Update: A production version of the BMW i8 has been unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The i8 is a sports car with a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid powertrain and is due to go on sale in late 2013 for around £100,000.
But while it may feature an electric motor, the i8 is not an impractical eco-mobile. This is a serious sports car – and we should know, we’ve driven a prototype.
The four-seater is a little bigger than an Audi R8 at 4,689mm long, 1,942m wide and 1,293mm high, with a 2,800mm wheelbase. But because it’s made of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic and aluminium, the i8 weighs 1,490kg – 70kg less than the lightest version of the R8.
The rear wheels are powered by BMW’s new three-cylinder 228bhp 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine, which is hooked up to a six-speed automatic gearbox. The front axle uses a 129bhp electric motor powered by a mid-mounted lithium-ion battery pack.
That gives a combined power output of 357bhp – enough to rocket the i8 from 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph.
But despite its scorching pace, the i8 has an all-electric range of 22 miles at up to 75mph. And it has an overall range of 310 miles, plus 113mpg fuel economy and 59g/km CO2 emissions.
BMW i8 performance
BMW also claims that the i8 will set new handling standards. Its centre of gravity is less than 460mm – the lowest of any BMW. And the firm says it retains almost perfect 50:50 front:rear weight distribution, despite the hybrid drivetrain.
When we took the i8 prototype for a drive at the firm’s test track facility in Miramas, France, we found it stunning to drive – not just as an eco car but as a sports car, or indeed by any standards.
The steering is light and artificial, but is pin-sharp and consistent in its responses at all times. The chassis is extremely capable and very entertaining – and that’s only on the prototype version, after it has been fine-tuned for the finished production model it promises to be astonishing.
This will be enhanced by Dynamic Damper Control – which comes as standard – and a host of driving modes that let you tailor performance for economy or speed.
BMW i8 features
Optional features will include carbon fibre-reinforced plastic wheels, which save 3kg each compared to the standard 20-inch alloys. There’s also the option to replace the LED headlights with super-bright laser headlights that BMW says are a world first.
The i8 is also the first production car to make use of the same chemically hardened glass that smartphone screens are made from. It’s been selected for the rear window because it’s lighter, stronger and offers better sound proofing.
BMW i8 charging
The i8 will not be as reliant on charging infrastructure as the BMW i3 or other electric and hybrid models that rely on big batteries. That’s because the i8’s battery can be charged in three hours using a standard wall socket. And that time can be cut to under two hours using one of BMW’s dedicated i Wallbox sockets.
BMW i8 styling
The i8's doors swing up in a similar fashion to a Lamborghini, while the interior is expected to feature a 2+2 seating arrangement. Front passengers get full-sized seats, whereas the rear will only really be big enough for small children due to the low roofline. At the rear, the bold spoiler - as seen on the concept car - is still present, with air vents along the back windscreen.
In 2014, a convertible i8 Spyder will also be offered.
BMW's i brand looks like it may pave the way for the future of electric cars, and the Global head of sales and marketing, Ian Robertson, is confident of this: "I think we can be a game changer."
There's also a possibility that BMW will take what they've learnt from the i8 to help shape other cars. Ian Robertson confirms this: "I'm sure some of the technology from the i8 will wash back into our other cars," - hinting that we may expect to see plug-in hybrid versions of already existing models, such as the 5 Series and the X5.
BMW has also created a network of dealers that will supply and support the sub-brand, i. When the i8 launches, there will be around 46 sales agents across the UK with specialist technical capabilities that will allow them to carry out repairs to the high voltage batteries.