Think of the month-ago trip as an unofficial test drive, far from the proving grounds and speedways where veteran handlers give new models the once-over.

Bennett Gault and a few cohorts at Rick Hendrick BMW traveled to the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival to clock laps in a 2014 BMW i3 electric vehicle.

After the drives, they fueled up the four-door EV at an onsite charging station, one of the comparatively few electric fill-up pumps in South Carolina but among a steadily rising number.

“I’m really impressed,” said Gault, general manager of Hendrick BMW in Charleston. “A lot of thought went into (the i3), and you could really tell.”

The mini-cruise day prepped Gault and staff for the new model, scheduled to go on sale in March. The i3 costs $41,350 and up. “The price point is awesome,” he said.

Hendrick BMW on Savannah Highway and several places around town including downtown parking garages possess charging stations, Gault said. “We’re really excited,” he said.

As a preview, Hendrick BMW last week displayed an i3 “show car” touring the country. The showing took place Nov. 21 at the car store’s “Novemberfest” shindig. A few dozen customers and car enthusiasts enjoyed German dishes and beverages while examining the i3; a green, debut model 4-series coupe; and a 2014 X5 “sport activity vehicle” made in South Carolina.

The trio’s reception comes as a flurry of new and restyled BMW models are introduced in the next few months. Headed to Charleston by April will be the 2015-edition i8, a plug-in hybrid sports car priced at $135,000, able to rocket from 0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds and, according to BMW, capable of 94 mpg fuel economy based on an equivalency formula for the electric power.

While the i3 sedan turned heads a week ago Thursday, the brand new 4-series model and redesigned X5 triggered plenty of looks, too.

Gault said the 4-series’ arrival gives BMW a two-door complement to its top-selling 3-series and higher end 5-series sedans. He said the “throwback” coupe sports a four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Models include the 428 and 435, which carry 2.8-liter and 3.5-liter engines respectively,

The sporty 4-series shared the showroom floor with a black exterior X5, which appeared taller, wider and lengthier than its previous generation.

Edna and Kelvin Williams of Summerville were among the guests eying the new X5, built in Spartanburg County. The couple, who got their picture taken beside the crossover, own an earlier model X5 among a host of BMWs they’ve bought over the years.

The Hendrick outlet set aside a separate show area for the i3, which claims the title as the carmaker’s first mass produced plug-in.

The hatchback boasts an 80 to 100 mile range without a stop and can be fully recharged in three hours, Gault said. Juiced by a lithium-ion high-voltage battery, the engine throws out 170 horsepower, 189 pounds-feet of torque triggered instantly and a 0 to 60 mph clocking in 7 seconds.

The EV can travel even further — up to 200 miles at a time — with an optional two-cylinder gas engine that serves to regenerate the electric motor, said Seth Young, a BMW sales associate who’s studied up on the i3.

Young said the carmaker built the electric sedan primarily for city driving or to commute to and from work. It’s more than an EV-in-a-box, however.

To keep the weight down to 2,600 pounds, a fifth of the car’s composition consists of strong but lightweight carbon fiber, he said.

Interior features include eucalyptus wood panels and olive-accented seats. Two electronic screens fit the dashboard, one behind the steering wheel to provide driver information and a second larger monitor for navigation and audio functions, he said.

The German carmaker didn’t skimp in terms of steering. “When you drive it, the handling is so spot-on,” Young said. Meanwhile, the i3 provides ample interior space. “I’m 6’ 5”, and it seats people very comfortably,” he said.

BMW tweaked the front end, in part because of a configuration where the battery pack fits under the cargo bay and the engine sits up front. But it kept the basic kidney shape.

The look, Young said, “is really different, (but) you know it’s a BMW.”

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or