BMW’s All-Electric i3: Will This Vehicle Steal Tesla’s Thunder?

BMW i3

When Motor Trend crowned the Tesla Model S the 2013 Car of the Year, it put the electric car manufacturer on a pedestal no one could touch. Now, BMW wants to take its place with the introduction of its first all-electric vehicle, the i3.

While electric cars are just getting started, fuel-efficient hybrids and diesels are quickly gaining ground. Reuters reports that registrations in the U.S. increased 33 percent for hybrid cars and 24 percent for diesel-powered cars since 2010. These gains don’t just account for smaller cars, either. Hybrid and diesel SUVs are rising in popularity as consumers battle crippling gas prices and fuel-efficient vehicles become more affordable. Drivers looking to buy a new BMW already have hybrid and diesel options.

Cost

Anyone wanting to make the switch to electric in 2013 will have a hefty up-front price to pay. The Model S starts at $63,570, according to Tesla’s website. That’s $13,000 more than the median American income, CNN Money reports, so the average citizen won’t own one any time soon. The Model S is still very much a “luxury” car.

The BMW i3 isn’t the answer to the Model S, it’s the answer to the Model S’s price. The i3 will start at about $41,000 when it launches in 2014, according to Engadget. That’s more than the $35,000 price tag consumers hoped for when BMW announced the i3 earlier this year, but still significantly less than the Model S. Those looking to go electric on a budget now have a more reasonable option.

Range and Efficiency

So the i3 costs less, but are you getting less? When it comes to electric cars, it’s all about the battery. The base Model S has a 60 kWh battery that Tesla claims can drive 208 miles on a single charge. The i3’s smaller 22 kWh battery lasts roughly 110 miles when driven in “eco mode.” Comparing these batteries makes sense of the price difference between the Model S and i3.

The Model S is also very powerful, even by gas-powered standards. The base model moves from zero to 60 in 5.9 seconds and has a top speed of 120 mph. Upgrade to the performance batter and those specs are improved to 4.2 seconds and 130 mph. To give some perspective, that’s the same acceleration capability as the Chevrolet Corvette. The i3 moves from zero to 60 in 7.9 seconds and has a top speed of 93 mph, which falls in line with a more traditional electric or fuel-efficient vehicle. The electric motor of the BMW i3 is perfect for use in urban areas, delivering 125 kW/170 hp with a torque of 250 Nm. The full torque is instantly available from a standstill – a feature of electric motors – and does not need to be built up first through engine speed, as it does with combustion engines.

The Backup Vehicle

BMW does have a tool in its chest that Tesla can’t match— a gas-powered backup for long road trips. Bloomberg reports i3 owners can swap vehicles at the dealership before long road trips. BMW will offer vehicles like the X5 for several weeks out of the year to offset any “range anxiety” limited by the i3’s smaller battery. Since Tesla is an all-electric company, it doesn’t have a competing option.

There’s a few variables to note when comparing the Model S to the i3, and most importantly is design. Show the Model S to to a layman and he or she would never guess it’s an electric car. The i3, however, follows design trends set by cars like the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf. You look at it and know it’s not just another BMW.

The i3 is not the final step in BMW’s electric plan. Its big brother, the i8, is slated for 2015 and will feature a bigger battery, more power and a higher price tag to accompany it. The i8 is BMW’s true answer to the Model S. Electric cars are still several years from any sort of common ownership, but now two reputable companies, Tesla and BMW, are making serious claims to new territory – regardless of who steals whose thunder, the electric vehicles are here to steal the diesel’s thunder.

Written by Kevin Murphy, an automotive writer from Cincinnati, USA.

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