In the 105 years BMW has designed and built cars, it has earned a reputation for pushing the envelope and bringing cutting-edge engineering to the masses. A shining example of this commitment to innovation is the i Series, a line of BMWs that focuses on alternative fuel technologies, new materials and a forward-looking driving experience.
Past i Series were something of a specialty product, a niche in the BMW portfolio showcasing new technologies like hybrid powertrains and provocative design. However, several new models on the horizon will bring the i Series to the forefront of the BMW lineup.
Early i Series Models
You may have seen an i Series model on the road, as they’ve been available for almost 10 years. The compact i3 launched in Europe in 2013 and the United States in 2014. It offers fully electric power, with the option for added motivation from a two-cylinder range-extender internal combustion engine (ICE).
Some readers may be surprised to learn that the i3 is still being produced today. Owners praise the car for its low fuel consumption and airy, premium interior. The i3 also boasts advanced carbon-fiber reinforced-plastic (CFRP) construction, which keeps weight under 3,000 pounds without sacrificing safety.
If you’re looking for something more evocative, you may have noticed the i3’s stablemate, the i8 — which is now out of production. It used carbon fiber and CFRP to deliver a battery-powered car under 3,400 pounds. A comparably sized Tesla Model 3 can exceed 4,000 pounds, and a Model 3 can reach 5,000, eating into the benefits of the car’s electric powertrains.
Alas, BMW says it will no longer make use of carbon for future i models because battery technology has improved to the point that it’s uncalled for. Still, the i3 and i8 demonstrate the philosophy of the i model line with their use of the latest materials to achieve safety, performance and efficiency.
The Future of BMW i
The i brand celebrating its 10th birthday in 2023 represents BMW’s distinctive offering for buyers who want to enjoy the luxury brand’s driving experience in a package that incorporates the latest sustainability technologies.
Many automakers have struggled with the challenge of how to make electric cars more easily acceptable. Only recently have powertrains and packaging enabled EVs to look and function like their ICE-powered counterparts. They still deliver the benefits of a reduced carbon footprint, silent operation, instant acceleration and regenerative braking associated with gas-powered cars.
The new BMW i4, iX and iX3 will join the i3 as full-time i series offerings, creating a complete line of fully electric i models, replete with all the luxury and performance you would expect of a BMW. The iX3 is already available at the time of writing, and all three models should be ready to do battle with rival EV offerings like Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, Audi’s e-tron line, the upstart Hyundai Ioniq 5 and all things Tesla.
Living up to The Name
Will these new offerings from the Bavarian Motor Works offer the drive a BMW should? All signs point to yes.
In the world of EVs, power is easy to come by. Still, the forthcoming i4 sedan will tout 523 horsepower and upwards of 600 pound-feet of torque, placing it squarely in competition with Audi and handily outpacing the Mach-E in top GT Performance guise. More meaningful for would-be EV buyers might be the i4’s projected 373-mile range and fast-charging capabilities, which should make it a viable alternative to a Tesla. Plus, you get the added benefit of BMW’s build quality and driving dynamics.
You can walk into a BMW dealership today and buy an iX3, perhaps the least aspirational of the i series cars, but a highly functional electrified take on the X3 crossover. With 286 miles of range and performance that easily surpasses a base-model X3, it’s a great solution for people who want a “normal” crossover that just happens to be electric.
It seems that models without numbers represent the fullest expression of the i credo. The i4 and iX show off bleeding-edge features like the new iDrive 8 infotainment interface, optional BMW CarData telematics and what BMW calls “shy tech.” This is a concept where features like radar sensors and cameras are integrated smoothly into the vehicle’s exterior, while inside, the stereo seems to play without any speakers in sight.
It’s all part of the magic of i. If the M brand is any indicator, BMW knows how to develop a product line. Look forward to more innovative and sustainable offerings from this new subbrand. It doesn’t seem too outlandish to think that someday, we might even see a collaboration between the two.