30 July 2011 - At the international revealing of the new BMW i3 and i8 concepts at the Frankfurt Messe. BMW revealed the two cars in a dark hall, and while waiting for the press conference to start, the disguised i8 prototype that has been previewed before in the past drove past us on the main stage, in complete eerie silence that made me do a double take and wonder if I had really seen a car go past, or was it some funky 3D projection.
The BMW i3, Originally teased as the MegaCity concept, the BMW i3 will be the first vehicle produced under the i brand when it arrives next year. Two structures make up both the i3 and i8's LifeDrive architecture – predictably, the Life and Drive modules.
As its name would suggest, the Life part of the equation is what contains the driver and passengers, and the platforms have been individually developed for each model. In the case of the i3, a lightweight body structure is made up of a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber-reinforced plastics, with the Drive module mounted underneath, obviating the need for a transmission tunnel and allowing BMW to install two bench seats for four occupants in the front and back while providing 200 liters (7.06 cubic-feet) of storage.
Underneath that lightweight body lies the Drive system, comprised of the suspension, battery and drivetrain, along with structural and safety components. A liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery back spans the undercarriage and supplies juice to an electric motor mounted directly above the rear-drive axle. Yup, this a rear-wheel-drive EV hatchback, with the motor putting out 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque through a single-speed gearbox. BMW claims the i3 can reach an electronically limited top speed of 93 miles per hour and make the run from 0-60 in under eight seconds.
An available PRO ECO mode tweaks the throttle and electronics to boost efficiency, and braking regeneration feeds kinetic energy back into the battery pack. Remarkably, BMW also claims that you can charge the battery back to full in six hours using a standard power socket and the i3's batteries can get to 80 percent in one hour using a high-speed charger.
If battery power isn't enough for you, the i3 will be available with a range-extending internal combustion engine (dubbed REx) further down the road, although BMW hasn't divulged the exact displacement or how much additional range it will include beyond the projected 80-100 miles on electric power alone.
The BMW i8, unlike the standard i3, the i8 will be a plug-in hybrid, with a turbocharged, 1.5-liter three-cylinder powerplant mounted up front and putting out 220 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. Combined with the electric motor, the run from 0-60 mph is claimed to blow by in under five seconds, with fuel consumption estimated at three liters per 100 kilometers and seven liters per 100 clicks when driven like... well, a BMW.
The three-pot works in tandem with a lithium-ion battery pack and front-mounted electric motor pulled from the i3 and driving the front wheels, allowing an electric-only range of up to 20 miles on a charge. Put both systems together and you've got a front-wheel-drive vehicle for maximum efficiency, a rear-driver for maximum fun and all-wheel drive for maximum grip. And if that isn't enticing enough, the i8 has a perfect 50/50 weight distribution.