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BMW launches electric brand in Australia

The doors on the BMW i8 open like the McLaren F1's in dihedral fashion and are very light to use.

BMW has launched its electric 'i' sub-brand in Australia with an event in Sydney to introduce the first cars. On hand was both the all-electric i3 family hatchback and the M1-inspired hybrid supercar.

BMW managing director Phil Horton introduced the cars and the pricing for the two model, three variant i3. The i3 will start from $63,900 plus on-roads for the battery-only version and $69,900 for the range-extender version. The i3 will have its local launch in September.

The i8 hybrid supercar will launch later, with deliveries expected to begin in December. Prices of around $300,000 are being bandied about by other publications, but nothing has been confirmed.

BMW says the electric i3 is capable of 170km on a single charge, with the Range Extender version capable of 300km between charges. Both figures assume extremely careful driving and possibly a force 4 tailwind.

The i8 relies a lot more on its turbocharged, three cylinder 1.5 litre engine. The internal combustion unit produces 170kW that, with the front-mounted electric motor slings the i8 to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds and on to a limited 250km/h. You can also pootle for 35km on electric only power and charge it from a powerplug at home.

Both cars can be fast-charged with a BMW-supplied wallbox that increases the current and roughly halves the charge time. Before launch the company will also announce its public battery charging partner, expected to be Chargepoint as it's the only one left after Better Place went under.

Both cars are built on an aluminium chassis with a carbon fibre bodyshell. Open the doors on either and you can see the carbon fibre weave, giving the cars a lovely handmade feel (in a good way).

After you step over the slightly wide sill of the i8 and drop down into the driver's seat, the car is surprisingly spacious. There's plenty of headroom for even those over six feet tall or with extra tall hair.

Back seat passengers would have to cross their legs, however. While the seat is incredibly low, the view forward is expansve as the bonnet drops away. Vision to the rear isn't so great, but the reversing camera which is displayed on the standard 10.6-inch screen should sort that out.

The doors open like the McLaren F1's in dihedral fashion and are very light to use, with just a little effort to pull them down. Again, if you're of average height, you won't have to hoist yourself out of the seat to reach the handle. Both cars feature what BMW calls "next premium" materials to clothe the interior.

The i8's simpler material mix shares a recycled material for doorcappings made from recycled plastics and rubber. It doesn't sound great but actually looks and feels good, with an unusual (for now) texture. The i3 adds to this with woollen and leather upholstery and a wave of open-pore eucalyptus across the dashboard.

BMW isn't expecting big sales numbers for either car, with twenty pre-orders for the i3 and 15 for the i8.