The BMW i8: pioneer, icon and classic of the future

5 min reading time
How many can claim to have achieved icon status before retiring from the scene? Really very few. But we have one name that can claim this for sure: the BMW i8. The first series-produced plug-in hybrid sports car in 2014, the BMW i8 is still synonymous with sustainability today, and will continue to make an impression as an innovation driver for a long time to come. Join us for a look back at a piece of pioneering history.

17 November 2020

How does this sound?

You can also listen to this article via Changing Lanes, the official BMW podcast. 

Apart from this and other narrated articles, Changing Lanes offers you fresh new episodes every week, packed with exclusive insights on tech, lifestyle, design, cars, and more – brought to you by hosts Sara and Jonathan. 

Find and subscribe to Changing Lanes on all major podcasting platforms.

The BMW i8 combines many unique attributes: sports car, coupé or roadster, pioneer, brand-shaper, innovator, future-oriented design. A typical future classic.
Marc Thiesbürger

Corporate Communications and Policy
BMW Group Classic

The End. Finished. Done. Production of the BMW i8 is over. While car enthusiasts may suppress a tear or two, those in charge of the BMW Museum and the custodians of the huge classic cars collection at BMW Group Classic will be thrilled to welcome a lively new addition. A car that, with its elegance and innovativeness, still outshines almost every newer vehicle – and not just the sporty ones.

Innovation leader and future classic

Marc Thiesbürger from BMW Group Classic has no doubt that the BMW plug in hybrid sports car (➜ Read more: Electric cars and hybrids explained) will not be forgotten any time soon. “The BMW i8 combines many unique attributes,” explains the company history expert, “sports car, coupé or roadster, pioneer, brand-shaper, innovator, future-oriented design. A typical future classic.”

The design of the BMW i8 was futuristic when production began in 2014 – and still is today. Showing its age? Far from it for this BMW sports car. On the contrary, whether it’s a BMW i8 roadster or coupé, even today they both still represent a glimpse of the car of tomorrow. The aerodynamically sophisticated design of the BMW i8 can be traced back to the concept study BMW Vision EfficientDynamics, which was first presented to the public at the 2009 International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany.

The production version of the BMW i8 had a flat front hood, air curtains in the front apron, a paneled underbody and air ducts between the taillights and the roof frame. Result: a drag coefficient (CW value) of just 0.26. The 2009 concept study featured gullwing doors, a plug-in hybrid, all-wheel drive – and all of these features also shaped the production version, which hit the streets in the spring of 2014.

1 / 6
It all started with the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept vehicle. The car debuted at the 2009 International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany. The concept car featured all the technologies that would later characterize the BMW i8.
It all started with the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept vehicle. The car debuted at the 2009 International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany. The concept car featured all the technologies that would later characterize the BMW i8.
In 2014, series production of the BMW hybrid began. A sports car that could be recharged by cable? What a novelty!
Initially, the BMW i8 came as a coupé, and from 2017 also as a roadster. Both cars share the BMW i8 engine with TwinPower Turbo technology, offering a great deal of driving pleasure.
The BMW i8 also inspired artists: In 2019, Thomas Scheibitz designed his own version of the hybrid sports car.
The BMW i8 also cut a fine figure on the racetrack. The hybrid sports car featured as pace car in Formula E, the elite race series for electric cars.
In 2020, the BMW i8 is bound for the museum. There, this BMW electric sports car and its distinctive design will join a host of its legendary ancestors in the company’s model back catalog.

Powerful and resource-efficient

The first BMW plug-in hybrid combined the best of both worlds: it brings together sheer driving pleasure (➜ Read more: The history of the BMW slogan) and excellent driving performance – the two factors that make up the essence of a sports car – with the resource-efficient and environmentally friendly technology of an electric propulsion system. The thing is, there isn’t just one BMW i8 engine – the BMW sports car’s drive unit consists of both a combustion engine and an electric engine (➜ Read more: 12 standout examples of a BMW engine).

The combustion engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology provides power to the rear wheels, while the electric motor drives the front wheels. The result is an all-wheel drive. A high degree of traction is therefore always guaranteed – as well as necessary. Thanks to the 250 Nm torque of the electric engine and the 320 Nm of the combustion engine, the BMW i8 delivers sports car numbers for acceleration. At the same time, if desired, the hybrid sports car can reach speeds of up to around 75 mph (120 km/h) in electric mode, meaning locally emission-free. All told, this cutting-edge performance means the performance of a sports car, with the fuel consumption of a small car. A sports car that can well and truly count itself among the ranks of low emission cars.

The electric motor initially provided a peak output of 96 kW (129 hp), a figure that reached 105 kW (141 hp) by the end of production. In combination with the three-cylinder gasoline engine, this means the BMW i8 horsepower figure for the car’s system output was 369 hp, or 275 kW. This made it possible to achieve figures of less than five seconds for the standard 0-60 mph sprint test (and for the roughly equivalent 0-100 km/h sprint test) (➜ Read more: From 0 to 60). Just as importantly, and to round out the BMW i8 specs, in all-electric mode the hybrid achieved a range of over 30 miles (50 kilometre) in the statutory test cycle.

Sustainable in every way

The chassis and body are no less revolutionary than the propulsion system. The passenger cell is made of carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) and is combined with an aluminum chassis: perfection in lightweight construction. Not only that, but BMW’s engineers achieved a perfect axle load distribution of 50:50. And, because of the deep and central location of the battery, the vehicle boasts a very low center of gravity – with the result that the driving experience tends to come out high on the driving pleasure scale.

The BMW i8 also proved that sports car construction and sustainability (➜ Read more: The best upcycling ideas) are not mutually exclusive. The materials used included leather tanned with an extract from olive tree leaves, innovative textiles containing polyester granulate partly derived from recycled PET, and aluminum that was mostly obtained through recycling. And if that’s not enough for you… when it launched, the BMW i8 was the world’s first production vehicle that could be equipped with laser headlights, which considerably reduce the lighting systems’ energy consumption. And, of course, the main advantage is that the increased light output improves driving safety.

“The first of its kind”

And the conclusion after six years of production? That task falls to Marc Thiesbürger from BMW Group Classic, who sums up the importance of the BMW i8 as follows: “We can already be sure today that this BMW will become a classic of the future, thanks to the many unique properties it has brought together for the first time. In 20 years’ time people will say it was the first of its kind.”

Photos/Video: BMW; Author: Nils Arnold