In a crowded field of conventional sports cars, the BMW i8 is a high-tech wonder.
It offers all the performance you'd expect in a $135,700 sports car, but does it with tiny three-cylinder engine and fuel economy that is expected to shame a Toyota Prius hybrid.
The new BMW i8 plug-in hybrid, due in showrooms in September, is intended as a sports car for a new age, breaking through engineering and technological barriers.
While it seems exotic now, the lessons learned in building the i8 point the way to energy-efficient future for mainstream cars that combine power plants in new ways and use airplane-like lightweight construction with extensive use of aluminum and carbon-fiber.
"The combination of incredible styling, performance, and efficiency wrapped in carbon-fiber reinforced plastic is significant on many levels," says Ron Cogan, publisher of the Green Car Journal, which follows advanced-car developments. "It's a breakthrough."
The i8 shows production-ready answers for the high-wire act that the auto industry must perform as it faces tightening government-fuel economy and carbon emission mandates. On one hand that is creating intense pressure to cut engine sizes and performance and sell smaller, lighter vehicles. On the other, it has to try to sell those cars to consumers who not only crave performance, but also space in a vehicle and higher safety standards.
The i8 shows how one automaker has leaned on advances in technology in meeting competing demands