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BMW’s revolutionary i3

BMW’s revolutionary i3 looks like it rolled out of a futuristic sci-fi flick like Demolition Man or Back to the Future. While it still needs roads, the sucker’s electric. Mostly, until it kinda isn’t. Let me explain.

The i3 is first and foremost an electric car, ideal for cities with charging infrastructure – available as a range-extended version with a backup engine. I drove the all-electric version in L.A. last spring, ingesting waves of instant torque, but the extended-range version goes further.

Plug it in for four hours and the batteries return 116 km and direct 127kW/170 horsepower to the rear wheels. After that, the two-cylinder gas engine adds an additional 80km – enough to get you to a charging station, but not cross-country.

I’ve had range anxiety while driving electric cars, but never with the engine running. Trips beyond plugs should be well planned. You’ll fill up with about 5.5 liters and stop often. After a few hours on the highway, my wallet looked like Sgt. John Spartan’s cuss box.

Roll onto the freeway and you’ll whoosh up to speed, but deplete batteries quickly, leaving the 2-cylinder engine keeping pace. After setting the adaptive cruise at 115 km/h, the i3 preferred 105 km/h. Just stay in town!

Like the i8 supercar, i3 employs weight-saving carbon fiber in the body, seen exposed in the doorsills. The chic design reshapes the commuter car with aero-tuned profile branded by a stepped windowline, quad headlamps, 20” alloys, and glassy taillights.

Pop the door to reveal open pore eucalyptus wood, stitched leather, and exposed fiber paneling. It feels like a modern loft. An LCD instrument cluster and floating infotainment screen with BMW’s iDrive agree. Additional comforts come from heated seats, automatic climate control, and forward collision warning. Twist the gear selector and go.

This car needs an engine about 50% larger and 8-gallon gas tank for 250+ miles of relaxation. But, that wasn’t really BMW’s aim. It’s a city car that helps you find your place in the future. Buy an all-electric i3 from $45,300, or range-extended version for $49,300.

Four-passenger, rwd 5-door
Powertrain: Li-ion batteries/motor, 
0.65-liter 2-cyl
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 20”/20” alloy
Brakes f/r: regen disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Performance
Elect. driving range: 116 km 
Additional gas range: 80 km
Top speed: 150 km/h
0-100 km/h: 7.9s
Base price: $45,300/49,300

CASEY WILLIAMS is a contributing writer for Gaywheels.com, and a frequent business traveler to Montreal. He contributes to the New York-based LGBT magazine Metrosource and the Chicago Tribune. He and his husband live in Indianapolis, where Williams contributes videos and reviews to wfyi.org, the area’s PBS/NPR station