BMW has been teasing us with the i8 concept since the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009, but the production version is slated for the 2015 model year, and in a lot of ways it looks to be the future of sports cars. BMW's "i" range, an entirely new brand, will start with the ugly little i3 hatchback very soon, before the arrival of the performance-oriented "progressive sports car" dubbed the i8. With an estimated price of around $120,000 the i8 will be in Porsche territory, so this new eco machine certainly has some explaining to do.
At first things don't look good, at least on paper. The power comes from a 1.5 liter three-cylinder turbo (basically half of a 3.0 liter six) and a couple of plug-in electric motors. But while that sounds more Smart Car than track car, it actually adds up to 357 horsepower and 420 lb/ft of torque at full output. It's therefore on par in performance with cars like the 911, and the i8 looks the part, too, maintaining a futuristic and progressive appearance without looking like some sort of sci-fi monster, as so many eco-friendly cars do these days. An added bonus is the pair of scissor doors, something you just don't see enough of these days.
Starting the i8 up will apparently put it into a default comfort mode, which means it will start running under electric power, which means a lowly 129 horsepower to the front wheels. Fully charged, an i8 should be able to go 22 miles on just the batteries. The i8 will sense your eagerness to go faster, however, and the gas engine kicks in with a little aggression. At full speed ahead, sixty should come in about four and a half seconds, and the aerodynamic i8 will handily reach the limited 155 mile per hour top speed that German cars are saddled with these days.
Harnessing these twenty-first century powerplants are two, yes two, automatic transmissions. The electric motor runs through a two-speed, while the gas engine is mated to a strengthened six-speed from the Mini. There's plenty of other tech in the construction to keep the i8 light as well. Aluminum and carbon fiber is used throughout the frame and running gear, and the same kind of strong, thin glass you get on your smart phone is even used for the windows. These steps have kept the weight at 3,300 pounds, and plenty of those 3,300 pounds are said to be kept down pretty low. It should, then, be a fun car to drive even with those skinny eco-friendly tires, but it will also be expensive. With all those futuristic bits, it's impossible for it not to be. With that roughly $12,000 price, it will not be the bargain supercar of the century. People who truly value a driving experience will stick to their 911s, but taking one look at how well Tesla is doing it's easy to see that there is a market for stuff like the i8. This forward-thinking BMW looks spot on, will drive well enough to entertain, and will get two or three times as much fuel economy as its rivals. It's an impossible car to ignore.