The BMW i offers something entirely different - a philosophy which has made people rethink what an electric vehicle can and should be. With two entirely different concepts brought together under the 'i' moniker, BMW have managed to change perceptions and bring all-electric cars to the fore with a sense of genuine viability.
Up until now, there has been no single solution to the idea of electric cars. From existing car models which have been retrofitted with batteries and electric motors, to halfway hybrids which have both a traditional and electric engine, none have quite managed to spark the imagination quite like the i3 and the i8.
That's because from the ground-up they're fully electric. The element for BMW throughout has been 'sustainability' - not only for the economical nature of the engine but also the materials used in the production of the car. The key material in this instance is carbon fibre, which helps to offset the weight of the high voltage battery whilst providing numerous rigidity and safety benefits.
Through research and development it's the first time that carbon fibre usage has been possible in a large-scale production vehicle. Research also went in to various prototypes such as the MINI E and the 1-Series active E, each drawing a step closer to bringing a valid electric car to the market. However, the results are there for all to see, with a pair of plug-in cars that act and behave as all BMWs should. And that's what makes them so special - no compromises have been made.
The BMW i3
The i3 has been billed as 'the electric car that drives like a BMW'. Whilst this claim may seem a little redundant, it's important to remember that in the past electric cars have had issues with the amount of weight that the batteries take up. Cars not designed for that kind of additional weight, such as those which have had an electric motor fitted retrospectively, have suffered accordingly with abysmal handling and ride quality.
It's just one of the reasons why electric cars have remained at the shadows, at the edge of our periphery for so long. That's why BMW designed their i-range of vehicles with LifeDrive architecture in mind - essentially incorporating this added weight in to the chassis of the car. This also has the benefit of keeping the centre of gravity low which is great for handling,
In this way, designers of the i3 haven't considered the battery as added weight, rather it's already part of the car. Simply forward engineering at its best. The i3 has been praised for the quality of the ride, and a solid yet responsive steering feel which helps propel the nimble i3 happily around corners - as agile as a normal BMW would.
Electric engines are innately torquey. Unlike combustion engines, they put all their power down from the off, meaning they have a largely untapped potential for snappy acceleration. Many electric cars are simply too heavy or don't have enough power to be considered a realistic proposition. After all, nobody wants to trade an electric car for performance.
With the i3, there is no trade. A powerful engine, with enthusiastic power delivery and extremely nimble steering means that the car is fun to drive. An impressive 0-60 time of just 7.2 seconds is bolstered by a rear wheel drive setup that adds some sporty credentials in to the mix. In older plug-in cars, performance figures like that would run the engine down within a matter of minutes, but the i3 has a range of up to 100 miles. If that still isn't enough, there's also a range-extender version available with a small two-pot motorbike engine, which doubles the available range of the i3 for longer journeys.
Billed as a city car, the i3 also has some excellent city driving credentials. The LifeDrive system, which places the interior module on top of the batteries and electric motor, also means that you sit in a fairly high driving position - which gives excellent visibility. It may not be the smallest city car but it more than makes up for this with a great view of all the action.
The BMW i8
The i8 utilises the same basic technology and premise as the i3, and fact that it's managed to assert itself as the most important supercar in recent history sings only the praises and adaptability of the i-series platform. It, too makes use of the LifeDrive architecture to bring the viability of plug in cars to the market.
In this instance, the i8 shows off just what an electric supercar can do. If the i3 is here to showcase the every-day practicality of an electric car, the i8 is here to redefine the performance that's possible from an 'eco' model.
Just as in the i3, the lightweight and strong carbon fibre shell moulds the construction of the i8. No longer bound by the need for an engine in the traditional sense, it takes on a dynamic shape, with sharp edges and a silhouette that stands out just about anywhere - almost the i3's alter-ego. Laser headlights, and a thick blue outline to the normal BMW kidney-grille makes the intentions of the i8 clear. Where the i3 is tall and high-riding, the i8 hunkers down, as if ready to burst forward at a moment's notice.
Even better suited than to the i3, the LifeDrive architecture on which the car is built ensures a low centre of gravity, meaning it clings to the road, applying instant power with aplomb. Where the sister car calms the road ahead, the i8 energises it. A lightning-quick 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds puts the car on a level with performance stalwarts such as the Porsche 911 or the Audi R8.
The BMW's electric motor is synchronised with a 1.5 litre turbo petrol, both of which work in conjunction to produce an output of 357bhp. This means that it provides all the thrills expected from a supercar, but with an economy of up to 135mph on electric power alone. A fluid six-speed gearbox moves seamlessly up the ranks, producing a wave of acceleration unlike anything else seen.
But then again, that's exactly the point of the i-series; it makes preconceptions redundant. It helps to promise a bright future for the electric car.