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Almost Great: BMW i3

5 months ago

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David Twohig | Engineer


5 March 2024

Will an EV ever become a classic? It’s a question that we’ve pondered more than once here at The Intercooler. Well, if ever there was a likely candidate, I would suggest that it’s the BMW i3.

It’s a car that’s got so much going for it. It is admirably compact, just 3999mm long and 1775mm wide. It tips the scales at a seriously svelte-for-a-BEV 1195kg, thanks to its aluminium floor pan and CFRP (carbon fibre reinforced polymer) upper body – more of which later. Its rear-mounted 168bhp permanent-magnet synchronous motor shoves it to 60mph in 7.2 seconds, and the usual EV all-the-twist-tout-de-suite instant torque makes it feel even sprightlier in real life. It handles well too, in a go-karty kind of way, like a modern Mini, with enough rear-drive feel to remind you that it proudly wears a BMW emblem on its snub nose.

It gets better. When the i3 was launched in early 2013, it had a mere 22kWh battery (very similar to the Renault ZOE, its only real competitor at the time). BMW was clearly not convinced that the customer was ready for the range anxiety that would doubtless accompany the 100-mile range that such a modest battery pack would allow. The solution? Engineer a REEV – or range-extended EV – version. The i3’s engineers purloined a 647cc two-cylinder engine from the company’s two-wheeler division, and managed to shoe-horn a dinky 9-litre fuel tank and all the other required oily bits into the vehicle package, as well as the same battery as the EV-only version. Result: a combined range for the REEV that would knock on the door of 200 miles for the later versions that came with a bigger 43kWh battery. The perfect solution, for many.

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