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2014 BMW i3: High-Tech Electric City Luxury Page 2

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Packages available on all models include the Technology and Driving assist package and the Parking assist package. Technology and Driving assist includes wide-screen Navigation Professional with real-time traffic and touch pad interface, Bluetooth connectivity, BMW Apps, and a wealth of traffic-related real-time services. BMW ConnectedDrive, Forward Collision Warning, Pedestrian Protection, and City Collision Mitigation are also included in the Technology and Driving assist package.

The Parking assist package includes the Park Assistant self-parking system, plus a rear-view camera and Front Auto Park Distance Control.

BMW's complete list of features and options for the i3 will be released this fall.

Capabilities

The BMW i3's electronically limited top speed is 93 mph, plenty fast for freeway service. It should also get to that reasonable top speed with quickness, accelerating to 30 mph in 3.5 seconds and 60 mph in about 7.2 seconds, according to BMW.

The 170-horsepower electric motor drives the rear wheels, which together with BMW's understanding of dynamics and handling, should help the i3 be a more interesting drive than its front-drive (and often frumpy) competition. BMW says the i3's weight distribution is nearly 50-50 front-to-rear, too.

While zipping around town, the 2,700-pound i3 should also prove easy to maneuver, with a turning radius of just 32.3 feet. The BMW i3 manages its low weight and unique structure through the use of CFRP--carbon fiber reinforced plastic. The material uses some of the scrap carbon fiber left over from BMW's other manufacturing efforts to deliver the strength of steel at half the weight; that's about 30 percent lighter than an equivalent aluminum structure. This should also result in a strong, secure passenger safety cell.

Three driving modes (Comfort, Eco Pro, and Eco Pro+) allow the driver to tune the car's responses to their intended trip and style, though the lack of a sport mode despite the 184 pound-feet of torque on tap hints that the five-link suspension and 50-50 weight distribution might be more about marketing than side-street hooliganism.

Once you're out of charge, it will take about 3 hours using the included 220-volt, 32-amp charger. An optional SAE DC Combo Fast Charger is available, delivering up to 80 percent of a full charge in just 20 minutes, and a full charge in 30 minutes.

Inside the cabin, BMW has taken advantage of the absence of a transmission tunnel to lower the floor and offer slide-through seating, opening up the option of exiting the car from the passenger side in city parking.

Cost

The BMW i3 will start from $41,350 plus $925 in destination fees for a total of $42,275 when it hits the market in the second quarter of 2014. That's before subtraction or consideration of any potential state and federal incentives.

That makes it considerably more expensive than the $29,650 Nissan Leaf, but the i3 also offers the range extender option and a considerably higher grade of luxury and refinement. The Chevy Volt's 38-mile electric range and standard range-extended driving will run about $39,995--very close to the i3's, with less all-electric range and no choice of an electric-only model.

In other words, the BMW i3 is planted squarely in the middle of the existing major-manufacturer electric and range-extended electric offerings, but with a unique feature set and premium position.

That makes it one very interesting vehicle, and one that just might re-set the benchmark for efficient, comfortable, and luxurious city motoring. Now we just have to get our hands on one.

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