Look at the i3’s carbon fiber and aluminum structure and you might think it’s a performance car. It’s certainly light enough, weighing just 2,635 lbs. With 170 hp on tap, that yields zero to 60 mph times close to 7.0 seconds, about what a base MINI Cooper will run. But where the MINI wears its sporting pretensions on its sleeve, the i3 has a much more serious role within the BMW Group. Its mission is to shift the whole culture surrounding the idea of the automobile.
That’s a big job for any car, let alone one that’s 14.8 inches shorter than a BMW 1 Series. Fortunately, this small car has more interior space than the company’s bread and butter 3 Series, thanks in large part to the flat floor made possible by the i3’s electric powertrain. The i3 is a bundle of contradictions; indeed, contradiction is one of the keys to the car’s existence. The i3 breaks apart the conventions and preconceptions of what a car is and what it should do, in the process creating a new model for sustainable transportation. [See Bimmer #119 for more about the i3’s conceptual basis.—Ed.]
All of that says something about what the i3 is, but not much about how it drives. For that, we’ve flown to Amsterdam to get behind the wheel of this all-electric BMW at its world driving premiere.
Spacious and simple
The first thing you notice when you sit down and slide the driver’s seat back is the almost comical amount of legroom that is available to the driver. It’s as if the Project i design team had been made up of moonlighting professional basketball players. At maximum extension, front legroom comes at the expense of rear seat passengers, but the good news is that six-foot tall drivers can carry six-foot tall rear sear passengers. Those rear seats are easily accessible through rear-hinged doors that engage the front doors without the obstruction of a B-pillar—score one for the advantages of the super-stiff passenger compartment made from carbon fiber.
Having found a comfortable seating position, the driver activates the i3 by pressing the “Start” button atop the stylish dash. As long as you have the key somewhere inside the car, the i3 will allow you to proceed.
As with most electric cars, pressing Start wakes everything up but doesn’t involve much drama. Two rectangular screens light up: a 10.2-inch screen in the center of the dashboard for vehicle navigation and information and a smaller 6.5-inch display that seems to float directly ahead of the driver and provides the usual driving information like vehicle speed and whether your left blinker is on. The usual BMW iDrive controller rests between the seats.