The BMW i brand is now poised to enter the consciousness of the automotive public with two new vehicles. On the one hand there is the BMW i3 Concept. Previously known as the Megacity Vehicle, the BMW Group’s first series-produced all-electric car focuses squarely on the mobility challenges in urban areas and, as the first premium electric vehicle, reinvents the hallmark BMW attributes for the future. Then comes the BMW i8 Concept, a sports car of the most contemporary variety – forward-looking, intelligent and innovative. Its unique plug-in hybrid solution brings together a combustion engine and an electric drive system to create an extraordinary driving experience complemented by extremely low fuel consumption and emissions.
The BMW i3 Concept is an uncompromisingly sustainable vehicle designed for urban areas. Driven purely by electric power and purpose-built to meet the demands of sustainable and emission-free mobility, it embodies an intelligent form of urban transportation and commuting.
The electric motor over the rearaxle – which generates output of 125 kW/170 hp and impressive torque of 250 Nm (184 lb-ft) from a standstill – and a small turning circle combine to deliver pleasingly crisp driving characteristics. The BMW i3 Concept accelerates from 0 to 60 km/h (37 mph) in under four seconds and from rest to 100 km/h (62 mph) in less than eight seconds. The battery can be fully recharged in six hours at a standard power socket. If a high-speed charger is used, an 80 per cent charge can be achieved in just one hour.
The so-called Life module conjures up a feeling of space inside the car more generous than even the latest conversion vehicles can offer. Select materials lend the open and airy cabin a lounge-like character. The use of renewable raw materials is another defining characteristic of the interior, offering passengers a further means of “experiencing” the sustainability of the vehicle. Parts of the instrument panel and door panelling are visibly made from natural fibres, while the naturally tanned leather of the seats creates a lounge-style ambience. With four seats, wide-opening opposing “coach” doors, a boot capacity of around 200 litres and an additional functional compartment in the front, the BMW i3 Concept is neatly equipped for the demands of everyday use. Remote functions accessible via a smartphone enable owners to find their vehicles, flag up nearby charging stations, allow battery charging and preconditioning at the touch of a button, and supply information on the current status of the vehicle.
The BMW i3 Concept represents the dynamic interpretation of an impressively practical vehicle. Agile and compact proportions showcase the agility of the BMW i3 Concept and the dynamic prowess of its electric drive system. From the side view, the window graphics and door sills combine to create a dynamic wedge shape, giving the car the feeling of pushing forward before it even turns a wheel. From the outside, a flowing silhouette and long wheelbase hint at the extraordinarily generous levels of space on offer in the interior, while short front and rear overhangs make parking in tight spaces that much easier. Practicality gets another boost from the “coach doors”, whose opposing construction creates a fresh new way of accessing the large, open spaces of the interior.
Extensive glass surfaces and black elements like the window surrounds and door sills give the vehicle a feeling of lightness and, together with the exposed carbon structures, draw attention to its low weight. Large, narrow 19-inch wheels add further impact to the dynamic side profile.
The front end of the BMW i3 Concept has a very clear and uncluttered design. The dominant element here is the strikingly moulded kidney grille, which has the hallmark BMW i blue background. Below the kidney grille, the silver-coloured layer lends the sculptural front apron its form. Black surfaces identify the functional areas of the front end, such as the load compartment under the bonnet and the air inlets.
The eye-catching LED headlights usher in a fresh take on BMW light design. Along with the strikingly formed kidney grille, the LED-backlit U-shaped lines form an important part of the arresting new BMW i face.
The rear end of the BMW i3 Concept represents a microcosm of the car’s impressive functionality overall. The large, retractable rear window offers optimum access to the luggage compartment, and the roof pillars stand upright to create as much space as possible in the interior. The rear window is also home to the tail lights, which are U-shaped (like the headlights) and appear to be floating in the glass. Behind it lies an extremely versatile boot area, whose capacity can be further increased by folding down the rear seats.
The version of the LifeDrive architecture that underlies the BMW i3 Concept opens up totally new avenues in interior design. There is no centre tunnel bisecting the cabin, and the interior thus creates a very free, open and airy impression. The passengers sit in a raised “semi-command” position which provides a good view over the hustle and bustle of city traffic and, at the same time, eases access to the seats.
The full-width seat benches in the front and rear create a new and connecting feeling of space for the passengers in the light interior. This layout also allows them to swap from one side of the car to the other and, if necessary, to all climb out of the car comfortably on the same side. This represents a major boost to comfort in tight parking spaces and when access to one side of the parked car is impeded.
A distinctive element of the light interior is the freestanding steering column. All the driving-oriented controls – such as the instrument cluster, start/stop button and gearshift lever – can be found here, rendering a centre console superfluous. Behind the steering column the extremely intricate yet extensive instrument panel spans the interior. It begins at the air vents next to the steering wheel, continues in a line around the steering column, includes the radio and climate controls, and continues on its path to the front passenger. Shortly before the front passenger door it then shears upwards, heads back towards the centre of the interior and reaches the end of its journey in the central information display (CID) monitor positioned above the control panel for the radio and climate system. Around the displays, by contrast, the instrument panel generates an almost calligraphic surface design in which one large, wide surface sweeps prominently into a narrower and more delicate counterpart, before culminating in another wide section. The area around the instrument panel, the doors and the floor area of the BMW i3 Concept also features contrasting materials. The natural origins of the high-strength dark anthracite material made from compressed and coated plant fibres are clearly evident and showcase the light, high-quality and beautifully crafted elements of the interior to optimum effect.
