How BMW Designers Removed Visual Weight From the i3


BMW i3 Has Less Visual Weight

BMW i3 Has Less Visual Weight

Removing weight from the BMW i3 doesn’t necessarily have to show up when put on a scale.

Stream Flow is in Play Somewhere Here

Stream Flow is in Play Somewhere Here

You see, “visual weight” doesn’t weigh.  If that makes sense.

In designing the BMW i3, the idea was to make it visually appear as though it is a lightweight automobile.  BMW goes so far as to say that techniques and tricks had to be utilized to break up the i3’s bulky appearance.

Were these techniques and tricks successful?  We say no.  Why?  Well, the i3 still looks tall and chunky.  It certainly doesn’t have that “I’m a lightweight” appearance to it.

Anyways, BMW says that the black band tat run across the top of the i3 breaks up the vehicle to “divide up the volume.”  Not sure what that means.

Adrian van Hooydonk, Richard Kim and Benoit Jacob worked on designing the i3 for five years.

The designers go on to say that the dip in the rear window breaks up the beltline, which again was done to divide the i3 chunkiness up.   The resulting lines of the i3 have a name too: Stream Flow.

These designer know how to perplex us, as we couldn’t begin to tell you what Stream Flow means.

All that matters is the end result.  Is the i3 visually appealing to you?  Does it look like it’s lost visual weight?  We’ll let you decide.

Source: New York Times

Categories: BMW

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36 Comments on "How BMW Designers Removed Visual Weight From the i3"

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I want to know how they were so successful at removing visual appeal.


Okay, you got me on that one. +1

Rick Danger

+1 hell ya!
I was also going to say that BMW shouldn’t use the word “visual” in talking about this vehicle.


You guys crack me up!


I’ve heard women say “black is slimming”, so can we please get an all black i3, BMW?

(the skinny tires kinda make it look .. skinny)

David Stone

People who say that are in my experience the same who cringe at the idea of ‘physical excercise’, ‘healthy food’ and ‘in moderation’ 🙂


I have to admit the i3 is visually deceiving. Funny how most pictures of the i3 do not include people around the vehicle. At first glance it appears to look like a full sized SUV. When you compare its dimensions, you’ll find them similar to the Honda Fit and realize it’s not a large vehicle. Ordering the i3 without seeing it in person is a mistake in my opinion.


It’s almost the same size and weight as a Mitsubishi i-MiEV. That’s a tiny car — I should know, I drive one. I’m surprised that BMW designed the vehicle so tiny for American roads. Even Mitsubishi has a larger, wider version for North America than for the rest of the world. (Insert “fat American” joke here.)

Dan Frederiksen

But you are absolutely wrong about the size claim of the i3. I hope that’s an honest mistake and not a despicable lie.
the european imiev is 3.4m long, i3 is 4.0m. us imiev is oddly enough 3.68m
i3 is a bit lower but a lot wider.

Suprise Cat

The i3 has nearly the same top view size as the Renault Zoe.
The wide of the i3 is a little irritating, it’s wide in the middle, but the top of the passenger cell is very close to the size of the imiev, because the imiev has nearly vertical sides.


Dan… breathe. While the i3 is a tiny bit longer (due to its longer hood), the width, height, and weight are almost identical. I’m comparing it to the North American model.


The i3 is more than a foot longer(144.8″ to 157.6″) than the iMiEV and 7 1/2″ wider(62.4″ to 69.9″). I know you really seem to believe it’s the same size, but it just isn’t Aron. I’ve driven iMiEV’s and I’ve sat in an i3 and they are not even close, especially the interior size because the i3 is so much wider. If you want to compare it to another EV then the Honda Fit EV is a good choice. It’s nearly the same size.

George B

Personally, I don’t think that the US was one of the primary targets for the i3 and the late market introductions stateside would seem to corroborate that further. Hatchbacks are far more popular in Europe and Asia, and the size of the vehicle is more appropriate for those markets too. Someone in our Facebook group compared the i3 to a Mini Clubman, and found it to be close in terms of dimensions. There are several vehicles on the market that come close, but none of them is identical to the i3 in terms of overall size and shape. The LEAF is too long, the iMiEV is too narrow, and the Mini is not tall enough.

Dan Frederiksen

It was developed primarily for USA. And it’s not the size of the imiev. That was a lie.


