With the introduction of its revolutionary i8 sports car, BMW has
created a new benchmark for the design, sustainability and integration
of hybrid technology.
By Helmut Dostal
My first teaser was at the 2012 BMW “Born Electric” World Tour in New York City. Ever since, I’d been waiting in anticipation for the opportunity to step—correct that—slide into the cockpit of the real thing.
The time and place: A sun-drenched weekend in Santa Monica, where the BMW’s spirited design and engineering teams were introducing the venerable i8 to an international audience of automotive journalists. While our un-feigned interest was in the i8 driving experience, we couldn’t help but marvel at this fresh interpretation of the classic sports car and the pioneering hi-tech that’s onboard.
A grand entry
The i8 is BMW’s grand entry into the market of plug-in hybrid cars. With a price tag of about $130,000 in Canada, it is positioned well within the offerings of premium sports cars, electric or traditional gasoline-powered. But this is probably where the comparison ends. To truly appreciate the i8’s DNA, one must chat with Benoit Jacob, Head of BMW i Design, and look closely at the role sustainability plays in every step of the car’s life cycle. From the LifeDrive architecture and Life module carbon-fibre-reinforced passenger cell and use of 100 per cent renewable energy in the production process, to the adoption of pleasingly sustainable materials such as virgin wool, wood and olive-leaf extract to tan the leather, it’s green all the way.
But the real excitement starts with the pure-bred combo of BMW’s twin-power turbo engine and eDrive hybrid electric technology. Together, they deliver a system output of 362 hp, acceleration from 0 to 100 km/hr in 4.4 seconds and an electronically controlled top speed of 250 km/hr. With these figures, I didn’t expect fuel economy of 2.1 litres per 100 km (under test conditions) or even less than 5 litres/km in normal city/highway driving. Accordingly, the i8 can flaunt a combined range of 600 km using the Comfort mode, one of five possible driving options.
Keeping the weight off
Naturally, the “intelligent” construction helps deliver a remarkable 1,485 kg overall weight, with features such as a thermoplastic outer skin and Formula 1 cockpit-style aluminum-drive module in carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic. The high-voltage, less-weight lithium-ion batteries in the i8 carry an eight-year/100,000 km replacement warranty in Canada, which undeniably plays well for fuel efficiency and performance values. Even the tailor-made, carbon-fibre Louis Vuitton luggage collection is crafted of an extremely stable high-tech textile that is shock, tear and abrasion resistant. But all of these efforts to save weight have not compromised BMW’s commitment to pre-eminent quality and safety standards. The i8 is equipped with every conceivable safety feature we could expect, including a revolutionary laser-light system activated at speeds over 120 km/hr that’s twice as bright and 30 per cent more efficient than LED headlights. A world first.
As profound as all of the bespoke technological innovations in the stunning i8 are, nothing compares to our all-out test run through the winding mountain roads of the Malibu Canyons north-east of Beverly Hills. Neither my Quebecois co-pilot Michael nor I are shy behind the wheel, so what a drive it was: Highways, steep climbs and hairpin turns. The i8 delivers way more, in fact, than it promises.
Photos: BMW Canada