BMW’s i8 Coupe was launched 4 years ago but with its futuristic design, it continues to turn heads and should do so for some time to come. In fact, the sportscar looks like it ‘arrived from the future’, as Raymond Tan, Head of Sales at BMW Malaysia, remarked, but it is really a product of this decade and is a highlight of the bold and ambitious story of the BMW Group in shaping the future of the automotive industry with Electro Mobility.

Given its ahead-of-its-time design, BMW could probably leave it alone for many more years, especially as even the technology is advanced. But hybrid electric technology is constantly advancing, with improvements every year that increase performance and efficiency.

So, as a pioneer in the field, BMW makes sure that its customers get the latest technology and the i8 Coupe is intended to redefine Plug-in Hybrid vehicle technology. The New Generation of a Vision features a brand new LifeDrive vehicle architecture which will represent all BMW i models to come, with a horizontally split structure comprising an aluminium chassis and a CFRP (carbon-fibre reinforced plastic) passenger cell to offer an exceptional degree of design freedom.

The powertrain is also a demonstration of BMW’s technological prowess, proven once again by the crowning achievement of i8’s fourth consecutive win of the International Engine of the Year Award since 2015. The drivetrain combines a 3-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor in a most innovatively efficient manner, putting itself in a league of its own. The engine’s power is channelled to the rear wheels through a 6-speed Steptronic transmission, while the electric motor drives the front wheels via a two-speed automatic gearbox.

The high-voltage battery is located centrally in the car’s underbody to provide a low centre of gravity, with cell capacity now increased to 33Ah from the previous 20Ah. The electric motor (powering the front wheels) output has also increased by 9 kW to 105 kW, and it is now possible to travel on just electric power up to 55 kms, a figure that enables all-electric mobility beyond the city limits.

The turbocharged 3-cylinder engine at the rear and powering the rear wheels has a displacement of just 1.5 litres. But from that small displacement comes peak torque of 320 Nm and 231 bhp.

The combined system output produced by the electric motor and engine acting in unison has also increased to 275 kW/374 bhp for the new i8 launched tonight in Malaysia. It makes possible acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in a claimed 4.4 seconds. Fuel consumption is claimed to be 55.5 kms/litre… a figure which you would hardly associate with a sportscar.

‘Refuelling’ the i8 battery pack with electricity is done through this port on the left side of the car.

Being a plug-in hybrid, battery charging can be done from an external source like the household power socket. However, it would take about 4+ hours to fully charge the battery pack. Owners who install a Wallbox, which has a higher charging rate, will be able to do it in around 3 hours.

The number of driving situations where the electric motor is solely responsible for powering the car has been significantly increased. In contrast, the combustion engine is only brought into play when accelerating hard and is switched off again far more frequently with a measured driving style.

In eDrive Mode, the electric-only driving mode, acceleration and deceleration can be smoothly executed with the accelerator pedal only. If the driver takes the foot off the pedal, the electric motor assumes the function of a generator that converts the car’s kinetic energy and feeds it back into the high-voltage lithium-ion battery.

In hybrid mode, the electric motor provides a power boost to assist the engine when vigorous acceleration is required. The electric motor is also able to recuperate energy and feed it to the high-voltage battery on the overrun and under braking. The petrol engine’s high-voltage starter-generator can similarly generate additional reserves of electricity, thereby ensuring that sufficient energy is on tap at all times for the electric drive system.

The intelligent energy management impresses with its proactive function in optimising efficiency. When the navigation system’s route guidance function is activated, the energy management ensures the electric motor is employed as extensively and as wisely as possible from an efficiency point of view. The system analyses the route in full and prompts the powertrain management to run on purely electric power, particularly over low-speed sections of the journey.

Aerodynamic efficiency is vital for hybrid and electric cars as the use of the power available needs to be maximised for propulsion and as little as possible used to overcome wind resistance. The sleek shape of the i8 already means it has fairly good aerodynamics but the designers also incorporated features around the bodywork to optimise airflow further and reduce wind resistance.

For example, air is channelled around the body extremely effectively as it hits the car due to the combined effects of the low bonnet, air flap control system, Air Curtains in the front apron, sealed underbody and contoured side skirts. ‘Stream Flow’ lines on the car’s flanks and air ducts between the rear lights and roof frame also guide the airflow smoothly to the back. The flow of cooling air at the front has now been rerouted. Instead of rushing out through the outlet in the bonnet, the air escapes at the sides of the car near the wheel arches and into the underbody.

The interior of the new i8 continues the progressive design of the exterior with a classic drive orientation. All controls and display elements are within perfect reach of the driver and easy to read. A high-tech instrument display is complemented by a Head-up Display to keep the driver fully informed of the car’s functions.

Adding a futuristic touch to the interior are the open-pored CFRP Carbon trim on the centre console, door handle and dashboard inlay, the ceramic controls with an embossed i8 logo on the iDrive Controller, and the ceramic finish on the gear selection lever.

Owners of the i8 Coupe, which costs RM1,310,800 (without insurance), are promised a premium ownership experience. This includes 5 years of warranty coverage with no mileage limit as well as free scheduled servicing. The Run-Flat tyres are covered by a 24-month warranty program and there is also BMW Roadside Assistance with an Accident Hotline to call.

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[Chips Yap]

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