So if the Bavarians didn’t skimp on the carbon fiber, the propulsion system, the LED headlamps or the 19-in. forged aluminum wheels, then where was cost taken out of the vehicle?

Look inside. Here, you will find a BMW like no other.

This interior tries really hard to recast every bit of space from the windshield to the backlight, like a science project intent on pushing boundaries.

The i3 interior is as offbeat as exposed concrete and could be perceived as cheap.

But BMW is counting on potential buyers to embrace the fact that the battleship-gray instrument panel is pressed from recycled hemp; that the military-grade canvas on the door panels actually is repurposed water bottles; that the natural-looking wood trim on the dashboard comes from abundant eucalyptus forests; and that the optional leather on the seats is tanned with olive-leaf extract.

The application of so many reusable materials is noble, to be sure (25% of i3’s interior plastics are recycled). But so much is going on aesthetically within the car’s five doors that most of the cabin looks disjointed and feels strangely unfinished.

The instrument panel ebbs and flows in completely unexpected directions; the gear shifter is big and awkward and would be right at home on a space shuttle; the door trim looks like it doesn’t even have a grab-handle.

Few things are familiar inside the i3, including the seats, steering wheel and, ironically, the iDrive controller. The interior seems to embody the term, “disruptive technologies,” all focused on eliminating mass.

Perhaps this is the completely new approach the EV sector needs because its growth has been painfully slow.

Besides, BMW customers buy into the form-follows-function mantra. Appearance is less important than performance, so it may not matter that the thermoplastic belt line dips into a deep ravine above the two rear-hinged back doors, or that the three side windows are wildly different from each other, or that the i3 is a little bit tall sedan and a little bit short CUV.

It’s all very hippy-dippy.

Make peace with the aesthetics, and there are lots of reasons to like the i3, and not just because it’s an absolute hoot to drive.

The cargo hold is ample; the space for two rear occupants is generous; the lack of a center console yields a flat floor between driver and passenger and creates wonderful airiness; the car incorporates both standard and quick-charging ports; the connectivity and display screens are first-rate.

As unfamiliar as the car is on the face, it feels spiritually like a BMW, able to negotiate hairpins and accelerate hard out of corners, while sounding eerily quiet.

The accelerator pedal was masterfully calibrated to feel conventional, as if it’s wired to a gasoline engine. The brake pedal touch is spot-on as well, being only slightly more grabby than the calipers of a 3-Series, tuned to capture braking energy to recharge the 22 kWh lithium-ion battery.

BMW learned a lot from the experimental first-generation Mini E, which had only one pedal: Press to go, lift off to stop. It worked well enough that the automaker, when working on the i3 program, factored in a lot of automatic regenerative braking when the driver takes a foot completely off the accelerator.

Lift off slightly while on the highway, and the i3 will coast for a good distance without consuming any electricity. If an idiot cuts you off on the highway, you’ll be grateful for that second pedal: It will be necessary for a panic stop.

If all-electric driving finds no haven in your anxious psyche, the i3 comes available with a 2-cyl. gasoline range-extending generator that adds $3,850 to the starting price, doubles the range and adds a few hundred pounds.

Three trim levels are available: Mega, Giga and Tera, which is the top-level trim WardsAuto evaluated. An engineer says those well-equipped test vehicles would sticker below $50,000.

BMW is pushing aggressively with the i3, making it available in 285 of the 338 U.S. showrooms when the car goes on sale in May.

Top management insists the i3 will be profitable. That’s assuming the market is ready for a BMW of a completely different stripe, one that forsakes internal combustion.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com

'14 BMW i3
Vehicle type Four-passenger, Rear-wheel-drive electric vehicle
Battery 22 kWh Lithium-ion
Power (SAE net) 170 hp
Torque 184 lb.-ft. (249 Nm)
Transmission Single-speed
Wheelbase 101.2 ins. (2,570 mm)
Overall length 157.4 ins. (3,998 mm)
Overall width 69.9 ins. (1,775 mm)
Overall height 62.1 ins. (1,577 mm)
Curb weight 2,635 lbs. (1,195 kg)
Base price $41,350 plus $925 destination charge
Range 80-100 miles (129-160 km)
Competition Fiat 500e, Ford Focus EV, Nissan Leaf, Honda Fit EV, Chevrolet Spark EV and Volt
Pros Cons
Three drive modes for maximum efficiency Battery’s only so large
Feels spiritually like a BMW Doesn’t look like one inside or out
Price is right Market still warming up