BMW has brought together key members of the European press for ride-alongs in the i3 and i8. The idea is to get the word out about cars that are so different from anything BMW has done before that they need a bit of explanation. Maybe even a bit of preparation as well. Here’s a quick excerpt from Autocar:
The tall stature of the i3 is a big departure from existing BMW models, but when you see it up close you’re aware that it has the stance to carry off its height. Even with the disguise that covers the prototype, it appears well planted. Standard 19-inch wheels, chosen in part to provide greater clearance for the battery mounted in the floor of the platform structure, are shod with narrow low rolling resistance 155/70 profile front and 175/65 profile rear tyres. They help endow the new car with a grown-up look. Even larger 20-inch rims will be available as an option.
Inside, the i3 impresses with a clean and uncluttered driving environment devoid of a centre stack. All controls, including a stubby gearlever that sprouts from steering column and a pair of digital screens to rely information, are concentrated within a horizontally themed dashboard, freeing up space between the driver and passenger and helping to provide the cabin with feeling of genuine space.
It doesn’t take long to realise the BMW i3 is already at an advanced state of development. The prototype I rode in felt solid, even if there was the odd rattle from the makeshift disguise covering parts of the interior. What really grabbed my attention, though, was its overall agility and, in trying conditions with those narrow tyres, excellent traction. Watching on as Mueller drove the prototype down slip lanes, over steep gradients and around the car park of BMW’s winter test facility, it appeared to possess all the qualities that will be required to make it suited to city use, including an excellent turning circle of less than 10 metres diameter.
The impression of sportiness can largely be traced to a driveline layout that places the i3’s electric motor low down at the rear within the axle assembly. This gives it a much lower centre of gravity than conventional front engined city cars. By providing drive to the rear wheels, the front wheels are also left to do the steering without any corruption from the drive process, as with more traditional front-wheel drive.
Just how entertaining the i3 is set to be is keenly displayed by Mueller, who whips the compact hatchback for two complete laps around a giant skid pan with an armful of opposite lock and wild oversteer without ever backing off. “Despite the electrification of the drivetrain, it remains true to the BMW philosophy in terms of its dynamic character,” he offers with a smile.
From inside, the i8 possesses all the hallmarks of a proper sportscar. You sit low, below the level of the carbonfibre sill, with your legs well out in front. The seats are tight, hugging, hard shell affairs. The deep but low dashboard is very prominent. However, it is the instrument binnacle – whose mesmerising graphics alter depending on the driving mode chosen, going from a calm hue of blue in eco-pro and comfort to a racier orange hue in sport mode – that initially steals my attention as we set off down a slip road and out on to BMW’s test track.
Mounted transversely behind the roomy cabin, the aluminium block unit develops an impressive 220bhp and 221lb ft of torque, all channeled to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox boasting a conventional torque converter. It’s a boisterous unit, emitting a distinctive three-cylinder hum that gets deeper and more prominent as engine speeds increase. A glance over at the highly detailed digital tachometer as Jos van As, head of chassis development for all BMW models, fires the i8 down a long straight reveals the redline is pegged at 6500rpm.
The most impressive aspect of the new car when we leave the BMW test track and head out on public roads is the smooth interplay between the three power sources, the result, Van As reveals, of countless hours spent refining the algorithms of the i8’s so-called power electronics.
“It’s a crucial part of hybrid drivetrain development, and something we’ve put a great deal of effort in to perfecting to keep us in good stead for the future,” he says. “It’s part of the reason why we decided from the outset not to engage an outside partner, but to keep all electronic development in-house, and retain the intellectual property rights for ourselves.”
It’s a highly recommended read and gives us new insight into BMW’s biggest gamble in years.