BMW engineers have been spotted testing a battery-electric version of the current-generation 3-Series, a car that may just end up using the i3 badge.

The i3 hatch is due to be phased out after the current model's run, so the badge will be free to use for another model. But rather than launch standalone EVs like it did with the i3 hatch, BMW is now adding electric power to its core models.

The first of these is the iX3 based on the X3 due later this year (though not in the United States), to be followed in 2021 by the iNext based on the X5 and i4 based on the 4-Series (shown below). An electric version of the next-generation 7-Series is also coming.

The prototype may look like one of the testers for the regular 3-Series but there aren't any tailpipes. The openings in the front fascia also look to be sealed here, which suggests no internal-combustion engine sitting up front, and there's no missing the “Electric Test Vehicle” stickers.

2022 BMW i4 spy shots - Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

2022 BMW i4 spy shots - Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

The powertrain(s) should match up with the i4. We know the i4 will have at least 80 kilowatt-hours of battery capacity and as much as 523 horsepower on tap. The top speed on the i4 will be capped at 120 mph, which is lower than BMW's standard of 155 mph, and the range should come in at more than 250 miles on a charge.

Look for the electric 3-Series to debut in late 2021 or early the following year, meaning we'll likely see it arrive as a 2022 model.

Potential rivals include BMW's own i4, as well as the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2. Mercedes-Benz is also readying an electric sedan similar in size to the C-Class, and there could be more electric offerings in the segment by the time the electric 3-series is launched.

BMW plans to have 25 electrified cars in its lineup by as early as 2023, and more than half of these will be battery-electric cars. Electrified, that is EVs and plug-in hybrids, currently make up about 8.0% of BMW sales worldwide.