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BMW’s futuristic i8 from less than $300,000

Ion man: BMW Australia says the i8 will compete against Audi’s R8 when it arrives here early next year.

Innovative BMW i8 hybrid sportscar to compete toe-to-toe with Audi’s R8

BMW logo14 Apr 2014

By BARRY PARK

BMW’s plug-in hybrid sportscar, the i8, should slip into Australia for less than $300,000 when it arrives in Australia early next year.

The German luxury car-maker revealed that the scissor-doored i8 will pitch head-to-head with Audi’s $270,000 all-aluminium R8 sports coupe, which sold more than 220 units last year compared with the i8’s expected 2015 sales of just 50 units.

BMW Group Australia’s “i” strategy manager Romala Pillay said the carbon-fibre composite 2+2 seater i8 would compete against the likes of Audi’s strictly two-seat R8 at the premium end of the performance market.

However, instead of the R8’s conventional performance-enhancing 4.2-litre V8 fitted to its entry-level model, the i8 will feature a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine under its carbon fibre reinforced plastic and aluminium body, and an electric motor nestled between the front wheels.

BMW is revealing few details about the Australian specification i8, but did have an early right-hand-drive production model in Sydney last week for the launch of its bread-and-butter electric car range, the i3.

The i8’s small engine sends 170kW of power to the rear axle – almost as much as a 3.0-litre V6-engined Holden Commodore – while the electric motor adds another 96kW to the i8’s front.

Combined, power from the conventional engine and electric motor power peaks at 266kW, while torque from the petrol engine peaks at 320Nm high in the rev range, and the electric motor’s 250Nm arrives almost from rest.

The combination is enough to push the i8 from rest to 100km/h in just 4.5 seconds, compared with the (soon-to-be-updated) R8’s 4.6 seconds.

The difference is the two vehicles’ kerb weights. Its mix of aluminium, carbon-fibre and plastics keeps the i8’s kerb weight down to 1485kg compared with the R8’s 1635kg.

It’s not just a straight-line sprint where the i8 fights hard against the R8. Where the i8 has a petrol-electric hybrid range of more than 500km with an average fuel economy of 2.5L/100km on the European cycle, the 14.2L/100km average for the R8 gives its 90-litre tank just over 600km of range between top-ups.

Because it is also a plug-in hybrid, drivers using the i8 for the daily commute can drive for at least 35km before needing to call on the petrol engine.

The i8’s expected price tag also pitches it against conventionally engined sports cars such as Porsche’s 3.8-litre flat six-cylinder Porsche 911, the 4.2-litre V8 Maserati Granturismo, and the 4.7-litre V8-engined Aston Martin V8 Vantage S – all of which use at least 8.2 litres of premium fuel per 100 kilometres.

However, there are more fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid vehicles out there for less money, including Holden’s $59,900 Volt that officially uses only 1.2L/100km, and BMW’s 0.6L/100km range-extended i3, which will cost from $69,900.

According to Ms Pillay, BMW’s i8 will appeal to early adopters who will buy it primarily for its environmental message, but with the underlying appeal of its performance.

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