BMW announced big electric plans yesterday, declaring that the next-gen 5 Series, 7 Series and X1 would be offered in full electric versions. It didn’t, however, make the same announcement for the 3 Series. We don’t exactly need BMW’s confirmation to see the truth in front of our faces, though.
These latest spy shots show a camouflaged current-gen 3 Series with an “Electric Test Vehicle” sticker stuck to the door. Of course, plug-in hybrid vehicles also wear those stickers, but the lack of any visible exhaust coming out the rear (and the fact that the 330e already exists) suggests this one is an EV. That rear bumper is where we’ll likely see one of the differences between the gas-powered 3 Series and upcoming electric 3 Series. With no need for exhaust cutouts, BMW can design a totally new bumper and distinguish it from the others. Camouflage on the front bumper and grille also suggests BMW will modify the face of the 3 Series. Unlike the upcoming i4 (4 Series-based EV), this one will have a normal-sized kidney grille. The big opening on the bottom of the bumper has already ensured that the maw can’t stretch too far down, and the bumper design isn’t conducive to the giant 4 Series grille either.
All of this could be a moot point, though. This particular tester appears to be the long wheelbase version of the 3 Series. BMW sells the long wheelbase car in China, not the U.S. If the pattern continues with the electric 3 Series, this model could end up being exclusively for the Chinese market. BMW could also just be using the long wheelbase model for the electric version because it allows for more battery space. If that’s the case, then there’s still a chance that we see an electric 3 Series on this side of the world. BMW’s announcement that the 5 Series will be available as an electric model could clash with the big 3 Series, though, as the two could end up being dangerously similar.
We’re also unsure of how BMW will approach naming this vehicle. Obviously, i3 is already taken and established as BMW’s little city hatchback, but that vehicle has no planned successor. BMW could just repurpose the name for the new car to go along with the electric naming scheme it’s already developed. No specifics have been laid out by BMW in that realm, though.
As for timing, an electric 3 Series is likely a few years away. BMW still has to launch its i4, so this 3 Series will probably come after that. The fact that it’s clearly based on the current 3 Series is reassurance enough that we’ll see the car relatively soon, possibly when BMW gives the 3 Series its first refresh.