Later this month, German automaker BMW will officially start deliveries of its first mass-produced electric car — the i3 hatchback — to customers in Germany. Early next year, it will have expanded deliveries across Europe and into the U.S. But even before most people have even had a chance to test-drive the i3, BMW is hard at work readying its next plug-in car –the i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe — for its own impending launch.
What’s more, since the production-version of the i8 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September, BMW is letting the six-figure car out on the roads in all its glory, as this photograph snapped on California’s 101 near Santa Barbara shows.
It was taken by BMW ActiveE driver Robert Olson, who had just enough time to snap the sleek, sexy sports car before it passed him on the freeway last night. Wearing Californian license plates, the BMW i8 looks every bit as beautiful on the road as it does in the design studio. This particular one wears a vibrant two-tone metallic blue paint job with striking black highlights, while the large 20-inch wheels gives the i8 an aggressive, purposeful stance on the road.
The only sign to give the game away that this particular car is out of the roads ahead of its launch stickers below the rear hatch and on the passenger door. Unfortunately we can’t tell what these stickers contain, but if we had to guess we’d say either an identification barcode or some text identifying the vehicle as a pre-production prototype.
Unlike the BMW i3, which uses a 125-kilowatt electric motor to drive the rear wheels, the BMW i8 uses a slightly smaller 96 kilowatt electric motor mounted under the hood to drive the front wheels while a mid-mounted, twin-turbo 1.5-liter three-cylinder petrol engine powers the rear wheels through a six-speed transmission. As with many other plug-in hybrids, the i8 can operate in several different driving modes: All-Electric for zero-emissions motoring, Comfort for blended hybrid performance with an emphasis on efficiency, and Sport for the best in acceleration and performance. In addition, both the All-Electric and Comfort modes can be switched into an enhanced EcoPro setting which reduces power in an attempt to increase efficiency.
In total, the i8 can produce up to 362 horsepower of combined gasoline and electric power, along with 420 pound-feet (569 Nm) of torque in its most sporty setting, whilst at the eco-minded end of the spectrum it can travel 22 miles on a single charge of its 7.2 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. In combined gasoline and electric mode, BMW quotes economy figures of around 96 imperial MPG (2.9 L/100km, 80 MPG U.S.).
For a car of its size and power, that may seem like an extraordinary set of efficiency figures, but like its cousin the BMW i3, the key to the i8’s efficiency figures lie in its construction. Instead of being built from heavy materials like steel and aluminium, the i8 makes extensive use of Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastics (CFRP) for its passenger cell, while the car’s chassis is built from lightweight Aluminium, resulting in a total curb weight of just 1,500 kilos (3,300 pounds).
BMW is expected to launch the i8 next year for European customers, with prices expected to be around €113,000 (£95,000). Meanwhile, the i8 will launch in the U.S. towards the end of next year as a 2015 model with an expected price tag of $135,925.
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