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The 2015 BMW i8 is the second revolutionary plug-in car from the carmaker's 'i' sub-brand, which aims for nothing less than reinventing the automobile for a new and more energy-efficient world.
The company says the i8 represents "a new era of sustainable performance," although whether buyers of six-figure sports coupes really prioritize fuel efficiency and sustainability is open to question. Its light weight, advanced powertrain, and innovative materials should make it a technology icon, but until we drive it, we'll reserve judgment on the question of whether it has the performance of a $136,000 car.
The BMW i8 is a two-seat sport coupe with swing-up doors; its body shell, made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), rides on an aluminum chassis that absorbs frontal crash energy and houses not one but two powertrains.
Up front, an electric motor rated at 96 kilowatts (131 horsepower) and 184 lb-ft of torque is used for all-electric running at speeds up to 75 mph. It's powered by a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack with a usable energy capacity of about 5 kilowatt-hours that's mounted in the tunnel between the seats, giving the entire car a low, sleek profile.
In the rear, the i8 will be the first car to use BMW's new 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine, which is rated at 231 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. it drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Each powertrain can be used independently--BMW quotes an electric range of up to 22 miles in All-Electric mode--or the electric motor can provide "boost" to the engine when the car is running in its fastest Sport mode. The mode in the middle, known as comfort, uses each powertrain or both in a more efficient manner, and BMW says in that mode, the i8 coupe has a range of 310 miles or more between the charged battery and the gasoline tank.
The independently operable pair of powertrains makes the BMW i8 what engineers term a "through-the-road" hybrid, with each mode of propulsion powering a separate axle. The two are coordinated strictly via control software programming when they are used together to provide all-wheel drive and maximum performance.
BMW quotes a blended fuel-efficiency figure well above 50 miles per gallon on the European test cycle, but we'll wait to find how the EPA rates both the i8's range in electric mode and its gas mileage when running on the gasoline engine alone.
The styling of the i8 has elements of traditional BMW, including the twin-kidney grilles at the front, but it also introduces elements unique to the BMW 'i' family. These include a groove between the upper and lower rear bodywork, wing-like fins at the rear, and blue trim accents. The 'i' cars also have unusually tall wheels and tires (20-inch wheels are standard on the i8) to cut aerodynamic drag by narrowing the area of the tire between the car's underside and the ground..
Inside, the floating instrument pod and ultra-modern--almost Scandinavian--design are simple, but made of unusual materials including reclaimed wood veneer and fabrics using recycled fiber content. The driver and passenger sit low, as in any sports car, with the tall tunnel for the battery pack between them. The highly contoured lightweight seats proved comfortable for most occupants, though we'll be curious to learn whether that's the case over longer trips.
In addition to the three driving modes--All-Electric, Comfort, and Sport--the first two can be driven using the EcoPro function, which increase efficiency and range by capping acceleration and other energy uses.
Among the features offered on BMW i8 cars in some markets are the world's first laser headlights--where they're legally permitted--with LED headlights fitted elsewhere.
The 2015 BMW i8 will arrive at U.S. dealers in the spring of 2014, with a base price of $135,700, which includes the mandatory delivery fee.
- Sleek coupe looks
- Unparalleled fuel efficiency
- Calm all-electric running in town
- Electric boost in Sport mode
- Pricey for its performance
- Interior hardly luxurious
- Could suffer from nerd factor
- Small battery hurts tax credit