Certain cars, like the BMW 3 series, have been evolutionary over the years. While they’ve gotten a bit larger over the years and the model has split between the 3er and 4er (sedan and coupe), they are still recognizable as the compact executive machines that endeared them to the upwardly mobile in the 1980s. Then you have cars that are more revolutionary, such as the BMW i3 that you see here, brought to our attention by our reader Tony. I recently came across this glimpse of the future at a BMW dealer outside of Philadelphia. After seeing one in person, I can safely say that pictures don’t do it justice.
There’s a lot of things going on with this vehicle. Let’s break it down. First, the design is what grabs your attention first. It could almost be described as a blend of Picasso and Mondrian elements. The look is funky, but it works. Then you get down to the powertrain, which is an electric motor with the option of a small, two cylinder engine dubbed REx, or range extender. Sure, that’s nothing new but you have to take note when it’s being marketed by the company with the old tagline “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Then, less visible, is the way the i3 is constructed. As automotive manufacturers scramble to meet CAFE requirements in the coming years, BMW is exploring use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic construction in the i3, helping to keep the weight down. Folks, the future is here.
We’ve been accused of preferring older car designs to new ones. Rightly so, a majority of the cars that we feature are at least 10 years old, with a fair chunk now being over 20 years old. Are we out of touch with the market? Well, certainly that could be said – however, I think if you poll all of the authors here (and, a majority of our fans), most people just don’t get as excited about a car that you can pop down to the dealership and buy versus one that’s been well traveled, taken care of, and is hard to find in good shape. It’s the same reason why Antiques Roadshow is so popular; anyone can go buy the popular toy of the day and leave it in its original packing – but find a toy from the 1950s or 1960s in its original package and the pricing will probably surprise you. Heck, even my Transformers from when I was a kid are now quite valuable in good shape.
So we’re only interested in old cars? Well, not so fast – there have been several very exciting and pioneering designs that are quickly transforming the automotive landscape even as I write. The Porsche 918 Spyder, for example, has redefined supercars along with the LaFerrari and P1. They’ve looked at hybrid technology not as the death of performance, but as an opportunity to better exploit it. However, all three of these designs are ultra-limited, ultra-exclusive and ultra-expensive cars, leaving mere mortals without hedge funds to dream of owing them only in passing flights of fancy. However, BMW has taken a very different route with its hybrid technology, offering two platforms that are both brilliant and innovative in their own ways. The admittedly less exciting, more practical application is the i3; a small electric city car. Our editor Paul recently checked one of these out at a dealer and posted it to our Facebook Fanpage; the reaction from enthusiasts was less than, well…enthusiastic. However, I suggested that BMW’s departure into functional, efficient designs was at least innovative and admirable – this is technology that won’t kill cars, but will in fact allow them to thrive and continue for generations to come. Perhaps, then, the more exciting application of BMW’s efficient design “i” branding will sway you – the lightweight, sporty i8: