How does the BMW i3 drive? Wow!

The BMW i3's combination of power and almost noiseless motion make driving the car exciting and unique.
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Michael Specht is a Germany-based correspondent for Automotive News Europe.
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BMW's i3 electric car looks set to be a winner. I drove it recently and I can only say: Wow! Whoever drives this car will want one immediately.

I can't remember when I was more surprised by a car's driving dynamics. One of BMW's marketing slogans is "sheer driving pleasure." BMW was keen that this should apply to the automaker's new electric vehicles sold under the "i" subbrand and the company has succeeded with the i3.

I drove the car at BMW's testing grounds near Munich where BMW engineers are putting their final touches to the vehicle.

The i3's electric motor delivers its maximum torque at zero revs so the car's acceleration is impressive and is comparable with a sports car at 0 to 60kph (37mph) in 3.7 seconds and 0 to 100kph (62mph) in 7.2 seconds.

But it's the combination of power and its almost noiseless motion that makes driving the i3 so exciting and unique. Handling and cornering are similar to the Mini Cooper. The steering is even more precise than the Mini Cooper.

The i3's rear electric motor is mounted close to the driven rear axle for better traction and it delivers the equivalent of 170 hp and 250 nm (184 lb-ft) of torque. The i3 has a single-speed transmission allowing it to accelerate with an uninterrupted power flow to its top speed, which is limited 150kph (93mph).

BMW is proud that the i3 weighs 1195kg (2634 pounds), 300 kg less than other electric cars of the same size. The company made big weight savings by using a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body structure, aluminum chassis and no B pillar to offset the 200kg lithium-ion battery pack, which is mounted in a low, central position to give a balanced 50:50 weight distribution.

The i3 has a maximum range of 200km driven in power-saving mode and 160km in what BMW calls "comfort" mode. For customers worried that they may be left stranded without power, there will be a variant with a range-extending engine, a two-cylinder, 650cc gasoline engine taken from the C 600 Sport scooters. The range-extended version will cost nearly 4,000 euros more than the regular EV.

Although it is compact-sized, the i3 packs a lot of room into its 3990mm (157 inches) length. The cabin is spacious and it has rear-hinged, rear doors that make passengers' entry easier.

The i3's connectivity features include an iPhone app that allows owners to monitor the vehicle remotely, as well as control how it is charging and turn on the air conditioning. The nearest available charging stations and the remaining charge are displayed on a screen. The i3 also has a SIM card installed as standard.

BMW has placed great emphasis on the i3's maneuverability to meet the demands of city driving. It has a stiff suspension set-up, precise steering and small turning circle at 9.86 meters.

The company has capacity to build about 40,000 units of the i3 a year at its plant in Leipzig, Germany.

The i3 will be unveiled on July 29 in London and will go on sale in November in Europe. The United States and China will follow beginning of next year. Prices will be announced in London. BMW sources say the starting price will be just below 36,000 euros.

You can reach Michael Specht at autonews@crain.com.

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