Long claiming to build the "ultimate driving machine," BMW on Tuesday officially unveiled a new direction for its vehicles with the all-new i8 plug-in hybrid coupe.
The 362-horsepower car, which broke cover on the inaugural day of the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany, joins the all-electric i3 in BMW’s emerging i sub-brand of efficient vehicles.
Whereas the compact i3 is aimed at urban drivers, the i8 is a sports car whose $135,925 starting price will put it in the company of Audi’s R8, Porsche’s 911 4S and Acura’s forthcoming NSX hybrid car.
The i8 pairs a turbocharged 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine and an electric motor for a total of 362 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. It will do zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, thanks in part to being essentially an all-wheel-drive car.
The gas engine pushes power to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, while the electric motor sends its power to the front wheels via a two-speed automatic.
The i8 will be able to travel up to 22 miles on electric power alone at a top speed of 75 mph, BMW said. The car’s total range will be 310 miles, and the motor is powered by a 5 kWh lithium-ion battery.
One of the key elements of BMW’s i program was developing a cost-effective way to mass produce lightweight vehicles using carbon fiber in as many places as possible. The i8 weighs 3,285 pounds, thanks to a carbon fiber passenger shell, aluminum chassis and carbon fiber/aluminum doors.
"It’s still quite an endeavor," Ludwig Willisch, president of BMW North America, said in an earlier interview about the i program. "We’re really stepping into uncharted territory. We had to build thousands of them to get processes right."
Despite an exterior full of unconventional twists and angles and a pair of doors that swing up, the i8’s interior is very similar to conventional BMWs. The automaker calls the i8 a 2+2 coupe, with two smaller seats behind the front passengers. The car’s gas engine sits in a small compartment behind these rear seats.
Both the i8 and the smaller i3 -- which will start at $42,275 -- will go on sale in the U.S. in spring 2014.