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Driven: BMW i3 launches in Oz at last

i for an i: While BMW revealed pricing for the i3 about six months ago, the tall-boy hatch has only just arrived in local showrooms.

Range extender hybrid version of BMW’s i3 predicted to be the best seller

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BMW logo13 Nov 2014

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

BMW’S “game-changing” i3 electric vehicle is finally on sale in Australia with the more expensive ‘REX’ range-extender version likely to account for the lion’s share of volume.

While BMW Group Australia's head of product and market planning Shawn Ticehurst refused to divulge sales forecasts, he revealed that between 70 and 80 per cent of buyers are willing to pay the extra $6000 for the peace of mind of nearly doubling the pure Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) version’s official 160km range.

He also believes that the gap between the two models will eventually narrow as first-time EV consumers who have become familiar with their range requirements make a more informed decision about their next purchase.

“It’s obviously a new concept and sales figures are not going to be divulged,” Mr Ticehurst told Australian media at the i3 launch in Canberra this week.

“It will be interesting to see the mix between the pure electric car and the REX. We’re anticipating between 70 to 80 per cent REX, but we might be proven wrong on that. I think people like the security and assurance of that range extender, and in the early phase that’s probably the way it will go.

“But what we’re already seeing in Europe is that a lot of people who bought REX cars are saying that next time they buy they may not actually need that range extender option.”

Earlier this year, BMW Australia managing director Phil Horton told GoAuto that he expected to sell as few as 60 i3s this year, although he anticipated that to rise to “200 to 300” in 2015, depending on demand in Europe and elsewhere.

With the first Australian customer deliveries beginning on November 21, Mr Ticehurst says it is building up a steady order bank for the i3, “… but if you turned up today… there won’t be too much of a wait after that date,” he added.

Though it is still early days for the car, Mr Ticehurst said the number of orders from owners of existing high-performance BMWs has been an eye-opener for the company, and indicative of the Bavarian EV’s classless appeal.

“What really surprised me was, talking with our i-brand man at BMW Melbourne, is how many i3s he is selling to existing M customers – guys who are driving M6s and M3s, car enthusiasts who have three or four cars in their garage,” he said.

“And they’re buying one of these for the pure new experience of it because it is a whole new concept. And then you get people who are interested in technology fascinated by this car.”

Described as having the largest pre-launch publicity build up of any model in BMW Australia history, the i3 will be sold by specially trained product experts, with four dedicated i-brand dealers in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, with Adelaide and Canberra to follow next year.

There are also currently six designated service garages in Victoria, three in New South Wales and two in Queensland, with more coming shortly.

Australian i3 pricing was announced more than six months ago, with the BEV opening the range at $63,900 plus on-road costs, while the REX kicks off from $69,900.

Both variants' rear wheels are driven by a BMW-designed and built 125kW/250Nm electric motor that tips the scales at just 49kg, with the Taiwanese-made 28kW 0.65-litre twin-cylinder petrol engine (from a Motorrad scooter) in the REX acting as a generator for the 230kg 360V 96 cell lithium-ion battery pack.

Developing 21.8kWh – 18.8kWh which is useable – the battery is stored low and flat in the centre of the i3, as part of the ‘Life Drive’ architecture that features a separate aluminium drivetrain module and a CFRP carbon fibre reinforced plastic passenger cell the aim is to keep both the centre of gravity and kerb weight (from 1195kg) low.

To this end, the body panels are made from recycled thermo plastic material, the roof is carbon-fibre, and the tailgate is specially thinned glass.

The result in the BEV is a remarkable 7.2 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash and a 150km/h top speed, though BMW is particularly proud of the 4.9s it takes for this i3 to accelerate from 80 to 120km/h, since it matches the 435i turbo-six petrol coupe.

The REX adds about half a second to both figures due to its 120kg weight penalty incurred by that 650cc internal combustion engine, while its official fuel consumption average is 0.6 litres per 100 kilometres and just 13 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide. A 300km range is possible.

This contrasts to the BEV’s NEDC electricity consumption of 12.9kWh/100km, which equals to $3.90 of Green Energy per 100km in Australia, according to BMW.

Using a regular 10-amp outlet, it takes about 11 hours to recharge an i3. BMW recommends buyers opt for their $1750 3.7kW 16A Wallbox (without installation, which is said to be add another $500) that cuts that down to under six hours, while on the public charging front there are a multitude of 7.4kW 32A ‘Rapid’ chargers to half that time again, or a handful of 50kW 125A In both models, range can be improved via the three-mode drive selector, which switches from the default Comfort to ECO Pro (adding another 20km) or ECO Pro Plus – the latter limited to 90km/h and minimum-input heating/air-conditioning, among other economy-enhancing ploys, for a 200km total for the BEV version.

Steering is electric rack and pinion with a city-friendly 9.9-metre turning circle and just 2.5 turns lock-to-lock, connected to a MacPherson strut front axle the rear is a five-link independent set-up.

The wheels are specially designed 19-inch forged light alloys with narrow low rolling-resistance 155/70 tyres on the BEV and 155/70-front and 175/60-rear rubber on the REX (to cope with the extra mass back there).

Weight distribution is 47/53 front/rear in the BEV and 44/56 in REX.

Measuring in at 3999mm long, the i3 is barely any longer than a Volkswagen Polo but it is wider at 1775mm, much higher at 1578mm and with a wheelbase 100mm longer at 2570mm.

Aerodynamics played a role shaping the look of the car, with special attention paid to under-vehicle airflow for a Cd figure of 0.29. The distinctive side window profile also helps with the wind-cheating design. Similarly, the U-shaped headlights and tail-lights are signature i3 motifs.

Being a four-seater five-door hatch (with a ‘Coach’ clap-hand system that requires the fronts be open first), the i3 has no centre pillar, aiding entry and egress.

The BMW is big on recycled materials, and includes kenaf plant-fibre extract material in place of regular plastic trim, Eucalyptus wood and chemical-free olive-leaf tanned leather upholstery where available.

Cargo space is limited to 260 litres owing to the motor and engine compartment living beneath the boot floor, though it can increase to a more respectable 1100L with the 50/50 rear seatbacks folded down.

Standard kit includes 19-inch alloys, LED light elements, AC rapid charging, a multi-function steering wheel, automatic climate control, auto-on/off lights and wipers, rear camera, parking sensors, Acoustic warning for pedestrians and digital radio.

It also features an iDrive controller with a 10.3-inch display screen featuring BMW’s Professional satellite navigation with maximum range route, BMW’s Interior Design Lodge – wool combined with leather, an occasional use charger cable, the full range of Connected Drive services and a punctured tyre inflation kit.

Despite a full suite of driver safety systems as well as optional active collision mitigation technology availability, the i3 has only earned a four-star crash safety rating from the independent European New Car Assessment Program, due to mediocre side-impact and pedestrian-impact results.

A smartphone app provides charging data, remote heating/air-conditioning control, remote unlocking and even crowded car-park-finding info.

Finally, options include an alarm, bisected sunroof, keyless entry/start, an efficiency enhancing heat pump climate control system, DC rapid charging, LED headlights, up-spec Harmon Kardon audio, a trio of cabin trim packages that includes full leather, 19-inch Turbine alloys, 20-inch alloys, and BMW’s Driving Assistant Plus package with lane-departure, forward collision warning, pedestrian warning, adaptive cruise control with stop and go and tyre-pressure monitors.

The i3 was conceived during 2007 as BMW’s Mega City Vehicle as a viable sustainable low-to-zero emission transportation solution, and is built in Leipzig, Germany.

It is being promoted as the world’s first premium car created from the ground up around an electric drivetrain.

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

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