BMW i3

BMW i3.

BMW has announced its first really electric car, the i3, born of a former concept car, and at least one writer, Dan Nosowitz for PopSci, is saying that “[…] it might be the most interesting electric vehicle we’ve seen in years.” He notes that it is the first BMW that has been designed from the ground up to be an electric car and is the lightest one on the market, with a very quick charging time and excellent performance.

Nosowitz writes that the i3 looks “pretty weird, just like an electric vehicle should,” and he elaborates:

One of the things we really like about the i3 is that it looks different. Lots of EVs attempt to blend in, to be normal-looking cars that just happen to have a totally different engine system, but that’s going to lead to inefficiencies, because EVs have different needs, different strengths and weaknesses, than traditional gas, diesel, or hybrid cars.

The i3 is small, shaped like a hatchback, but it’s got four doors, unlike the classic Mini Cooper. The rear doors are suicide-style, with the hinge at the rear of the car rather than the middle. The motor is mounted in the back, like an old VW Beetle, and there’s no transmission column at all. Who needs one? That means the floor is completely flat, even right down the middle, where the transmission tunnel usually is.

He writes that the dashboard “is also hyper-modern and weird.” A photo shows what look like two tablets on the dashboard, with the one in front of the driver featuring RPM, speed, and charge level, and the one in the center displaying navigation, music, and a smartphone connection.

The i3 is “the most innovative thing to come out of Munich in a decade,” writes Damon Lavrinc for Wired. In a first for a mass market car, the i3’s passenger compartment is made entirely of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, meaning it is “ultra-safe” and strong as metal, Wired writes. Because this car is lighter, BMW was able to use a smaller, 450-pound battery (enclosed in an aluminum shell), which adds to the efficiency, giving the car more driving range and a shorter charging time, he notes.

The i3 has a 170hp engine that delivers 184 pound-feet of torque, PopSci writes, and will go from zero to 60 mph in less than seven seconds, about average for an EV. This new BMW charges in only three hours over a 220-volt line, with a charger that is larger than any EV on the road. And a fast-charger, like the Combo, will shorten charging time to only 30 minutes.

PopSci writes that the interior has some features that will please environmentalists:

The interior materials too are sustainable, with recycled plastic, sustainable woods, and trim from a plant we’d never heard of: the kenaf plant. (Kenaf is a plant in the hibiscus family that looks sort of like bamboo and is used to make super strong, super cheap woven material, sort of like burlap. But you can also process and then harden the pulp, which looks like hardwood and doesn’t require the chopping down of rare slow-growing hardwood trees.)

Perhaps the most compelling thing about the i3, Lavrinc writes, is the basic price, $41,350, when it becomes available in the U.S. in early 2014; and that, he notes, is before the $7,500 federal tax rebate and any other state or local incentives. For $45,200, the i3 will be available with a backup two-cylinder, 34-horsepower gasoline engine — an option that doubles the car’s 80-100 mile driving range, writes Brad Tuttle for TIME. He adds that BMW is expected to give i3 owners access to gas-powered loaner cars if they need a vehicle for longer trips.

You can see a BMW video of the i3 here.

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