A brief look: BMW’s new mean green cars

By Sipho Hlongwane 17 August 2011

BMW’s chief executive famously promised the automotive giant’s green cars should not be “a vow of poverty on wheels”. Last week BMW unveiled two working prototypes of green cars, the i8, a plug-in hybrid sports coupé, and the i3 four-seat, battery-powered cheaper compact. Both are lip-wettingly gorgeous. But will buyers flock in? That will depend on how “BMW” the green cars are to drive. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

You will probably have to part with a few million rands to get your hands on the i8. The more timid i3 will cost less – probably not as little as normal hatchbacks, though. The heavy asking price is no mistake. These two cars are the first of BMW’s new stable of low-emission, high-range breeds – and they’re in a field of green technology in cars that hasn’t worked spectacularly well in the past.

According to BMW’s cheat sheet, the i8 has a dual-power system where the battery-powered electric motor powers the front wheels and  a 1.5-liter three-cylinder petrol engine drives the back, and will apparently get from standstill to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds. That is Audi RS3 Quattro territory. The i8 can do 32km on the battery alone, and can do over 160 kilometres on 3.78 litres of petrol if you drive it gently (no such BMW driver exists, of course, so expect kilometres/litre to be about half of that).

What is less clear is how well the i3 will do. BMW would not allow a sub-par offering (green or otherwise) to sully its brand. The Bavarians say it will take about 8 seconds to get to 100km/h from standstill, and the electric engine can deliver peak torque from a standstill.

Both vehicles are currently being called concept cars (the type that is only good for motor shows and never sees full production), but BMW says they will be rolling off the production line in Leipzig by late 2013, bound for their main markets.

So, BMW in looks, and if the Germans are to be believed, BMW in performance too. Should Mercedes-Benz with its SLS E-Cell and Audi with R8 E-Tron be worried? A little, yes.

Will these cars become available in South Africa? Not for a while, we think. If they sell outrageously in the US, Europe and Asia, then we could possibly see one of these rolling down Sandton’s Fredman Drive some day. DM

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