else on the road today.
Just like with the exterior, the opportunities provided by the packaging of electric drive have allowed a different approach to constructing the BMW i3’s interior. The flat floor makes it easy for all occupants to exit from either side of the car, and also presents new storage options – there’s space under the dashboard for a large handbag, for example.
In addition to the ergonomics, feeling around the BMW i3’s interior reveals an unconventional material mix, which is put together with sustainability in mind. Fibres from the kenaf plant allow for reduced usage of petroleum-based plastics in much of the BMW i3’s interior panels; eucalyptus is used for the wood trim, which grows faster and requires less surface finishing compared to other woods; and the BMW i3’s leather upholstery is tanned using olive leaf extracts instead of industrial chemicals.
Finally, not only does the BMW i3’s stubby egg-shaped silhouette look cute and almost huggable, it also maximises interior space and helps with visibility. The tall windows allow plenty of light into the cabin, making it feel open and airy, and also helps minimise blind spots, a major bugbear in modern car design. Visibility is further enhanced thanks to the raised seating position, on par with a Sport Utility Vehicle’s (SUV).