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Beam Me Away

The BMW i3.

Nothing symbolizes next-generation, consumer-ready cars as clearly as those that run electric. BMW, which celebrates its centenary next year, is at the forefront of a movement that has these cars quickly rolling out of factories and showing up, plugged in, to a garage near you.

With the launch of the BMW i3, the first premium all-electric vehicle (propelled by a lithium-ion battery), the German car company turned heads with its sleek and stealthy model. “We started researching about eight years ago, so it’s been a growing process,” says Marc Belcourt, Canada’s national manager for BMW i. “We have a 90 per cent conquest rate,” he continues, meaning, “these i3 owners have never owned a BMW before.”

It’s easy to see why new buyers are being lured in. The model is clear about its urban purpose, which sees it best-suited to weekday commuters and city driving. To experience it is a lesson in the user-friendly comforts of modern electric, including distinct touches such as the i3’s regenerative braking scheme, which converts kinetic energy into electricity to extend the car’s range. Essentially, it can be a one-pedal drive home (if you so choose) as the car can slow to a stop simply by lifting off the accelerator. (Reaching top speeds of 150 kilometers an hour and hitting 0–100 kilometers in 7.2 seconds, the i3 travels up to 300 kilometers before it requires a battery charge with the use of a range extender.)

“BMW i3 has acted like an incubator for other company ideas,” says Belcourt, noting that that Munich-based manufacturer’s carbon fibre technology innovation for the i3, for example, encouraged the material to be used down the line, including BMW’s luxury 7 Series vehicles. That lightweight carbon fibre shell increases efficiency while enhancing safety along the way. It also allows for another fantastic design element: the i3’s barn doors open away from each other with no need for an interior panel reinforcement—think French doors for the auto set.

The design team was headed by BMW’s Benoit Jacob, and he blends the futuristic world with the natural in combinations like a touch-sensitive interior navigation screen, mounted to appear as if it were floating, placed beside a sweeping, uncoated eucalyptus dash panel. No koalas were harmed in the making of this feature, of course—because the BMW i3 represents car-buying with a conscience, the wood was all grown in Germany.