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Electric BMW 3 Series: New Tesla Model 3 rival launches in China using i3 name

The electric BMW i3 eDrive35L has gone on sale in China only for now, but could come to Europe in the future

A pure-electric version of the big-selling BMW 3 Series has launched in China. Adopting the i3 name from the soon-to-be-discontinued urban EV, it’s one of 15 electric models the German brand plans to offer by the end of the year – although that figure includes pre-production vehicles, too.

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The BMW i3 eDrive35L features a 70.3kWh (66.1kWh usable) battery for a 326-mile range on the Chinese CLTC test cycle. BMW says the new i3 will charge at up to 95kW – less than half what the European-market i4 can manage. That car also has a bigger 80.7kWh usable battery for a longer 365-mile (WLTP) range.

For now, China is the only market set to receive the zero-emissions 3 Series, which uses the long-wheelbase 3 Series body that’s also exclusive to that country. It seems inevitable that an electric 3 Series will make its way into BMW’s European line-up at some point in the future, though, as the company-car favourite remains one of the best-selling models in the UK. The i3 gets a 282bhp electric motor for 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds. BMW hasn’t provided a top speed, although it says there's a specific suspension tune for the Asian market.

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The first images of the pure-electric 3 Series saloon leaked from the Chinese patent office in late 2021 (below), but the model has now been officially unveiled. It looks largely similar to the plug-in hybrid 330e, aside from a blanked-off front grille that resembles those on both the BMW i4 saloon and BMW iX3 SUV.

There are few subtle differences that could hint at changes for the facelifted European car due later this year, however. These include revised lights and bumpers up front; BMW has not yet given us a clear look at the rear of the car yet, but previous leaked images show a familiar back end, with additional blue trim around the lower section. The car also sports aerodynamic alloy wheels, similar to those seen on the i4 and iX3.

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BMW has yet to release any interior images, but has confirmed the car will run the newest OS8 operating system – the same as in the BMW iX and i4. We expect this will offer both touchscreen and voice-command operation, as well as the ability to control all the main functions using a clickwheel on the centre console.

The electric 3 Series isn’t the only new zero-emissions model from BMW predicted to debut in 2022. The carmaker has already confirmed it'll be taking the wraps off the i7 – a rival to the Mercedes EQS and Tesla Model S – on 20 April, while electric versions of the X1 SUV and next-generation 5 Series are likely to be unveiled in 2022 as well.

When it does go on sale in Europe, the electric 3 Series will be offered alongside plug-in hybrid, petrol and diesel-powered versions of the highly popular model – the same way as the aforementioned i4 and iX3 serve as zero-emissions versions of the combustion-engined 4 Series Gran Coupe and X3 respectively.

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Richard is editor of DrivingElectric, as well as sister site Carbuyer.co.uk, and a regular contributor to Auto Express. An electric and hybrid car advocate, he spent more than five years working on the news and reviews desk at Auto Express and has driven almost every new car currently on sale.

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