The BMW i3 is the company’s first electric car built entirely from scratch.

It’s extremely light, thanks to liberal use of carbon fiber (and fiber-reinforced plastics).

And it just looks electric, doesn’t it? That’s no doubt thanks to features like LED lights that seem to float in midair.

And a two-tone paint job that, especially in this finish, looks a lot like a Macbook.

But the inside is built to feel organic.

Wood trim spruces up what could feel like a cold, technological interior in an almost retro way.

With quick-charging options, the i3 can charge to 80% of its power in just 20 minutes.

It gets roughly 80-100 miles per charge.

Without columns, the interior is said to feel as spacious as a 3 series, even though the car has the footprint of a 1 series.

Its trademark kidney grill is just a facade. (And to be honest, while it’s the most BMW feature, it’s the single design element that just doesn’t seem to fit to me.)

If this electric charging option isn’t enough, there’s also an extended range option that puts a two-cylinder gas engine in the car. It almost doubles mileage.

Woosh!

Vroooom. Oh wait, it’s electric.

Co.Design

BMW’s New Electric Car Was Inspired By iPads And Macbooks

The i3 will be BMW’s first all-electric car produced from the ground up. And its styling came from an unconventional place: the technology industry.

"We want our car to look like a tablet."

It seems like an absurd statement for BMW to make, especially as the consumer electronics industry has only recently begun to embrace design within the last decade, while auto manufacturers have championed it for a century. But while those exact words may never have been uttered, BMW makes no qualms that its i3—the manufacturer’s first fully chewed electric car (MSRP $41,350, out in 2014)—borrows liberally from bedazzling consumer tech.

That’s good, because the influence is too blatant to ignore. From the i3’s two-tone black-on-silver body to its LED lights that sleep invisibly behind stark black glass, the tech industry’s design signatures—really, Apple’s design signatures from the iPad/iPhone and the Macbook line, respectively—define the fact that just by looking at the i3, you can just sense that it’s electric.

"It’s more of an emotional element for us, being associated with innovation and technology," explains the BMW i3’s product manager, Jose Guerrero. "The rear lights look like they’re almost floating over a back surface. It’s like a screen turning on in glass."

Inside, the car is almost the complete opposite. The techie shell gives way to natural, sustainable materials, including Kenaf plant paneling and a curved eucalyptus dashboard that will age and weather like any organic material. BMW tells me that sustainable is the new face of premium.

Of course, designing the i3 was a lot more complicated than deciding on the finish, because what you’re looking at really is BMW’s car of the future—an electric vehicle crafted for a population that’s abandoning suburban life for megacities, that champions turning radius and visibility over the roar of diesel. And maybe its most important quotient—its balance of range (80-100 miles) to passenger seats to trunk space has been determined through 12 million hours of BMW customer driving and critiques of earlier products.

In previous years, BMW leased out a MINI E (which had two seats and no trunk) and a Series 1 EV (which had four seats and a bit of trunk). What they learned from those field tests was that, for as much as we all may criticize electric cars for their lack of range, the biggest user criticisms were born from creature comforts, namely, bulky batteries taking up space. BMW leveraged user testing to balance those opposing forces in a way that would make customers most happy.

"Of course we could add more batteries and get more range. [But] from that test pilot, we saw people on average were doing about a 30-mile-a day-commute," Guerrero explains. "You start looking at U.S.-specific average peak mileage, and 90% of Americans drive less than 30-35 miles a day. People want more range for security, but people are using less range than they need."

To extend range as much as possible, the i3 is built super light, opting for carbon fiber and a plastic passenger compartment (which is 50% lighter than steel). Meanwhile, the i3 will also offer an extended range option on the vehicle, which uses a two-cylinder gasoline engine to almost double the mileage in emergencies. A quick charger is available, too, that can load the battery up to 80% of its capacity in a mere 20 minutes.

On paper, it all sounds great. In person, I’m assured that the i3 feels great, with "the footprint of a 1 series, the space of a 3 series, and the materials of a 5 series." But despite its design prowess, I’m simply not taken by the art of the body. The (nonfunctional) facade of the grill is the only thing that tells me this is a BMW, and it seems to wedge itself into the vehicle like a sloppy Photoshop. Meanwhile, the BMW i8—which will be the i3’s sportier big brother—looks like a grinning carnivore of asphalt that doesn’t need to apologize for its 0-60 times with wide-eyed Smart Car aesthetics. Then again, the BMW i8 is also not the sort of car you’d dare parallel park on the street, or tuck away inside a protective case.

Read more here.

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8 Comments

  • Noah_Scape

    "and a gas engine option" to make up for the design flaw of only 100 miles on a charge? Batteries really don't need to take up much space  - in fact, wherever the optional gas engine goes could have been where more batteries go.

     Or, another 6" of wheelbase length [for more batteries].

      How about designing some rooftop solar panels to charge the batteries?

     By the way, Mark, although I am strictly a "no gas engine" EV type, I want to know if the gas engine option charges the batteries or is connected to the drive train.

  • albiecontador

    I really really want to like this car, but it is so freakin ugly I would never buy one. My next car WILL be electric and when I saw BMW had one I was excited... until I saw what it looked like. Looks like a scion from 10 years ago

  • jimfromtoto

    I have been a BMW owner for over 20 years. Apple designs products that are highly functional, easy to use, sleek and beautiful to look at. That is probably the ugliest car BMW has ever designed. Just compare it to its own Z4. Even the Chevy Volt is better looking car. Its a shame since the tech in the car is state of the art. But I dont  see any art in this exterior or interior design. uuuuuuggggllleeeeee.

  • cassette_walkman

    Jeez I hope Apple doesn't use this as inspiration for any of their iPads or Macbooks. We'll end up with the range of shiny plastic Dell laptops.

  • Per Ivar Selvaag

    This is only partly true and needs to be added to. Richard Kim (the designer) found inspiration from many more exciting sources. From the outset  he was always more inspired by materials, construction and geometry found in cutting-edge architecture. This formed the foundation of his design proposal and everything else - nice details described in article, included - are subtleties, relatively speaking, in the overall design theme. Besides:
     ...."the manufacturer’s first fully chewed electric car (MSRP $41,350, out in 2014)--borrows liberally from bedazzling consumer tech."Cars have actually become consumer tech. And the i3 is the cutting edge.

  • jhammari

    I expected more glass or touchscreen technology inside - such as across the dashboard. Instead, a couple of small and visually disparate screens make an awkward appearance. The article seemed to implicate that touchscreen technology drove the concept.

  • Kirk Boone

    Beyond the interior screens, I don't see any resemblance to a consumer electronics. If anything, I'd say it looks most like the Chevy Volt, which I don't really see as a compliment.
     

  • chasen54

    My first thought as well. The look of and the Volt are...err...unique, but definitely aren't aesthetically sound. This BMW is no different. It screams "look at me! I'm an electric car!", but why should it? Seriously, why? I think once the big car companies can get over this factor and build an electric that is both functionally sound (see > 100 mile trips) and gorgeous (see Tesla for both these), then they have something. For now, they are stuck in making something look futuristic, but really come up short.