BMW's new brand, i, embodies new ideas for low to zero emission vehicles, all while retaining classic BMW handling and power. The i8 concept is designed as a hybrid, using a new system with an electric motor driving the front wheels, and a powerful 3 cylinder engine driving the rear. The lithium ion battery pack gives the car 20 miles of pure electric range, and recharges from the gas engine, regenerative braking, or an external, plug-in power source.
BMW retained much of its signature styling with the i8, such as the kidney grille look. However, as the gas engine is in the rear, the grille frames are just for show, with solid inset pieces. Air vents around the body of the car provide cooling for the electric motor and gas engine, plus induction for the fuel mixture.
Along with the hybrid drivetrain engineering, BMW designed the i8 to be as light as possible using carbon fiber and an aluminum space frame to maximize fuel economy. And although it lacks a B pillar, BMW designed the i8 to be very rigid, with wide lower door sills made of carbon fiber. The drivetrain layout, with the lithium ion battery pack running down the center of the car between motor and engine, leads to a 50/50 weight distribution.
BMW says the i8's turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas engine produces 220 horsepower by itself. The electric motor adds torque to get the i8 to 60 mph in under 5 seconds. BMW estimates fuel economy at a real-world 50 mpg average.
One of the innovations on the i8 is BMW's new laser headlights. Reflectors throw the light from laser diodes in the headlight casings forward, safely illuminating the road ahead. These laser diodes use substantially less energy than even LED lights, helping the electric motor's range.
BMW calls the i8 a 2+2, although the rear seats look spacious enough for regular use. The thin seating design leads to good overall cabin space, and seatbelts mounted to the seat shoulders keep them independent from the car's body.
Because of the complexity of the hybrid drivetrain, the i8 does not use a manual transmission. There are 8.8-inch LCDs that make up the instrument cluster and a central display. The LCD makes for a flexible instrument cluster, which not only shows speed and fuel level, but can also display turn-by-turn route guidance.