• 2021 BMW i3

We aren’t sure what the electric BMW 3 Series will be called, but i3 seems apt going by BMW’s naming-pattern for EVs

LISTEN 07:05

BMW is one of the most proactive automakers to advance towards electrification. The company has not just announced new electric models, but will also electrify the existing lineup. Recently, it revealed the iX3, which carries over all the shenanigans of the regular X3, but with an electric powertrain. Recently, the electric version of the 3 Series was spotted yet again and it seems to be on the same transformational path as the electric X3.

How Does It Look On The Outside?

2021 BMW i3 Spyshots Exterior
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As I mentioned, BMW is looking to electrify all of its lineup in the future. The automaker has already said that the next-gen X1 and the 5 Series will be offered as fully electric vehicles. The iX3 is already out, and even the 7 Series is set to become environment-friendly. The 3 Series EV was spotted getting unloaded off a trailer with camouflage covering the whole lower torso.

The bumpers here have air vents on the sides along with the standard air damn in the middle. The grille is covered as well and isn’t as Brobdingnagian as, say, the iNext or even the 7 Series. You can expect it to look almost identical to the standard 3 Series.

2021 BMW i3 Spyshots Exterior
- image 925065
The biggest takeaway here is that this prototype seems to be a long-wheelbase version, which points to a China-only model where LWB models are very popular.

But, that may not necessarily be the case here. A longer wheelbase means a larger floorboard that could accommodate bigger battery packs. If this makes it to production as a global model, expect the electric 3 Series to come with bigger battery pack options, too.

The prototype was seen with two different wheel designs. At the front, it wears silver wheels with a matte finish, and 10-spoke black wheels at the rear. Nothing out of the box here. However, you can expect some aero design wheels like on the iX3 that claim to reduce the drag coefficient by five-percent.

2021 BMW i3 Spyshots Exterior
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Speaking of its drag coefficient, the car will certainly be more aerodynamically sorted. The current internal combustion-engined 3 Series (G20) has a highly impressive drag coefficient of just 0.23. With air vents, a lowered body, special wheels, and a few tweaks on the body, expect BMW to successfully drop this rating by a couple of points.

The rear features the same set of taillights as the standard 3 Series. The biggest difference here is the missing exhaust pipes. The camouflage even mentions “Electric Test Vehicle”. Even plug-in hybrid camouflages wear the same stickers, but there already is a 330e out on the market; so, that’s ruled out (if you had any doubt about it!). The rear bumper is slightly different from the standard 3 Series since there is no need for the cutouts for the exhaust pipes, and to differentiate it from its fuel-powered siblings.

2021 BMW i3 Spyshots Exterior
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To retain the same design language is the safest bet, but kind of against the tide in the EV segment.

However, we aren’t complaining and are more than happy to see a relatively familiar design being carried over to the electrified future. Also, if people want something different, there are other new EV models from the automaker they could look at.

What Powertrain and Battery Pack Can We Expect In Here?

2021 BMW i3 Spyshots Exterior
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Since the standard 3 Series and the X3 share the same engines, in different states of tunes, though, we can expect the same to happen in case of their EV twins as well.

Just like the iX3, the electric 3 Series could be launched with just one powertrain option at the beginning, which is a single-motor setup that sends power to the rear wheels.

The motor produces 282 horses and 295 pound-feet of torque in case of the iX3, so the 3 Series could also have it in the same ballpark. BMW makes use of fewer rare earth metals in its electric motor, thus boasting of stronger environmental credentials as well as lower manufacturing costs.

2021 BMW i3 Spyshots Exterior
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BMW’s Achilles’ heel has been the driving range, so it goes unsaid that the automaker will focus on this more than performance. Seeing the case with the iX3, you can expect the electric 3 Series also to be slower vis-à-vis the standard 3 Series with similar horsepower figures.

As for the battery pack, the automaker has a ‘fifth-generation BMW eDrive high-voltage’ 80-kWh battery in its arsenal for the iX3, of which 74 kWh are usable.

You can expect it to be rated for more than 250 miles according to the WLTP cycle. It’s too soon to confirm anything, so take these speculations with a pinch of salt.

Will It Be Called The Electric 3 Series or The i3?

2021 BMW i3 Spyshots Exterior
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Now, coming to the moniker, BMW has prefixed all its electric vehicles with an “i”. With that logic, it should be called the i3, but the company already has an electric hatch with that name. It hasn’t made any significant strides and there were speculations of it getting killed, but late last year, the automaker confirmed that it will continue to be in production until 2024 at least. So, we’ll have to wait and watch what the Bavarians decide. If the i3 is going off the production line, expect the sedan to receive the i3 badge.

2021 BMW i3 Spyshots Exterior
- image 925066

However, the current i3 can be considered an unsuccessful product as it didn’t take the market by storm. Perhaps, BMW could avoid using it to steer clear from an association with a product known for major range anxiety. But, when all the other products in the electric lineup start with an ‘i’, it will be weird for this to have another name. Imagine this – iNEXT, i4, iX3, and electric 3 Series. Duh! If the i3 is killed in the future and replaced by a new vehicle, expect it to be called something new altogether. Anyway, a lot of assumptions here, so we’ll wait for BMW to respond on that front.

Final Thoughts

2021 BMW i3 Spyshots Exterior
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We didn’t spy the interior, but it could be a little more tech-savvy than the standard 3 Series. Sustainable and environment-friendly materials could be used all around. Even the ‘BMW IconicSounds Electric’, which is essentially a sound emulator the automaker has developed for its EVs, could be seen here, especially on the higher trims.

The 3 Series rakes in volumes for the Bavarian, so it will expect the electric 3 Series to take up the same role in the EV department. The car is expected to be launched in 2023, so there’s still some time before more leaks and information about it start pouring in. Until then, expect BMW to maintain a low-key status about this car. What are your expectations from the BMW electric 3 Series? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sidd Dhimaan
Sidd Dhimaan
Senior Editor, Truck Expert, EV Expert - sidd@topspeed.com
Sidd joined the Topspeed.com team in 2017 as an intern and in less than a year he earned a full-time position as an associate editor and junior automotive expert. Fast forward to today, and he is currently serving as a senior editor, pickup truck expert, and EV expert.  Read full bio
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