BMW i8 Concept (2011) first official pictures

Published: 29 July 2011

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This is the BMW i8 Concept, a near-production preview of Munich’s new plug-in hybrid supercar. Audi and Mercedes might have stolen a march on BMW with the R8 and SLS respectively, but while its rivals prepare limited-run electric versions of their supercars, BMW is putting this i8 into proper mass production in just two years time. The BMW i8, and its i3 EV sibling, will be revealed at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show in September.

So this BMW i8 supercar is a plug-in hybrid?

That’s right. The BMW i8 uses a modified version of the electric motor found in the i3, albeit now mounted over its front axle, and tuned to produce 129bhp and 184lb ft. And don’t worry, there’s a petrol engine too: it’s a turbocharged 1.5-litre triple, with 220bhp and 221lb ft being sent to the rear wheels. That means 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds and a 155mph top speed, but 104mpg and 66g/km on the official EU fuel cycle.

Like the i3, the i8 features BMW’s new LifeDrive architecture, with aluminium structures and a carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell. But rather than the passenger compartment mounted above the lithium-ion batteries – as per the i3 – the low-slung nature of this plug-in supercar means the battery packs run through the middle of the car and is contained in an ‘energy tunnel’ similar to a conventional transmission tunnel.

There are fewer batteries than on the i3, so the EV range is only around 20 miles, but the lithium-ion units can also be charged from a conventional plug in 1 hour and 45 minutes.

What else?

The front-mounted motor and rear engine means the i8 can be front-, rear- or four-wheel drive, and BMW is claiming a 50:50 weight distribution. There’s room inside for four, but the layout is really a 2+2 so don’t count on taking this supercar on a Grand Tour with the family. Or even the other half – there’s only a 150-litre boot.

Size-wise the i8 is 4632mm long, a mere 1280mm tall, and 1955mm wide, so it’s a little bigger than an Audi R8 in all directions. But the 1480kg kerbweight means it’s 80kg lighter than Ingolstadt’s V8-engined supercar.

Does the i8 have cool supercar doors?

It does, and they’re lovely butterfly doors. The rest of the styling has changed little since the EfficientDynamics concept was unveiled, and beyond the transparent surfaces and aero elements there are ‘AirCurtains’ to ensure optimum air flow around the wheel arches, aeroflaps in the sills behind the front wheels, and a completely smooth underbody, all of which are claimed to substantially reduce drag.

Both the i3 and i8 feature a ‘three-layer’ interior, with the outer, supporting structures in white, the inner layer consisting of the seats and storage areas, and the black level inbetween made up of the instrument panels and other technical elements. There’s an 8.8in screen for the instrument panel, and a 8.8in central screen.

The i8 also features BMW’s new Front Protection system, with a camera that scans the road ahead and warns of potential collisions – it can also detect pedestrians below 37mph and brake the car. Parking Assistant steers and manoeuvres the i8 into tight spaces without you need to do anything, and Traffic Jam Assistant steers, accelerates and brakes you in traffic jams at speeds up to 25mph, as long as you keep one hand on the wheel. Plus the ‘Last Mile Navigation’ system can guide you on foot for the last steps of your journey, and the ‘Intermodal Route Planning’ finds your best sat-nav route using private and public transport.

There’s no word yet on prices, but reckon on £100k-£120k when sales start in 2013.

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By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy