BMW was an early advocate of battery power with products like the i3 all-electric city car and i8 plug-in hybrid. It took an unexpected respite for a few years but is in the midst of rolling out an assortment of pure battery-electric models, including the iX and i4. Now, it’s readying its first truly serious performance model.
And the timing appears to be perfect, the iM2 battery-powered sedan set to roll out next year, just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bavarian automaker’s vaunted M brand. If the iM2 lives up to expectations, in fact, it would be M’s most powerful model ever, producing an astounding 1 megawatt of power through four individual motors.
If you don’t have a calculator handy, that works out to a tire-spinning 1,341 horsepower. Developed under the codename “Project Katharina,” the iM2 will make more than three times the power of the conventional, gas-powered M2 model due to launch late next year as a 2023 model.
The i8 showed what battery power could deliver
BMW clearly demonstrated the performance potential of battery power with the launch of the i8 which made its debut a full seven years ago. The 2+2 sports car was a plug-in hybrid, however, with a complex drivetrain pairing a pint-sized 3-cylinder turbocharged gas engine with two electric motors to produce an impressive 357 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. It could launch from 0 to 60 in around 4 seconds and still deliver a 76 MPGe rating from the EPA.
The iM2 will go all electric. And, unlike most of today’s battery-electric vehicles, it will rely on four separate motors, one driving each wheel. Most of today’s BEVs rely on anywhere from one to three motors. The potential payoff is substantial, starting with the ability to punch out 250 kilowatts, or slightly more than 335 hp, per wheel. The layout also will allow the ultimate in torque vectoring, adjusting the power sent to each individual wheel to enhance traction while cornering.
Reports have surfaced suggesting that the iM2 has set a lap record at the North Loop, or Nordschlfeife, at the Nurburgring, something under seven minutes — supposedly beating out the BMW M8 Competition by a whopping 40 seconds. Insiders confirm the sports sedan will launch from 0 to 100 kmh, or 62 mph, in somewhere between 2 and 2.5 seconds.
BMW engineers also reportedly developed unique batteries for the iM2. That suggests they have made a trade-off between energy density, which impacts range, and power density. The latter impacts how fast you can push current into, and then pull it out of, the battery.
Plenty of other changes were made to reduce weight, improve aerodynamics and, in the end, transform the conventional BMW 2-Series into an all-electric track monster. According to Britain’s CAR Magazine, the first to write about the project, even the rear seat has been removed, along with other, traditional niceties.
One of the oddities of Project Katharina — if the BMW Blog is to be believed — was the decision to turn to David Olivares, a contract designer from Monterey, Mexico, to handle the project. He explained that the mandate allowed him to “sacrifice luxury, top speed and range to achieve great acceleration, balance and competitive price.”
Waiting for the greenlight
That said, various sources contend that the iM2 program has not yet received a formal greenlight for production, though BMW clearly has not ruled that out, either.
And there is no question BMW plans to electrify at least some future M products, much like archrival Mercedes plans to do with its AMG line-up. The iM2 will, at the very least, help convince doubters of the potential for battery-driven performance.
What’s next? There’s widespread speculation BMW will go with an all-electric version of the M5 sometime around 2024, with a three-motor powertrain that could push out as much as 1,000 hp. We already saw a 720 hp prototype two years ago. Among the questions is what the new model would be named. Considering the nomenclature approach the Bavarians seem to be taking, you’d get good odds betting on it being badged the iM5.