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BMW i3 priced from $63,900

Plug and play: BMW has priced its i3 battery-powered hatchback from $63,900, with a range-extending version adding $6000.

BMW adds groundbreaking i3 to range in both full-EV and range-extender guise


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11 Apr 2014

BMW Australia has set the price for its innovative i3 electric car at $63,900 plus on-road costs – about the same as a mid-range 3 Series sedan using a conventional engine.

When it arrives in mid-November, the Australian-delivery car will come richly equipped compared with models sold overseas, and will be a technology showcase for both BMW and its fledgling “i” brand until the arrival of the series-topping i8 petrol-electric hybrid coupe early next year.

For an extra $6000, buyers can opt for a range-extending version of the i3, which adds a 27kW 0.65-litre two-cylinder engine that acts as a generator to top up the electric hatchback’s batteries, doubling the driving range from about 150km to circa 300km.

This premium is higher than earlier estimates of about $4000, based on the additional cost built into US pricing for the engine fitted to the lightweight rear-wheel-drive hatchback, which is built using an all-new aluminium platform and hi-tech carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic bodyshell.

The entry-level battery electric vehicle (BEV) will use no fuel other than electricity and emit no pollution other than at the electricity’s source. With the range-extending powertrain, the i3 ‘REx’ will officially use 0.6 litres per 100 kilometres and emit the equivalent of only 13 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

To put that in perspective, it would take a fleet of seven i3 RExs to produce more CO2 per kilometre than Toyota’s pioneering Prius petrol-electric hybrid.

The electric motor alone, along with its 50kg battery pack, makes 125kW of power, with its full serve of 250Nm of torque kicking in almost instantaneously.

Despite the relatively heavy motor and battery pack, the four-seat i3 is still a lightweight in its segment, tipping the scales at 1195kg, with the REx adding another 120kg.

At 3999mm long, the i3 is 446mm shorter than its closest rival, the $51,490 Nissan Leaf. It is also 600kg lighter.

Rear ‘suicide’ doors aided by no central B-pillar, a 1775mm overall width and a 1578mm height give it a tall, easy-to-access cabin. Its 2570mm wheelbase also gives it a tight 9.86m turning circle.

BMW Australia managing director Phil Horton said he expected sales of the i3 to number as few as 60 cars this year, jumping up to about “200 to 300” next year depending on the amount of demand in Europe, where the car has already racked up a six-month waiting list.

But as well as gaining an electric car, Mr Horton said i3 owners would also be given the option of buying into what he calls “add-on mobility”, which will include the use of a conventionally engined car for up to 10 to 12 days a year.

“Buyers will be able to take a normal BMW X5 or a 3 Series if they need more boot space or if they’re doing a longer trip,” he said.

Boot space in the i3 is a bit tight. It is only 260 litres behind the rear seats, but flipping the seatbacks forward increases maximum cargo capacity to 1100L.

As with the rest of the BMW range, i3 owners will be able to choose between two standard and one optional interior scheme – “worlds” in BMW’s marketing speak – each featuring “environmentally conscious materials” that can be recycled at the end of the vehicle’s life.

Standard equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels with skinny 155/70-section low-rolling-resistance tyres, an upmarket version of BMW’s satellite navigation system that can read gradients on a planned route and take the more economical, flatter route, a reversing camera, and a finger-sensitive controller for navigating the in-car menus.

One display for the driver is mounted on the steering wheel, while another – 10.3 inches in size – sits high on the centre of the dash.

The i3 will include another new piece of technology for BMW Australia – a mobile-phone-like SIM card built directly into the vehicle that will allow owners to connect with the car via a smartphone, and allow the car to report back to BMW if it is having any problems, or even runs out of electricity.

In a crash, the i3 will be able to send data back to BMW via a call centre, including details about how many people are in the vehicle, and the severity of the crash scored using information such as how many of the car’s six airbags have fired.

Despite this, the i3 has only earned a four-star crash safety rating from the independent European New Car Assessment Program, missing out on the top five-star award after underperforming in side-impact and pedestrian-impact tests.

The smartphone connectivity will also allow owners to remotely keep a watch on how fast the i3 is charging, switch on the lights so you can find it in a crowded carpark, turn on the air-conditioning or heater 10 minutes before you leave for home or the office, and even unlock it so you do not have to go outside if one of the children has to grab a forgotten item left on the back seat.

BMW says the navigation system will even prompt a driver to steer into the nearest train station to catch public transport if the system thinks congestion will stop the i3 reaching its destination by a certain time.

The car-maker is in talks with other data providers so that information such as tram and train departure times can be fed into the sat-nav’s calculations for the fastest route available.

Buyers who plug the i3 into a household wall socket to recharge it via a trickle charger included in the price of the car can top up the battery from completely flat in about 11 hours. Those buyers who take up BMW’s offer of a wall-mounted rapid charger – pricing is yet to be announced – can cut that time to about six hours.

Faster still are public recharging points, which can top up the i3’s battery in about three hours.

According to BMW, at worst, a full charge for the i3 will cost about $6.80 on peak rates, or about $4.70 off-peak.

In terms of cost per 100km, BMW says its 118d hatch – the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the car-maker’s current line-up – will cost a minimum of $7 to run if owners match its official 4.4L/100km combined-cycle fuel economy figure, whereas the i3 can cost as little as $3.

Buyers who pass the screening process – just like Nissan did with its Leaf battery-powered hatchback, BMW will ensure potential buyers are able to recharge the car – will not get a wilting wallflower as a result.

In terms of performance, the all-electric i3 will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds, and top out at 150km/h where it is electronically governed to maximise range. By comparison, the petrol-backed version will hit 100km/h in 7.9 seconds, and is capped at the same speed.

The i3’s launch in Australia was delayed this year by high demand in Europe, where the vehicle is already on sale, soaking up all available cars. Strong demand is also coming from the US and Japan, where the i3 will soon go on sale.

In contrast, BMW Australia only expects to sell about 50 i8s in 2015.

BMW Group Australia’s “i” strategy manager Romala Pillay said the limited numbers of the i3 meant the company was not yet ready to start talking to corporate and fleet managers, although that had not stopped them approaching BMW to ask about the car.

She said a developer building luxury apartments in Melbourne had also approached the car-maker to see if he could bundle an i3 in with the purchase price of each of his properties.

2014 BMW i3 pricing*
i3 BEV (a)$63,900
i3 REx (a)$69,900
*Excludes on-road costs.

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