Looking sleek and chic, the newest member of BMW's innovative "i" family of eco-friendly EfficientDynamics vehicles took center stage in Frankfurt, finally free of all camouflage. A plug-in hybrid with legitimate high-performance credentials, the 2014 BMW i8 matches aggressive 2+2 coupe styling and lightweight design with a bespoke gasoline/electric drivetrain and a performance-tuned suspension that will ensure it lives up to BMW's "Ultimate Driving Machine" mantra. 

Appearing even more refined than the original concept vehicle that first appeared at the 2011 Frankfurt gathering, the production BMW i8 uses its own iteration of BMW's innovative LifeDrive architecture that was specifically created for its "i" model family of vehicles. The i8's dramatically contoured aluminum and composite body panels are wrapped around a super-strong CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic) central passenger cell - aka the Life module -- which is mated to an aluminum-intensive Drive module and contains all of the car's mechanical running gear. 

In addition to reducing total weight, this innovative architecture allows for optimized distribution of mass as well as lowering the center of gravity. The BMW i8's aero-optimized exterior boasts a superb 0.26 coefficient of drag, helped by BMW's Air Curtains in the front apron, a sealed underbody and wind-cheating custom wheels, all set off by energy-efficient full LED headlamps and taillamps. Even the i8's greenhouse takes a next-gen approach, being the first chemically-hardened production car glass that also happens to be 50 percent lighter and offers better acoustic properties than its conventional alternative. 

Also: See the other new cars unveiled at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

Developed in house by the BMW Group and making its first appearance here, the i8's vehicle-specific hybrid system matches a new rear-mounted 1.5-liter 3-cylinder TwinPower Turbo gasoline engine that sends its 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission with a compact lightweight forward-positioned electric motor/generator that ships its 129 horses and 184 lb-ft of peak twist to the front wheels. The motor is energized by a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack that runs down the car's central tunnel. Collectively, the system churns out 357 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, sufficient to send the 3,285-pound i8 sprinting from 0-62 mph in just 4.5 seconds and onto a terminal velocity of 155 mph but can still return a stellar 94 mpg on the European test cycle. 

When operating in pure EV capacity, the BMW i8 can travel up to 22 miles on a single full charge and reach a speed of 75 mph. Replenishing the battery will take about 3.5 hours on a conventional 110-120V line but only 1.5 hours using a dedicated BMW i Wallbox unit. In addition to conventional regenerative braking, the battery also can be recharged on the fly by the electric motor operating as an on-board generator during overrun or deceleration situations.  

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To make sure it can deliver a full measure of BMW dynamic character, the i8's chassis and drive system have both been fine-tuned for the mission. In addition to its standard Dynamic Damper Control suspension, a bounty of BMW's other electronic handling/braking assists and 20-inch forged alloy wheels with staggered-width (195/40 front and 214/45 rear) tires, the i8 features a variable power split that can selectively optimize front/rear drive torque when cornering. It also includes BMW's Driving Experience Control with selectable Comfort/EcoPro settings - the latter increases the car's standard range total from 310 to nearly 355 miles - as well as a conventional Drive mode or Sport setting for the transmission and an exclusive eDrive button. 

Inside, the i8 matches traditional BMW driver-centric focus with a number of more exotic touches the automaker refers to as a "progressive ambiance." Complementing the three-dimensional character of its instrument panel and console are lightweight shell-style front and rear individual seats. Like many other panels in this modernistic passenger compartment, they're covered in naturally processed leather to further emphasize the sustainable nature of the vehicle. Whether Mega, Giga or top-line Tera trim grades, all BMW i8 variants come with a full roster of electronic assists including a Head-Up Display, front/rear Park Distance Control, cruise control with braking function and rain-sensing wipers coupled with auto-headlight activation. Key options include BMW's comprehensive ConnectedDrive driver-assistance package that nets High Beam Assistant, a rear view camera, Surround View, Speed Limit/No passing info displays, Collision Warning with pedestrian recognition and braking functions, and BMW Online Entertainment and Concierge Services.

The 2014 BWW i8 is slated to arrive in showrooms here starting next spring. Pricing will start at $136,625 including destination. 

More High-performance Hybrids and Plug-in Cars...

Ferrari's radical 2014 LaFerrari hybrid boasts a stunning 950 horsepower 

The 2014 Porsche 918 Spyder is an 887-horsepower plug-in hybrid 

The 2014 McLaren P1 packs a 903-horsepower hybrid powertrain


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