Among electric vehicles, the BMW i3 provides customers with two choices: a pure electric vehicle with no gas-powered generator to extend driving range and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle outfitted with a range extender. Both variants along with another model, the BMW i8, give this BMW a foothold in the EV segment.
We’ll take a look at the BMW offerings, as well as some other players in the segment from luxury and mainstream brands alike. Saving fuel isn’t the only reason to contemplate an EV. Reducing pollution and protecting the environment are additional considerations.
BMW i3 and BMW i8
BMW made a big splash when the company released a pair of electrified vehicles for the 2014 model year. The two models couldn’t be more different with the i3 designed to take on more mainstream players, while the $135,000 BMW i8 is for sports car enthusiasts with deep pockets.
The BMW i3 is a rear-wheel drive, five-door hatchback that seats four. Electric-only models have a range of approximately 81 miles. Opt for the range extender version and a gasoline generator extends that range to 150 miles. With prices starting under $50,000, the BMW i3 offers a slight price premium over the two most common models of our day — the pure electric Nissan Leaf and the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt.
For people who want a sports car based on an electrified platform, the BMW i8 is worth considering. Unlike the boxy i3, the BMW i8 is a sleek, mid-engine sports coupe with swan-wing doors. Its shark-nose grille and super car deportment gives this model the eye candy enthusiasts love. Available as a hybrid-only model, the i8 relies on a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine to supplement the electric motor, enabling this EV to race from 0-to-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds. A combined 357 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque are what help move this gallant beast.
The Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and as of 2016 it enters its second generation. The first-generation Volt ran from 2011 to 2015, and can be operated in any one of three driving modes, with the gas generator kicking in as needed. Even when active, the generator replenishes the battery system to send energy to the electric motor to turn the wheels. Tweaks to the battery system over the first-generation’s lifetime yielded a correspondingly longer electric-only range, which increased from 35 to 38 miles.
Whereas the first-generation, front-wheel drive Volt had room for four and was available in one trim level, the second-generation model makes room for five and offers two trim levels: LT and Premier. Moving the battery system out of the way freed space for a fifth passenger. The overall dimensions of the Volt remain unchanged, but the new model now relies on a 1.5-liter four-cylinder generator, replacing the previous 1.4-liter engine. Changes in the battery system now give this sedan a 53-mile electric-only range and 420 miles of overall range. As before, the Chevrolet Volt shares its platform with the Cadillac ELR.
Think “EV” and the Nissan Leaf may come to mind. And no wonder: the front-wheel drive, Leaf hatchback is the best-selling electric vehicle in the world. This model seats five and is sold in S, SL and SV trim levels.
Arriving on the scene as a 2011 model, Nissan’s EV has been progressively updated and with those changes come better range. Initially, the plug-in Leaf had an EPA range of 73 miles, which increased to 75 miles in 2013, before reaching 84 miles by 2014. Beginning in 2016, Nissan offers a more powerful lithium-ion battery in addition to the standard model. Maximum driving range with the new battery is 107 miles.
Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X
No EV overview is complete unless the current offerings of upstart Tesla Motors are mentioned. This California-based company took to the market in 2008 with the vehicle that kicked off the modern EV era: the Tesla Roadster. Produced in small quantities until production ended in 2011, the Roadster served as the test model that has since yielded two additional Tesla products.
The Tesla Model S has proven that mass produced, high-end electric vehicles can be built and sold. Introduced in 2012, the Model S was initially offered in four trim levels and with rear-wheel drive. Seating up to seven, the powerful battery system provides an electric-only range of up to 250 miles. Incremental changes to battery power and the availability of all-wheel drive beginning in 2014 has kept this model at the top of its game. The Tesla Model S has been so successful that it has been siphoning sales from its European competitors, including the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8.
For 2016, a new Tesla Model X model arrived. It’s a seven-passenger, all-wheel drive sport utility vehicle. Like the Model S and its dashing, European style, the all-electric Model X has its eye on a segment occupied by the likes of the Infiniti QX60, Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz R-Class and Lexus RX 450h. The Model X comes with gull-wing doors, a 90-kilowatt battery and 250 miles of range. The high-end model hits the market first, and with the available Ludicrous drive mode enabled, this luxury SUV quietly zips from 0-to-60 mph in 3.2 seconds.
A Look at the Rest
Beyond the mentioned models, there are other vehicles that fall under the broad EV umbrella.
The BMW X5 eDrive is a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle and has proven to be a strong competitor to the Tesla Model X. The Audi A3 e-tron is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle with an estimated 18-mile, electric-only range. The A3 will be joined by a plug-in Audi Q7, yet another model with the Tesla Model X in mind. Include the Volvo XC90 T8 in the mix and the luxury hybrid SUV segment has a selection of capable models to consider.
Smaller pure electric vehicles include the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Kia Soul EV and Ford Focus EV. Traditional hybrids are led by the Toyota Prius and include many other models, such as the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid and others. Finally, the market is now welcoming the first wave of limited available hydrogen fuel cell models, including the Hyundai Tucson FCEV and the Toyota Mirai.