How will BMW plug the gap between i3 and i8?

16 May 2014

BMW i9

BMW’s plug-in car range is now up and running, with early examples of the i3 electric city car now reaching customers, and the first deliveries of the imminent i8 hybrid sports car soon due to begin. But visitors to BMW’s plush iStore on London’s Park Lane might notice that there’s a bit of a yawning gulf between the £26,000 i3 and £100,000 i8.

However, BMW has big plans to fill the gap in its plug-in car range, at least judging from the trademarks it has already registered. Besides i3 and i8, the company has also laid claim to i1, i2, i4, i5, i6, i7 and i9, as well as iX. The latter predates the i-car range but will presumably come in handy given that Hyundai beat BMW to i10. Or, indeed, if BMW develops any off-road ambitions for its plug-in cars.

The i8 does actually boast four-wheel-drive, given that it combines a three-cylinder petrol engine driving the rear wheels with an electric motor propelling the fronts. However, a fair bit of modification would be needed before the i8 could tackle any rocks or mud.

BMW i8 assembly

Near-term, plans to extend BMW’s plug-in family are likely to stay closer to the existing products. Stretching or expanding either of the existing vehicles could be done for a fraction of the budget needed to start from scratch.

We’ve already seen a three-door i3 Coupé in concept form, which might be badged i4 if it became a product. That’s assuming BMW sticks to its current convention of deploying even numbers for coupés and sports cars, and odd numbers for saloons and hatchbacks. An i3 Convertible, if such a thing were ever built, would presumably also be labelled i4.

The i3’s aluminium chassis and carbon-fibre body structure could conceivably be expanded to create an i5 (pictured below). A larger floor area would allow a bigger battery, boosting range from today’s 80 to 100 miles, perhaps by another 25% or so. Extending the wheelbase while sticking to the same rear legroom would also yield a larger boot – something the i3 sorely needs.

BMW i5

A longer i3 would probably need to adopt a conventional four-door layout, with a central pillar to help hold the body structure safely together, rather than using today’s rear-hinged half doors and a big pillar-free aperture. A slightly longer nose might also be an idea, to provide better crash protection for the larger car (and to earn five Euro NCAP stars, given that the i3 managed only four stars an account of its snub snout).

At the other end of the scale, BMW previously stretched its 6-Series Coupé to create the four-door Gran Coupé. The same could presumably be done to the two-seat i8 to create a four-seat (or perhaps 2+2) Gran Coupé based on the i8 – as pictured below. Perhaps i6 would be a suitable name for this kind of car.

BMW i6

The i6 I’ve mocked up wouldn’t quite be a rival to Telsa’s strong-selling Model S. It’s a little too low and, with a rear-mounted engine, a lot less practical.

If rumours are to be believed, the next BMW i product is actually likely to be an i9, a range-topping saloon or GT. Assuming it is indeed in the works, I’d be very surprised if it didn’t apply BMW’s carbon-aluminium Life-Drive approach to create a big and sleek fastback that could measure up directly against the Model S – as pictured at the start of this article. That means a 300-mile battery, powerful motor, spacious interior, first-class safety and versatile practicality.

BMW i3 carbon structure

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