The new BMW i3 is more than just another electric car, and when designing it, BMW rethought more than just what makes it go. The company reconsidered everything about how the car looks, the way the doors open, even the way the wheels make contact with the road, all in an attempt to make it the perfect automobile for the modern megacity. Here are the most interesting things BMW has done to help the i3 -- and presumably, many of the cars that will follow.
Carbon-Fiber Body and Aluminum Chassis
Body-on-frame cars are making a comeback! As with those old land yachts from the 1960s and 1970s, the i3 model's body -- BMW calls it a Life Module -- is mounted to a separate chassis, which in this case is made of aluminum and incorporates the battery pack. The Life Module is made of carbon fiber, some of which is left unpainted and exposed so you can see it in all its glory as you get in and out of the vehicle. All body panels, by the way, are plastic.
Like the Mazda RX-8 and many extended-cab pickup trucks, the BMW i3 has rear-hinged rear doors and no center pillar. BMW calls them coach doors, as does corporate partner Rolls Royce on its models with similar doors. While the door design adds some welcome funkiness to the body side (as do the huge rear-side windows) it also allows for a large overall opening without requiring long doors. This makes it easier to get in and out of, especially in tight quarters.
Single-Element Headlamps with U-Shaped LEDs
For most of the last four decades, the face of BMW has traditionally had four eyes (or headlamps, to be accurate). The i3 model's 2-lamp design signals that this is no ordinary BMW. Likewise, the LED headlamps go without the traditional Angel Eyes or Corona Rings, and are instead underscored by a U-shaped strip of LEDs. The familiar BMW scowl is still there, however.
Gloss-Black Hood and Roof
The i3 model's extremely modern appearance can be partially attributed to its gloss-black roof and hood, which blends visually into the windshield and rear hatchback glass. This almost gives it the appearance that the whole top of the car is made from dark-tinted glass. Almost. A sunroof is available; sadly, a panorama roof is not.
Floating Tail Lamps
Like the daytime-running lamps in the front, the tail lamps of the i3 are rendered in a U-shape. Unlike the headlamps, however, the tail lamps are recessed beneath the glassy-looking tailgate, so they look like they are floating behind it.
Blue Means Green
With many hybrid and electric cars, blue on the outside signals green on the inside. True to form, the i3 has blue accents around the kidney "grille" (we put "grille" in quotations because no air can actually pass through it) as well as a blue element on the side beneath the doors. When the doors are closed, the blue stripes appear to be mere graphics. When you open the doors, however, you'll see that these elements are actually 3-dimensional trim pieces that continue into the doorsill.
Big, Skinny Tires
The i3 model's huge wheels are mounted by surprisingly skinny tires, which looks a little funny, but BMW claims that the higher diameter allows for the skinnier (and thus more aerodynamic) tire without reducing the contact patch. Since the rear wheels do the driving, they are somewhat fatter. But they're still skinny.
Flat Floor and a Bench-Style Rear Seat
The flexible packaging afforded by electric-powertrain technology allows for a flat cabin floor. The rear bench is also flat, like a 2-person park bench, allowing for easy maneuvering across the seat if, say, the doors are blocked on one side in a tight parking space.
Stand-Up Info Screens
Information and connectedness are everything in the car of the future, and the dashboard and secondary controls (for the radio, climate control, navigation and more) each have their own wide, flat-screen displays. And unlike most cars, the screens here stand up, appearing to be separated from the dash, not integrated into it. Is it functionally superior? Not really. But it looks suitably futuristic.
Recycled and/or Natural Materials
BMW uses recycled materials or materials from nature throughout the i3 model's spacious cabin. The leather, for example, is tanned using natural waste from olive oil production. Eucalyptus wood and kenaf plant fibers are used on the instrument panel surround and door trim. And the carbon fiber used for the structure is spun in central Washington, at a plant powered by hydroelectric energy.
Can't wait to get your hands on one? The BMW i3 will be in showrooms during the second quarter of 2014.