Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The BMW i3 is Not What You Think

BMW i3. Photos courtesy of  BMW.
Most people admittedly know very little about the BMW i3. I'm not going to bore you with all kinds of information about the car's specs and technical data -- you can get that and more on BMW's website. Instead, I want to explain what the car is really all about, because I seriously doubt most people get it.

Anytime someone comes up with a product that pushes the boundaries of what already exists, it takes a moment or two for consumers to even process what the thing is. When I first saw an iPod, I focused on how much more expensive it was than my Rio MP3 player, which could only hold a little over a CD's worth of tracks and cost a third of the Apple device's price.

To start off, the i3 is BMW's first and only commercial electric car. The i8 is a hybrid, but the i3 is propelled only by electricity. While there is a range-extending gasoline engine option, that only acts as a generator that helps replenish the battery when it runs out of juice.

Some people think that the BMW i3 is some little, impractical car, because that's the stereotypes for EVs (electric vehicles). The truth is the car is more utilitarian than it looks. The exterior has a funky coupe appearance, but there are rear suicide-style doors that make for a huge opening, thanks to no B-pillar (the one that usually sits between a vehicle's first and second rows of seating). The rear seats actually have a fair amount of legroom and headroom, making them comfortable for everyone except for the extremely tall. While the cargo isn't the biggest, there are no weird battery packs making the floor uneven, plus the rear seatbacks fold flat for a much bigger cargo area if one is needed.

The interior isn't completely weird-looking. Sure, it has a design that looks to be at least partly fueled by Tron (that's not a bad thing in my book), but the layout of the interior is nothing like some of the weird urban cube vehicles from Japan. The overall design is actually pretty simple and clean, showing a level of restraint that makes the car that much more beautiful. Speaking of beauty, many of the components are made of carbon fiber. There is also eucalyptus on the dash that has been forested responsibly, which will age over time and change in appearance for a truly custom look.  

The i3 isn't ridiculously expensive. Long ago when I was working in the tech industry I learned that many people thought the least expensive BMW was about $90,000 brand new. Pretty funny, I know, but the truth is that most people look at a car like an i3 and assume there's no way they could afford it. I know the old adage that you can purchase a BMW long before you can afford one, but the i3 doesn't need anywhere near the same kind of upkeep as the other vehicles from the brand. By nature, EVs require little fuss since there are fewer moving parts and peripheral components. You can pick up an i3 for somewhere around $40,000, which is about the average price of cars these days.

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