BMW i8 (2013) at Frankfurt motor show | CAR Magazine

BMW i8 (2013) at Frankfurt motor show

Published: 10 September 2013 Updated: 26 January 2015

This is the new BMW i8, unveiled this morning at the 2013 Frankfurt motor show. It’s BMW second ‘i’ model (after the i3 city car) and thanks to lightweight carbonfibre construction and a new downsized turbocharged engine, the new i8 is a sports car that offers the performance of an M3 and over 100mpg. The supercar of the future?

>> Click here for CAR’s full A-Z guide to the 2013 Frankfurt motor show

What’s so special about the BMW i8?

Rather than re-engineering an existing car, BMW’s started afresh with its new range of i cars. So like the i3, the i8 uses an aluminium chassis (dubbed Drive) and a carbonfibre-reinforced plastic passenger cell (called Life) and together it’s BMW’s LifeDrive architecture. The powertrains, batteries and crash structures are part of the Drive module, the 2+2 layout is integrated into the Life module, and despite the hybrid system the i8 weighs just 1490kg. That’s 90kg less than the outgoing BMW M3.

And if you’re not interested in what’s beneath the skin, then the skin itself is pretty spectacular. We first saw the i8 back in 2009 as the Vision EfficientDynamics concept (and there have been two further concepts since, including an i8 Spyder) but aside from the loss of transparent body panels, the overall design has changed little in the past four years. The i8 is an evocatively low wedge, with intriguing shapes, floating body panels and butterfly doors. 

What engine does this 21st century supercar have?

About the smallest possible motor you could think of. The i8 is powered by a new turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, boosted by a hybrid system; it’s in contrast to the i3 city car, which is available a range-extender plug-in hybrid like the i8, but also as a full EV with only batteries and no petrol engine.

The new 1.5-litre triple is mid-mounted, and will soon power other BMWs, and the new Mk3 Mini, but in the i8 it produces 228bhp and 236lb ft, which is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox.

But there’s also the electric motor, which makes 96kW (129bhp) and 184lb ft and drives the front wheels via a two-stage automatic transmission. Working together the two powertrains produce a combined 357bhp and 420lb ft, and can whizz the i8 to 62mph in 4.4 seconds (quicker than that M3) and on to a limited top speed of 155mph.

What about the eco side of the i8?

BMW claims the i8 can achieve 113mpg and emit just 59g/km CO2 on the NEDC fuel consumption cycle, thanks to an EV range of nearly 22 miles and lithium-ion batteries with a 5kWh capacity. The i8 can also reach 75mph on electric power alone. A Driving Experience Control switch and eDrive button lets the driver pick from five different settings for the hybrid powertrain, from eco-biased EcoPro to Sport.

Anything else?

The i8’s chassis works to both improve dynamics and efficiency. There’s a near 50:50 weight distribution, low centre of gravity, adaptive dampers and four-wheel drive (thanks to the twin powertrains, one on each axle), but the 20in wheels are thin to reduce fuel-sapping rolling resistance.

After the extravagance of the i8’s exterior, the interior is a little more conventional with 2+2 seating and many buttons and switches from the rest of the BMW range, but also the latest ConnectedDrive and 360 Electric mobility services to let you find the nearest charging stations and check on the energy reserves in your battery.

UK sales start in 2014, with prices expected at around £95,000.

By Ben Pulman

Ex-CAR editor-at-large