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Oct 9 2014

The 2014 BMW i8 is easily one of BMW's most impressive releases in quite some time, combining the most attractive features of a sporty, high performance vehicle with those of an economy car. This beautiful piece of machinery has many of the advanced technology features we've covered in our automotive technology series thus far... and more. 

Though we don't write about specific vehicle models very often, this one was just too intriguing to pass up. For those of you who are either unfamiliar with the i8 or have heard of it but are unaware of how dynamic it really is, this article will give a brief overview of what makes it so revolutionary... and will most likely make you covet their owners! 

It's Got The Looks

This sleek two-door sports car is as sculpted as a body builder but moves much more gracefully. The aerodynamic air curtain features implemented in the grill, hood, wheels, body shell and tail lights help increase fuel economy and make for a smoother ride with less air resistance and wind turbulence.

Not only is the i8 more aerodynamic but is significantly lighter than most other BMW models, composed of an aluminum chassis and a body made of carbon-fiber composite (up to 50% lighter than steel). This light design compensates for the extra weight from the electric motor and lithium-ion battery, making it more efficient and quicker than most other plug-in hybrids.

As if the i8 wasn't stylish enough, BMW went ahead and included scissor doors! Nothing says sporty, or "Back to the Future" like a set of doors that swing open upwards. In addition to stealing a little but of the thunder from Tesla's planned Model X, this design compliments the rest of the curvy body style, making it one of the most exotic hybrid vehicles in today's market.

Looks can only get you so far. Fortunately, BMW engineers made sure that the i8 is more then just a pretty face.

It's Fast and Fuel Efficient

Who doesn't like a fast car? How about a fast car that's fuel efficient? There's certainly no problem in either of those departments.

As mentioned above, the aerodynamic, light-weight design contributes both to the speed and fuel efficiency of the i8. However, the capability to run the vehicle in more than one drivetrain mode has the most impact on these advantages, giving the driver a choice to focus on either efficiency or performance. In front wheel drive (FWD) e-Drive mode, the front axles are powered solely by the electric motor. In all wheel drive (AWD) mode, a 3 cylinder turbo-charged combustion engine contributes by powering the rear axles, making the vehicle function like a hybrid.

If performance is what you'r focusing on, the i8 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just over 4 seconds, combining torque from the electric motor and power from the turbo engine. In AWD mode, this vehicle can reach speeds up to 155 mph. Though a faster option than most hybrid vehicles, it still doesn't quite compare to the Porsche 918 Spyder, accelerating from 0-60 in 2.4 seconds, and has some competition with the all electric Tesla Model S, accelerating from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds.

If you are more concerned with limiting your carbon footprint by keeping your fossil fuel consumption low; like other plug-in hybrids, the i8 has the option to run on just electricity capable of speeds up to 75 mph with a battery life lasting up to 20 miles. For extra power or extended range, the combustion engine can be utilized. Specific to the i8, there are a few different drive modes including Comfort, Eco Pro, and Sport. The Comfort and Eco Pro Modes can operate both regularly and in e-Drive for pure electric driving. Sport mode, requiring the combustion engine, allows for the vehicle to drive with more of a manual feel by incorporating a paddle shifter feature.

Among all the sporty and fuel efficient features that make the i8 so appealing, let's not forget about the importance of safety!

It's Safe and Intelligent

Though performance is what BMW is primarily known for, they certainly haven't cut corners on vehicle safety equipment and intelligent technology. The i8 comes equipped with several advanced technology features including a surround-view and rear-view camera system, heads-up display, and adaptive laser headlights.

The camera system, now a popular option for many manufacturers explained here, is able to detect vehicles and pedestrians as well as other inanimate objects. In the event of a possible collision, the vehicle brakes on its own at a quick rate, thanks to their ventilated brake design. With so many cameras and angles provided, parking visibility is also something your won't have to worry about. Sadly it's not a self-parking car, so you're not off the hook for that!

BMW Head-Up Display is another nice feature incorporated in the i8 which provides less distraction for the driver. Rather than looking over to the center console, vehicle/pedestrian detection and other information including traffic symbols, radio stations, and phone contact lists are displayed on the windshield, just above the steering wheel.

First on the market, although Audi was not far behind, the i8 is available with laser headlights that are not only more energy efficient but provide more visibility and can adapt to oncoming drivers, vehicles ahead, and bends in the road. The headlights adjust from laser high beam mode to LED low beam mode and shine brighter in the direction the vehicle steers. Check out this article if you're interested in other advanced lighting technologies.  

Even with these advanced safety technologies, accidents happen. You may wonder how well the i8 can absorb impact, given that it's built out of carbon fiber composite and aluminum rather than steel. Carbon fiber is actually much stronger than steel and aluminum is comparable. Unfortunately, in the event that these materials are bent out of shape, they will most likely have to be replaced since carbon fiber can't be welded or straightened and aluminum is not as easy to finesse. 

What about the potential danger of having a lithium-ion battery on-board during an accident? The lithium-ion battery is located in a safe spot, in joint with the two sections of the drive module. In addition, the battery is automatically disconnected following an accident, preventing any unwanted electrical charge.

Ultimately the i8 is a very safe vehicle, but is best off unharmed if you'd like to keep your insurance premium down. 

What's Not to Love?

I think we can all agree that the BMW i8 has got the full package, so what's not to love? Unfortunately, a car of this quality comes with a high price tag. Carbon fiber is very expensive, hence why it's not widely available in low-mid range vehicles. Let's not forget the combined horsepower of 357 between the electric motor and turbo charged engine, among many other luxury features.

On the bright side, some of these fuel economy and safety technologies of a similar design are available in more affordable vehicles, as discussed in the links below. If you're interested in learning more about some of these features, be sure to check out these selected articles from our auto technology series. 

Hybrid Vehicles

Safety Technology - Part 1

Safety Technology - Part 2


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Photo Credit: Raphael Desrosiers 

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