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A Star Rises in Tinseltown

  • Robert Ross

A Star Rises in Tinseltown the BMW i8 takes an industry—and an audience—in an exciting new direction.

A seven-figure supercar scarcely elicits a yawn from the jaded residents of Los Angeles, but many Angelenos twisted a neck bone when a phalanx of low-slung BMW i8s swarmed into their city this spring for BMW’s global launch of its flagship plug-in electric hybrid. A car that turns every preconceived, pragmatic-Prius-driving notion about the species on its head, the i8 breaks new ground in style and technology, and it gives a glimpse of the future of the luxury sports car.

The Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari, and McLaren P1 plug-in hybrids provide extreme performance, but these bleeding-edge supercars really amount to million-dollar footnotes, produced in numbers so small that all examples could be parked together in lots along Rodeo Drive. BMW intends the i8, which is scheduled to arrive in U.S. showrooms this summer with a starting price of about $136,000, to be an actual contender in the 2+2 sport GT segment. It is designed to demonstrate the performance potential of BMW’s i-brand technology. Equally important, the i8’s production showcases a manufacturing process that is sustainable and efficient and has a low environmental impact. BMW notes, for example, that it uses 100 percent renewable electricity to assemble the vehicles. 

With its aerodynamic body, the i8 brilliantly references BMW’s M1, a design that remains fresh and exciting more than 35 years after its introduction in 1978. Both models share the classic mid-engine sports-car proportions: not so cab forward as to appear stunted, and with short front and rear overhangs that cut a sleek, aggressive look from every angle. 

The i8’s 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution is complemented by a low center of gravity—not quite 18 inches—which enhances handling, making the car feel well balanced, nimble, and small relative to its true size. At less than 51 inches tall, the i8 has a wind-cheating drag coefficient of just 0.26, which, along with its surprisingly light curb weight of 3,455 pounds, contributes to exceptional fuel efficiency. 

Designed by BMW’s Benoit Jacob and his team, the i8 has doors that open upward like wings, a feature found only on the most exotic supercars. These doors, made of carbon fiber–reinforced plastic (CFRP) and aluminum, fly up and out and leave a cavernous opening to the CFRP Life-module passenger cell, half of the nucleus of the i8’s structural design. The module’s extreme torsional rigidity and strength translate to superior occupant safety and rock-solid road feel.

The i8’s overall shape is defined by a distinctive V, which BMW calls the Black Belt. It flows from the front end, over the roof, to the rear section, and complements the four available exterior metallic colors: gray, white, blue, and silver. Most fascinating to the eye are the floating roof pillars, which recall the fabulous Alfa Romeo B.A.T. cars of the 1950s. The pillars extend over the distinctive rear LED tail lamps, channeling airflow from front to rear. 

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