• i8 Spyder Concept is a roadster version of the upcoming i8
  • Model will serve as flagship for BMW's new "i" sub-brand
  • i8 Spyder will likely make its production debut in late 2013

This year's Beijing Auto Show served as a launching pad for an open-top version of the futuristic BMW i8. Officially dubbed the i8 Spyder Concept, the new model previews a convertible variant of the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car, which is expected to headline BMW's new "i" sub-brand.

The i8 Spyder Concept features bold exterior styling, including many design elements we've already come to know in regular i8 coupe, including large, five-spoke alloy wheels, a low-slung cockpit and wildly futuristic lines on nearly every surface. The i8 coupe debuted at last year's Frankfurt Auto Show.

Of course, the i8 Spyder Concept also adds one important new feature: an open top. While BMW didn't reveal whether the concept can even be fitted with a roof, the latest i8 looks handsome without it thanks to a dramatic line that runs from the top of the sports car's windshield to its distinctive, U-shaped tail lights. And while some enthusiasts may lament the loss of the i8 coupe's exciting clear doors - replaced instead by more realistic body-colored panels - fans of the car will be happy to learn the roadster's doors retain the coupe's dramatic, upward-opening "butterfly" design.

Like the coupe, the i8 Spyder Concept is powered by a plug-in hybrid drivetrain that joins a 129-horsepower electric motor to the front wheels and a 220-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder to the rear wheels. The result - a combined 349 horsepower - allows the i8 to leap from 0-60 mph in just 4.6 seconds.

The i8 Spyder Concept and its coupe stablemate will serve as the flagship model for BMW's "i" sub-brand, which will focus on efficient vehicles with largely electric powertrains. Other "i" models recently previewed by BMW include the compact i3, which is scheduled to arrive along with the i8 in 2013, an upcoming midsize i5 and a tiny i1 city car, both of which will likely launch by 2016. BMW has not revealed any production-ready designs or potential pricing for the i8 or any other upcoming "i" models.

What it means to you: The new "i" sub-brand from BMW will likely put a driver-focused spin on the growing electric vehicle market.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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