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The i8 is the flagship of BMW's burgeoning eco-friendly i sub-brand. Offered exclusively as a coupe, the i8 uses an advanced plug-in hybrid drivetrain to provide an exhilarating driving experience while returning better fuel economy than even the tiniest economy cars sold on these shores.


The central part of the i8 is a new architecture called LifeDrive that was inaugurated by the all-electric i3 city car. Crafted out of aluminum, the Drive module includes the gas-burning engine, the electric motor, the lithium-ion battery pack and all of the car's electronic components. The Life module is built out of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) and mainly consists of the 2+2 passenger compartment.

Thanks to the LifeDrive architecture, the i8 tips the scale at a claimed 3,285 pounds and boasts a perfect 50/50 weight distribution.

Efficient Drivetrain

Power comes from a hybrid drivetrain consisting of a 231-horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine located behind the seats and a 131-horsepower electric motor mounted on the front axle. The gas-burning engine sends power to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, while the electric motor spins the front wheels through a two-stage automatic gearbox.

Rated at a combined 362 horsepower and 420 lb-ft. of torque, the plug-in hybrid drivetrain propels the i8 from zero to 62 mph in 4.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 155 mph. The i8 returns 94 mpg in mixed driving and boasts a total driving range of 310 miles in "everyday conditions."

Alternatively, the i8 can operate on electricity alone for up to 22 miles at speeds of up to 75 mph by drawing power from a liquid-cooled 5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the floor. Recharging the pack takes 3.5 hours with a 110-volt outlet or 1.5 hours with a 220-volt Level 2 charger.

Looking the Part

The i8 stretches 184.6 inches long, 76.5 inches wide and 51.0 inches tall, dimensions that make it as tall and as wide as an Audi R8 but ten inches longer. It wears a highly futuristic design characterized by LED lighting on both ends, scissor doors and unusual "stream flow" C-pillars designed to improve the car's airflow. Sculpted bumpers on both ends and several alloy wheel designs wrap up the look.

Life Aboard

The driver-focused dashboard is designed around what BMW bills as a "layering" approach with numerous repeated curved lines. Staying true to the i sub-brand's sustainability mission, the cabin's leather upholstery was created with a natural treatment process and numerous interior trim components are made from recycled fabric.

A 8.8-inch screen mounted on top of the center stack runs BMW's iDrive infotainment system. The driver can control the car's navigation, entertainment, connectivity and climate control functions by using a knob located on the center console.

A digital screen takes the place of traditional analogue gauges in the instrument cluster. It provides hybrid powertrain info with a variety of different readouts that vary depending on which drive mode is selected.

Standard and Optional Equipment

Standard equipment includes adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and a navigation system capable of calculating routes with maximum efficiency as a priority.

Optional extras include a Connected Drive driver assistance package with a 360-degree camera system, collision warning with automated braking and high beam assistant.

Buyers with extra-deep pockets can order their i8 with a matching set of tailor-made Louis Vuitton luggage.

Occupant Safety

The i8 features dual front, side and curtain airbags. For added peace of mind, the lithium-ion battery pack is automatically disconnected from the all electronic components when the passenger restraint systems are triggered.

Key Competitors

The BMW i8 is essentially by itself in the plug-in hybrid sports car segment. Although that's not expected to last long, for the time being its biggest competitors are traditional gas-powered sports cars such as the Audi R8, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, the Maserati GranTurismo and the Porsche 911 GT3.

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