Did you forget to take your medicine, Dan? Again?

Here are the measurements with the i3 (first) and i-MiEV (second):

Wheelbase: 2570mm vs. 2550mm
Length: 3999mm vs. 3675mm
Height: 1578mm vs. 1615mm
Weight: 1195kg vs. 1171kg
Turning Circle: 9.86m vs. 9.4m
Passengers: 4 (both)


You could have added
i3(first) and i-MiEV (second):

Batt cap: 21.6 kWh vs 16 kWh

As I drive an i-MiEV myself, BMW’s range claims seem a bit exaggerated. In summer, I can achieve 40 miles @ 60 mph with 20% reserve. I’d say 50 miles would be realistic for the i3.

George B

I looked at the NEDC range figure, which is available now, and the various performance characteristics of the i3, as well as the dimensions of the vehicle. At this point, I would expect about 82 miles of EPA range, when this figure is finally published. This is only slightly less than what the 2013 LEAF can achieve in EPA testing on a full charge.


You can compare next to a Lego people

Josh Bryant

I would not openly admit spending 5 years designing the i3.

James M

Right. Maybe BMW had too much money to spend on i3 design, worrying about “visual weight”.

Only real weight matters, which they did get right at 1200kg. It will feel quick and agile. Impressive how they come even close to Model S’s 0-60 in 5.6s, but with a 3rd of the battery power. In comparison the Model S weighs nearly double at 2100kg. Because of the batteries, we can’t compare ICE vehicles with EVs. Just like their drive trains, they are two very different beasts…


I don’t care if it looks heavy, it is heavy. Building a small, four passenger car out of carbon fiber and magnesium, and still ending up heavier than my 1993 Sentra E is appalling. 🙁


Your 1993 Sentra would not survive today’s crash test results. That’s where much of the added weight of today’s vehicles is.


I don’t give a tinker’s damn about that. i am much more worried about my kid’s surviving our stupidity!


Your Sentra E doesn’t have a massive battery pack in it.


Of course not. It also doesn’t have computer infotainment center, AC, power windows/door locks/trunk latch, under-hood/glove-box/trunk lights, etc.

Do I even have the option of buying an EV without all that crap to offset the massive battery pack…which needs to be even more massive to carry all that junk?

OEM’s load down EV’s with all this unnecessary stuff to make up for a sense of inadequacy…golf-cart syndrome.

George Bower

I have to weigh in.

Of course I need to see it in person so I can only judge by the pics.:

I’m on and off.

The REAR view saves it IMO.

I think it is a tech first w/ its CC body and low wt.

If I got one I wouldn’t get the RE.


Dan Frederiksen

Good thing they used visual tricks instead of designing it for aerodynamics and good looks..
That would be crazy.

James M

They did that too. The i3 has a drag coefficient of 0.29, the Leaf and Volt 0.28, even the decade improved Prius only bests it a little at 0.26. Other iconic cars at 0.29: Chevy Corvette, Mazda RX-7, Porsche Boxster. 🙂

Dan Frederiksen

no they didn’t. your thinking is just sloppy enough to think that 0.29 is good aero.
Below 0.2 is quite possible, not to mention a smaller wind area of the car. Cd is only part of the value. It’s CdA that matters.


While a drag coefficient of 0.2 is possible, the design would look like the Volkswagen XL1. (It’s published Cd is 0.19.) Not everyone finds that vehicle appealing or functional for their needs.


If, 30 years ago, someone had said that most people “needed” an SUV, we’d have said they were crazy.

Peoples desires are malleable, physics is not.


Ha. That’s a good one.


The job was nice I looks like a Toyota Prius with black tie


Help me out on this one:

The range extender doesn’t actually drive the wheels, does it? Be that the case, I’d max out the EV range, begin burning gasoline for the rest, and still need to plug in and recharge and refuel before I can go that same distance. Is this correct? I hope people don’t actually do this, because depleting the pack to 0 on a regular basis isn’t cool.

Also: BMW just launches this car from nowhere, while they have been working on the active-e for several years. Also, they claim this car will be profitable from the beginning, meaning whatever design and engineering that went into this car is going to be paid back “on day one”. This leads me to believe that BMW bought some Chinese or Indian car, and carefully installed a logo on the front.

Rick Danger

Installing the logo was easy, it was putting the fake kidney grills on that took all the time.