First Look: BMW i8 ConceptClick to View Gallery
July 29, 2011 / By Jake Holmes
BMW's first plug-in hybrid vehicle will focus not just in saving the earth, but also on satisfying its driver's need for speed. Like the Chevrolet Volt, the BMW i8 concept combines a traditional gasoline engine with an electric drivetrain. According to BMW, the i8 can be as fuel-efficient as the best hybrid cars, while still delivering sports car-like performance.
An electric motor drives the front wheels, while a traditional gasoline engine drives the rears. The i8 can thus act as a front-, rear-, or all-wheel-drive car depending on which power sources are running. An "energy tunnel" containing the battery and drivetrain electronics runs down the middle of the vehicle, connecting the two axles.
The electric motor and engine peak at a combined 349 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. That means the 0-to-62-mph sprint requires just 4.6 seconds. Top speed is electronically restricted to 155 mph. BMW says overall economy in European testing will be 2.7 liters per 100 kilometers, or 87 mpg. In real-world driving, the company expects the i8 to return mileage of 33 to 47 mpg. As gloating company executives note, no other production car can return the same combination of performance and economy.
The front-mounted electric motor is the same unit used in the i3 electric-car concept, but it is slightly modified to offer 128 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Because the i8 also has a gasoline engine, the electric motor's battery pack is significantly smaller than that in the i3. The i8 has an all-electric driving range of about 20 miles and can be fully charged in just under two hours. The electric motor can also recharge the battery, acting as a "through the road" hybrid system that can bolster the engine's output.
At the rear axle, a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine produces 220 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. BMW would only tell us that the engine is mated to an "automatic" transmission with "enough" speeds. It may be a traditional automatic or perhaps a dual-clutch unit. However, BMW doesn't think the transmission in the i8 is very important to discuss as the electric motor provides plenty of torque regardless of the gasoline engine's operating speed or gear.
Sports Car of the Future
The i8's styling is meant to reflect its sports-car intentions, with low-slung coupe design and doors that flip open butterfly-style. The i8's styling was heavily inspired by BMW's earlier EfficientDynamics concept. The doors and roof are totally transparent, a styling choice which looks fantastic and futuristic but is unlikely to reach production. The swooping roofline and aggressive front fascia seem much more likely to show up in your local BMW dealership.
The i8 wears BMW's trademark kidney grilles at the front, as well as LED headlights and a black plastic V-shaped element on the hood. The nose looks remarkably like that of the old BMW M1 or 8 Series, with the headlights and grille taking on a rectangular, pouty look. At the rear, silver plastic panels meet to form the "Stream Flow" line on the C-pillar, while a small diffuser cleans up air from beneath the car.
At 182.4 inches long and 77.0 inches wide, the i8 casts the same size shadow as a BMW M3 coupe. Yet at 50.4 inches tall, the i8 is only two inches taller than a Ferrari 458 Italia. The aluminum wheels measure 19 inches in diameter and will probably wear tires between 225 and 250 millimeters wide. Narrow wheels were chosen because they produce less drag and rolling resistance, and don't intrude as far into the cabin as the wider wheels used on normal sports cars.
Like the i3 electric car, the i8 is built using BMW's new modular LifeDrive chassis architecture. In the case of the i8, two Drive modules -- housing the gasoline engine and electric motor, respectively -- sandwich the Life passenger compartment. The Life section is decorated in a mix of clear glass and black plastics, while the Drive sections are painted silver.