The BMW i8 Concept and the fascinating approach that underpins it embody the vision of a sustainable contemporary sports car brought to life. Its innovative plug-in hybrid concept combines the modified electric drive system from the BMW i3 Concept – fitted over its front axle – with a high-performance three-cylinder combustion engine producing 164 kW/220 hp and 300 Nm (221 lb-ft) at the rear. Working in tandem, they allow the two drive systems to display their respective talents to the full, delivering the performance of a sports car but the fuel consumption of a small car.
Acceleration of 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under five seconds combined with fuel consumption in the European cycle of under three litres per 100 kilometres (approx. 94 mpg imp) are figures currently beyond the capability of any vehicle powered by a combustion engine of comparable performance. Thanks to its large lithium-ion battery, which can be charged from a domestic power supply, the BMW i8 Concept can travel up to 35 kilometres (approx. 20 miles) on electric power alone.
The motor in the front axle module and combustion engine at the rear are connected by an “energy tunnel”, which houses the high-voltage battery. This gives the car a low centre of gravity – and the dynamic benefits that come with it. The positioning of the electric motor and engine over their respective axles and the space-saving and well-balanced packaging of all components result in an optimum 50/50 weight distribution.
The design of the BMW i8 Concept is as special as the car’s overall concept, embodying the perfect synthesis of technology and aesthetic allure. A large, transparent greenhouse lends the exterior an extraordinary feeling of lightness and highlights the exceptional efficiency of this vehicle concept. Short front and rear overhangs round off the sporting overall impression. Despite its dynamic appearance, the 2+2-seater can accommodate four people, giving it a high degree of everyday practicality.
Taut surfaces and precise edges form an extremely sculptural and organic surface structure. The precise lines along its flanks and hallmark BMW i “stream flow” also give the BMW i8 Concept a strong sense of powering forward even when it is standing still. The BMW i8 Concept’s doors swing upwards like wings to provide an undeniably emotional and sporting allure. Below the doors, the silver-coloured layer moulds the car’s flanks into a powerful wedge shape, opening out from the door sills towards the rear. A blue flourish accentuates the dynamic presence of the sills. Together, the bonnet and door sill sculpting emphasise the BMW i8 Concept’s forward-surging stance, and their smooth lines imbue the car with a touch of lightness.
The BMW i8 Concept also displays its dynamic sports car persona when viewed from the front. A number of different levels interact with one another in the design of the front end, while the expressive surface treatment exudes dynamic verve and advertises the car’s sporting potential. The full-LED headlights of the BMW i8 Concept are designed as two U-shaped configurations. A black, semi-transparent “V” rises out of the bonnet just behind the kidney grille, opening out towards the windscreen and guiding the eye to the electric motor below. The “V” also offers the first glimpse of the CFRP module and extends back towards the rear like a black band to provide a visual connection between the different sections of the car. Similarly to the front end, the rear of the car is also very low, horizontal and sculptural in design. The silver-coloured side sections form a striking vertical frame around the rear of the car, with a precise line extending out to the sides enjoying particular prominence. In its centre the silver-coloured and blue-framed rear diffuser is a wider and lower interpretation of the version on the BMW i3 Concept, adding a distinct sporting flavour to its relationship with its stablemate.
At the rear, the car’s exceptional sporting credentials are also expressed in width-accentuating lines, three-dimensional air outlets and “floating” tail lights with air through-flow. The tail lights, which also have a distinct horizontal design, are integrated into the upper layer of the rear and share the signature U-shape of the BMW i light concept.
The transparent surfaces in the doors and roof give the exterior and interior design of the BMW i8 Concept the appearance of merging into one another. The colour concept and underlying structure of the BMW i8 Concept interior closely mimic those of the BMW i3 Concept. Here again, the Porcelain White support structure, black technical level and comfort section with Mocha Brown leather are split into three different layers. The arrangement of the air vents, control panels and displays also betrays the car’s family ties to its BMW i3 Concept sibling.
Overall, however, these features have a more sporting character and are geared much more clearly towards the driver. Indeed, a level of driver focus beyond that of any BMW Group vehicle before it allows the BMW i8 Concept to immerse the driver fully in the unique experience behind the wheel. Driver-relevant functions such as the gearshift lever, start-stop button and parking brake are arranged around the driver on the centre console and are graphically strongly geared towards the driving seat as well. The three-dimensional displays are extremely clear and flash up the relevant information for the driving situation at hand. At the same time, occupants in the BMW i8 Concept sit in a highly integrated position low down in the car and are separated by the battery running lengthways through the interior. This longitudinal bisection of the cabin underlines the sporting and forward-looking character of the BMW i8 Concept interior.