BMW's i3 concept promises a short-range future

BMW stands months away from selling its first electric cars, and after several space-age concepts it's clear the German automaker intends to yank the future into the present. Here's its latest salvo, the BMW i3 Concept Coupe for this week's Los Angeles Auto Show, an all-electric hatchback that never unplugs from the Internet. Whether it's a tease or a warning depends on how you feel about the limitations of electric cars.

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Like the i3 sedan and i8 plug-in luxury car, the three-door i3 Coupe shows off the ultramodern looks BMW plans to give its upcoming eco-friendly range. While the automaker has made clear it plans to make front-wheel drive cars, the i3 Coupe puts its 170 hp to earth via the rear wheels only. Inside, BMW describes a version of its iDrive system that's eternally streaming data -- whether its terrain data for the navigation system or telling the imaginary owner how long charging will take.

Despite the stylized design, carbon fiber frame and software tricks, BMW can't break the paradigm of battery limitations. The i3 Coupe has a range of 100 miles from its lithium-ion battery pack -- simiilar what the Nissan Leaf and a few other electric cars can manage. BMW says the software in the i3 makes the most of its range, providing different navigation routes based on whether the car's in its most efficient mode. That mode, called Eco Pro+ in BMW-speak, shuts off most unessential functions, including heat and air conditioning, and limits the i3's top speed to 56 mph for hypermiling. If the i3's battery runs too low, the car will switch to Eco Pro+ automatically.

We'll hear Wednesday whether the BMW i3 portends a production model in a few years, but no matter how much the outside may change, any all-electric model will face the same, stubborn drawbacks.