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First Drive Review: BMW i8 Plug-in Hybrid - Looks Like A Concept Drives Like A Dream +VIDEO

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By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

Carsten Breitfeld, the head of BMW i8 vehicle project says: "What the Porsche 911 Carrera is today, could be the BMW i8 in the future."

   • SEE ALSO: BMW Buyers Guide

SANTA MONICA - April 28, 2014: Our first drive (on public roads) of the BMW i8 turned out to be exiting and fun. The amazing looking plug-in hybrid is not only a car that attracts a lot of attention, but a sports car true to its name.

      • Read Henny's First Drive Review of the 2015 BMW i8 by CLICKING HERE

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The striking design may give the impression it is a car that you only see in movies, but it is real. All was made possible because of a new philosophy that BMW applies for its i-models. Dr. Herbert Diess, BMW Board member for development said during the start of the media drives in Santa Monica that the i8 is the most revolutionary car the company has ever built. “The i8 represents one of the greatest achievements of innovation.”

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According to Carsten Breitfeld, project leader of the i8, the target was to build a BMW typical sports car with a hybrid drive lines and the primary responsibility of ‘Fahrfreude’, driving fun.

“We had three major goals: develop a drive line with a CO2 emission of less than 50 grams, to design a package with space, and to keep the weight below 1,500 kg (3,300 pounds. Nowadays a sports car accelerates from zero to 62 mph in less than 4.5 seconds and we succeeded in those respects.”

A lot has already been written about the LifeDrive architecture, that is also used for the i3, the first model of the BMW i-brand.

The aluminum Drive module of the i8 consists of the chassis and structural and crash functions. Integrated are the 96 kW(131 hp) hybrid synchronous electric motor and its 2-stage automatic transmission in the front, the high voltage lithium ion battery in the center tunnel and the 170 kW(231 hp) 1.5-liter 3-cilinder petrol engine with turbocharger and 6-speed automatic transmission in the rear.

Watch the BMW i8 take on the roads in Southern California

The Life module is the passenger cell made from CFRP, carbon fiber reinforced plastic. This material is also used for the body, except for the roof, that is made of recycled carbon fiber material. The pieced are recut and represses but less stiff than woven CFRP. Mr. Breitfeld: “We are able to use this material because of the high torsional stiffness of the i8.”

When asked, he confirmed that therefore the development of a roadster model is not a big task, nor very expensive.

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The i8 has been developed in 38 months, which is pretty fast, by a so-called high performance team. Mr. Breitfeld: the team is extremely involved, which is no surprise since you do not get a chance to work on such a project. What the Porsche 911 Carrera is today, could be the BMW i8 in the future…”

Apart from the high stiffness and the low weight, with just 435 mm (17.8 inches), the i8 also has a low center of gravity. Low is also the Cd-value of 0.26, while the distribution of the weight of 1.485 kg (2,273 pounds) is optimal with 50:50.

For BMW’s design chief Adrian van Hoydonk this i8 was the first project after he took over from Chris Bangle. He said that the Vision Efficient Dynamics concept, that was unveiled in 2009, already showed how emotional future mobility could be. The styling was a joint effort of designers in BMW’s studios in Munich and Singapore, but the design’s first sketches were penned by Mario Majdandzic, who now works for Lexus.

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To build the concept was kind of a challenge: the floating roof could not be done in clay model, but only digitally. The CFRP panels came straight out of the mold – complex, because of its thousand pieces..” says Van Hoydonk. “We slightly redesigned the concept for the production model, but kept the hidden door handles and the floating rear. “ We had to use less glass in the doors, not only for a less exposed feel, also because of safety and weight issues..” He also explains that he wanted the V-shape of the nose to be a little bit more pronounced: “We proposed to extend it by 10 mm (0.4 in.). As it would ‘cost’ 200 grams, I had to make a complete presentation to explain why we wanted to do this… I got the green light, but do not ask me if we recovered it somewhere..”

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The blue elements on the exterior of the i8 can also be offered in silver, but in some markets this depends on the choice of the dealers. The i8 is offered in white, silver and black.

The original interior design comes from Jochen Paesen, who used layering design. “In the i8 there was no room for details. Again because of the weight,” according to Van Hoydonk.

With the gull wings, the i8 offers a large entry and because they are some 10 inches longer than an average sports car door would have been, also the two seats in the rear can be accessed. My tall colleague could squeeze himself in the back, but did not look too happy when I offered him a taxi ride… “Only in an emergency!”

The low entry asks for some practice, but as soon you get the knack-of-it you do not need to think about it anymore.

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There is more than enough room for long legs under the dashboard, while for shorter people the seats have enough travel to well adjust them. Even though the interior absolutely looks very modern, mainly because of the flowing lines, the set up is very BMW, with the iDrive controller in the center console. However, the display is not too big, yeah, yeah, we understand… space and weight!

The IP changes color from blue in e- and Comfort mode to orangey-amber in Sport.

Under the hatch is a split cover of nylon material, of which the front part hides the combustion engine and the transmission. Under the other one is a deep space, which will take a large weekend bag.

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The i8 is the first BMW that has Navi Profession in the standard equipped with Navi Professional. The car can also be ordered with laser lights as an option starting in November, because the suppliers are not ready right now. I guess BMW decided to offer it as soon as possible after Audi also announced to start offering laser light, which will be tested first at the Le Mans race cars.

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The i8 is no race car and not meant to be either. However, it offers sports car performance and handling and looks futuristic enough to have lots of people rubber necking!

Apart from that you do not need to stop as much at the gas station as with a model in the same sporty segment. Even though we should neglect the average/highway of 94 mpg on the data sheet, as we always do, the fuel consumption in daily life is low enough to travel some 210 miles on a full tank of gas. When you know how to ‘play’ the recharge game of the system that could be even some 250 miles. When you own $135,000 dollar i8 though, you don’t care about the cost of gas, but you do about sustainability, the instant availability of torque and the fun to drive a production car that looks like a concept.