Does BMW Have the Missing Link Between i3 and i8 on Deck?

2015 BMW i8
Source: BMW

The BMW i3 is cute but can’t go terribly far and isn’t a luxury sedan. The i8 is a rock star of a coupe that is more supercar than electric warrior. In other words, BMW is like its German rivals in that it has no competitor to Tesla on the road or in the works. Rumors of a plug-in BMW electric vehicle in development suggest things will change only slightly on the brand’s EV front in the coming years.

Report: BMW targeting 80-mile range

According to the UK’s CAR Magazine, BMW has a plug-in hybrid EV in the works that would slot between the stunning i8 and funky-yet-green i3, and be priced in line with the Tesla Model S range of vehicles. The publication cites sources familiar with BMW design plans in claiming the proposed car, provisionally dubbed “i5″ or “i7,” would be a four-door sedan in the 5-series bent with the range near an i3 (80 miles) and power like that of the i8.

CAR reports this vehicle would make its debut in 2018 at the earliest, and pack dual electric motors that would give it power greater than 500 horsepower, superior to the i8 (357 horsepower) and Model S 85D  (376 horsepower) yet not quite a match for the P85D (691 horsepower). To put the long-range, plug-in hybrid in Tesla’s wheelhouse, the design would incorporate elements of BMW’s luxurious 6- and 7-Series.

To kill (or not to kill) Tesla

It is de rigueur in articles about new premium electric vehicles to assess its status as a Tesla “fighter” or “killer,” and on this point CAR doesn’t disappoint, describing the car as a “Tesla-bashing BMW.” Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Model S ranges will question the validity of such a comparison.

Tesla Model S Red
Source: Tesla

Base (60 kWh) Model S sedans travel an EPA-estimated 208 miles on a full charge, while 85 kWh models reach 265 miles in ideal conditions. The proposed BMW i5/i7 would have a remarkable plug-in range — greater than any vehicle on the current market — but that would still put it way behind the range of Tesla’s cars, including the Model 3 that also should be available by then. Electric vehicle consumers want to leave behind internal combustion engines entirely, so the question remains how a hybrid will compare with a pure EV.

Instead, the hypothetical long-range hybrid has more in common with the Cadillac ELR, the plug-in flop that has failed to find an audience to date with a full year of sales in the books (The plug-in Caddie also suffered from a lack of engine oomph). One could also consider it a less exclusive i8 ($136,500) with a longer range and more practicality for family units. The i8 offers 15 miles of electric range before the powerful gas engine kicks into gear.

Perhaps the biggest question about the rumored vehicle would be the timing. Few people saw the arrival of the Chevrolet Bolt EV coming and no one can say whether Audi or Mercedes Benz (let alone Porsche) will deliver a more attractive, greener option in the luxury EV or plug-in hybrid class in three years. A BMW with such an impressive range would be popular, but it’s doubtful Tesla customers would be the ones placing their orders first.