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BMW i8 Electric Sport Concept: First Look

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author photo by Nick Chambers August 2011

Some of the words most often used to describe a lack of interest in the growing list of electric cars hitting the market include, ‘uninspired,' ‘boring,' or even just plain ‘ugly.' While many people are driven to buy plug-in cars for a host of other reasons, in general the looks of the cars haven't been a big selling point. It's an Achilles heel that has plagued green cars since the dawn of the Prius era.

But now, with high-end and luxury makers dabbling in the electric car world, there will soon be a cadre of plug-ins that consumers can point to as examples of how cool and eco-friendly don't have to be mutually exclusive-and perhaps none of those is as futuristic or striking as the BMW i8 concept.

BMW unveiled two plug-in concept vehicles during an event in Germany last week-the i3 and the i8. Of the two, the i8 is BMW's effort to show that the future of motoring doesn't have to be drab, soulless, or anything less than an adrenaline-filled, pavement-scorching romp.

The other vehicle unveiled at the event, the i3, is intended to be a sophisticated city car with a bit of oomph, but the i8 is a special beast. It's a performance monster, borrowing the same 170 horsepower electric motor found in the i3 to drive its front wheels and combining it with a 3-cylinder, 220 horsepower combustion engine to drive its rear wheels. With both powerplants pumping through all four wheels, BMW says the i8 will be able reach 60 mph from standing start in about 4.5 seconds. Even with that blistering performance the vehicle is expected to deliver 95 mpg in average driving conditions.

Like other plug-in hybrids, the i8 can be plugged into the wall to charge its battery and, using that stored energy, will be able to travel up to 20 miles on electricity alone. After that the combustion engine will be used to drive the vehicle through the rear wheels and the electric motor will only be used again after charging at a wall outlet or after enough electricity has been generated and stored in the battery by the regenerative brakes. Alternatively, the vehicle can be driven in hybrid mode where both the electric motor and combustion engine are working together after a full charge.

The i8 is not as far along in development as the i3, but BMW representatives were able to tell us that the i8 is expected to utilize the same advanced carbon fiber composite frame technology, as well as have access to a whole suite of advanced connected mobility applications-including route planning that sometimes even tells you to ditch the car altogether.

As a 2+2 seater, the i8 isn't really meant for practicality-it's only able to carry more than two adults in a pinch-but that's not what the i8 is about. It's meant to be the top-of-the-line performance car in a forward-thinking line of vehicles under BMW's new ‘i' sub-brand. "We've unveiled two concept vehicles today, the i3 and i8," said Dr. Klaus Draeger, BMW's Management Board Member responsible for development during the unveiling. "In between three and eight there's quite a lot of room for additional vehicles to round out the lineup."

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BMW i8 Electric Sport Concept: First Look - Autotrader