BMW's "sportscar of the future" is about to begin customer deliveries. The i8 is a plug-in hybrid with a short fully electric range, 112 miles per gallon hybrid efficiency and a very feisty, 357 horsepower, all wheel drive sports mode that fires it to 60 mph in four and a half seconds. It's a very clever piece of engineering and a beautiful piece of futurist auto art – a stepping stone between the oil age and the electric future. Take a closer look in our huge photo gallery and video overview.
According to MyTravelCost, Saudis can still buy petrol for less than 80 US cents per gallon. Americans likewise enjoy some of the cheapest in the Western world at US$3.62 per liter. Step into Europe and you can more or less instantly double that figure, and it's well on the way to triple that in Germany and Norway.
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Take the i8, BMW's new technology flagship, which is very close to making its first customer deliveries. This is a 112 miles per gallon sportscar with genuine 4.5-second 0-60 mph times.
How it gets there is fascinating – a carbon fiber body shell keeps the total weight down to 3285 lbs (1490 kg), using a manufacturing process which BMW claims will allow it to make CF as strong and light as its competitors, but for less money.
Under the hood, a watermelon-sized electric motor drives the two front wheels to the tune of 131 horsepower, sucking electricity from a modest 7.1 kWh battery pack that runs down the middle of the car. On battery power alone, you can travel about 23 miles (37km) on a charge – enough for a short commute, or to enable you to pootle around town and spend virtually nothing on fuel. (Mind you, can you really be pootling on fully electric drive? Perhaps the language is going to have to change with the times.)
Of course, this is a sports car, so that's not all she wrote. At the rear of the car is a turbocharged 1.5 liter, three cylinder engine, based on the one in the Mini Cooper. Unlike in the Cooper, it produces 231 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful engines around per cubic centimeter of displacement.
When you're in sports mode, this teams up with the electric motor to give you a very healthy 357 horsepower to play with – and there's another small electric motor at the back which functions as the starter motor, but also directs its full 35 horsepower to the rear wheels when the combustion engine is at low revs, to seamlessly smooth out turbo lag. Clever stuff!
Around town, the petrol motor also kicks in to extend the range of the car when you're running the battery low – so you spend the first 15-odd miles driving on (more or less) free electricity, but then you've got a highly efficient engine to fall back on if you need to go further.
Electric efficiency, petrol's range and convenience, plus the performance of a genuine sportscar. Oh, and it's got laser headlights and scissor doors.
BMW claims the i8 is the car of the future – but in reality I think it's the cutting edge car of today. We're living in a strange transitional age where fully electric vehicles promise insane performance, usable range and convenient charging times, but battery technology isn't quite there yet. The i8 hybrid is an astonishing technical achievement and an extremely cool car; it straddles the gap between the gasoline age and the electric future with a sense of real fun and excitement. It integrates its technologies in a way that is both visible and seamless to the driver.
But at the end of the day, it's a very clever solution to a problem that simply shouldn't exist in 10 or 20 years.