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BMW i8 Electric-Gas Hybrid: Ritzy Range

By Arv Voss, July 19th, 2014

There aren't many vehicles that register a "drop dead gorgeous" rating in terms of design appeal, along with kudos for sustainable operational efficiency, and a resounding "phenomenal" status for performance and handling capability. The futuristic BMW i8 qualifies an all counts.

Manufacturer photo: The i8 is the first combination of BMW TwinPower Turbo and BMW eDrive technology
Manufacturer photo: The i8 is the first combination of BMW TwinPower Turbo and BMW eDrive technology

The BMW i8 is the first plug-in electric hybrid vehicle to be produced by the BMW Group. It heralds a new era of sustainable performance, and is from $135,700 in a 2+2 seating configuration with two "scissor" doors.

An electric motor drives the front wheels, while a gasoline engine provides power to the rear wheels. The electric motor, courtesy of BMW's eDrive technology, operates on a high-voltage Lithium-ion battery and produces 129 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. The i8 can run exclusively on electric power at speeds up to 75 mph and its electric-only range is limited to 22 miles. The batteries are charged in as little as 1.5 hours.

The gas engine is a diminutive 1.5-liter inline-three-cylinder with TwinPower Turbo technology that produces 228 horsepower (152 hp per liter) while developing 236 lb.-ft. of torque. Total system output combines to create 362 horsepower and 430 lb.-ft. of torque promising acceleration from 0-to-60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Its 11-gallon fuel capacity extends the i8's total drive range to 310 miles.

The i8 is essentially equipped with two transmissions: a six-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the gas engine, and an automatic two-stage unit for the electric motor.

Manufacturer photo: The i8 is the first combination of BMW TwinPower Turbo and BMW eDrive technology

Five driving modes allow the driver to adjust efficiency and dynamic performance as desired at the touch of a button, offering an unusual scope of drive and suspension settings for the vehicle.

BMW developed the i8 with exclusive Life Drive architecture that specifically showcases an aerodynamically groundbreaking body design and a futuristic interior design that blend to deliver an intense and rewarding driving experience. It consists of a Life passenger cell module made from Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP); drive system technology, high-voltage battery, chassis, plus crash and structural functions are integrated into the aluminum Drive module. With a curb weight of 3,285 pounds and a drag coefficient of 0.26, the BMW i8 features a very low center of gravity (below 18 inches) along with a well-balanced weight distribution.

A signature feature of the BMW i brand is the "black band." On the BMW i8, this black band emerges in a "V" shape from the hood and extends back over the roof into the rear section of the car, where it frames the center section of the rear apron. At the front end, the black band is framed by the body-colored apron and fenders, while at the rear it is overlapped by the "floating" roof pillars, which extend over the rear lights, serving as a rear spoiler.

The instrument panel consists of overlapping, three-dimensional segments complemented by a contrast-rich color scheme. The layering approach also finds its way through dynamically curving lines into the design of the center console, which is home to the gearshift lever, the controller for the iDrive operating system, the start/stop button, the eDrive button, and the Driving Experience Control switch. The iDrive system's Control Display functions in a freestanding 8.8-inch high-resolution screen.

The 2014 BMW i8 represents a look into the future of BMW's vehicle development. I found the look of the car to be especially alluring, and the driving experience to be exhilarating, once finally positioned inside. That's the only drawback of the BMW i8: there's no such thing as graceful entry or exit from its super low interior. Exiting the i8 is actually more difficult, especially if the vehicle is parked on an incline.

Manufacturer photo: The i8 is the first combination of BMW TwinPower Turbo and BMW eDrive technology

All that aside, after settling in, the front seats are highly supportive as well as comfortable. The rear seats are not intended for full-size adults -- only children need apply. Switchgear is placed for optimal user friendliness, and outward visibility is surprisingly good.

The BMW i8's low center of gravity and ideal weight distribution give it an almost unheard of stability during spirited maneuvers on tight, twisting mountain roads. The all-wheel drive delivers a balanced and neutral behavior.

The i8 features the lowest center of gravity of any BMW currently in production, along with a near perfect 49 percent front to 51 percent rear weight distribution. There's an eBoost function that provides an additional electric power boost to the gasoline engine during acceleration, and a front axle motor, plus rear engine motor/generator overboost function that features a kickdown feature that can transition power from 100 percent front-wheel to 100 percent rear-wheel drive, with a torque split used to enhance performance at limits.

The Driving Experience Control switch on the center console gives the driver a choice of two settings: When the Sport Mode is activated, mapping is modified to deliver extra-sharp performance, with faster acceleration and the power boost from the electric motor is maximized. A special instrument cluster design displays engine speed, electric charge status, and remaining range.

strong>Battery charging methods include: Plug-in charging (1.5 hours using a 240-volt, 15-amp Level 2 charging connection or 3.5 hours with 110-volt home systems); Brake energy regeneration through the front axle motor or rear axle motor/generator; and belt driven motor/generator with the engine running.

Manufacturer photo: The i8 is the first combination of BMW TwinPower Turbo and BMW eDrive technology

With the 2014 BMW i8, the future draws ever closer, exemplifying advanced sustainability and efficient dynamics -- not to mention exquisite form and function. All as part of a package without range anxiety.

Specifications

Base price $135,700 (as tested: $136,625)
Curb weight 3,285 lbs.
Displacement 1.5-liter
Epa mileage rating 94 mpg combined
Fuel capacity 11 gal.
Horsepower (net) 170 + eDrive 96 Total 266
Motor type 12-valve turbo 3-cyl + eDrive
Overall length 184.6 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 320 + eDrive 250 Total 570
Transmission 6-speed automatic + 2-stage electric motor
Vehicle type 2+2-passenger AWD coupe
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