Is the Bavarian maker of “Ultimate Driving Machines” going to become the maker of the ultimate Volt-inspired expressions of advanced mobility?

Last week BMW caught observers by surprise by announcing it would make available an optional range-extending engine to its pending, carbon-fiber-reinforced-plastic bodied, i3 electric city car.

This news comes just around three months after Volt lead engineer Frank Weber was hired away by BMW, and talk then was they were thinking of creating more range-extended vehicles.

BMW's i8 and i3 look as futuristic on the outside as they are under the skin. (Click on this and following photos for high-resolution.)

We do not know what degree of influence he has had, but he is definitely an inspired, forward thinking, and competent engineer whose talents transcended into words laced with philosophical overtones when he spoke of mobility solutions.

His sensibility is at least echoed to a degree by BMW’s newspeak describing concepts in its latest video and press kit.

The more sensible car is taking the road to the right; the more viscerally provocative model is ready to tear up the left.

At the time of his hiring, BMW already had in the works the swoopy, petrol-plus-electric i8. Both it and the i3 are due for production in 2013, but details are vague. The i3 will reportedly be sold in Germany first, with unknown launch date for either car in the U.S.


How many ways can automakers attempt to stamp their individuality into a synonym for range-extended electric vehicle? We don't know, but BMW has coined one more term by calling its extended-range, four-passenger i3 the REx.

This car will be also available as an all electric, and looks like it will be the first to make range extension via petrol an option. Unknown is what engine will be utilized, but it is reportedly to be a two-cylinder, and it will not be connected to the drive wheels a la Chevy Volt.

The i3 has been around for about a couple years as a concept, and was originally called the MegaCity. It was conceived as an all-carbon fiber bodied electric vehicle, and is actually a third-generation EV design.

Carbon fiber i3 city car.

It builds on BMW’s work with the limited-production, lease-only Mini Cooper EV, and the also limited-availability and lease-only electric 1-Series Active-E, due this fall.

The expected range for the approximately 22-kWh, lithium-ion-powered, all-electric version of the i3 will be 80-100 miles, and top speed will be limited to 93 mph.

It will be rear wheel drive, with a 170-horsepower motor mounted to the rear axle as is the case with the Active-E 1 Series.

Just like dad's station wagon, right? Space to stuff groceries; transparent doors and transparent room to see out from ...

Its dimensions are about 151 inches long, 79 inches wide. Wheel base will be around 101 inches, so it will be kind of like the Nissan LEAF, albeit much lighter and upscale.

The carbon-fiber-bodied creation is expected to weigh around 600 pounds less than a LEAF at around 2,756 pounds.

Passable, but rear leg room won't confuse anyone that they are in a 7-Series.

No word on pricing yet, but it is being speculated that the super-light, strong, rigid and difficult-to-form body, plus high-tech gadgetry throughout could see it topping $50,000, but again, that is only a guess.


The i8 will also be constructed of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. It will be an all-wheel-drive, plug-in hybrid sports car which BMW says is capable of dashing from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, and reaching 155 mph.

How does it do this, yet remain at least somewhat environmentally responsible? By mating a 129-horsepower electric motor to the front drive wheels, and a 220-horsepower 1.5-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder gasoline engine to turn the rear wheels.

Unmistakable BMW design, but the transparent panels are avante-garde indeed.

The environmentally sensible part will largely be realized when nursing it around town within the confines of its 22 miles of all-electric range from its approximately 8-kWh lithium-ion battery.

BMW said it will achieve over 100 mpg on the European drive cycle.

Of course if the i8 driver wants to push the exotic hybrid, gasoline power is always available to propel the 3,300-pound car with all of its 349 gas-plus-electric horsepower.

Cockpit as viewed from the perspective of a back-seat driver ...

It will have three driver-selectable modes in all, the third being simply gasoline power, with ability to switch between modes assuming the battery half the size of the Volt's is still charged.

While making less power than a full-on supercar, its dimensions are suggestive of high-line exotics. According to BMW, it is 182 inches long, 77 inches wide, and 50 inches tall.

BMW did not announce a price projection for the i8 either.

The transparent roof is to see out of, and let light in, but it does not have photovoltaic cells like Fisker's Karma does under its glass roof top.

It did however say that a mid-range i5 will be made available in 2016, three years after the i8 and i3 are released. The i5 is expected to use the same powertrain as the i8.

More information on both the i3 and i8 is available at their Web sites linked above, although some details will not be announced until closer to their launch.

Consumer Reports , Extreme Tech , Edmunds Auto Observer