A revolution for both the brand and for production supercars, the 2+2-seat carbonfibre-reinforced-plastic scissor-door flagship 'i' model combines a TwinPower 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine and electric motor to achieve outputs of 266kW and 570Nm (170kW/320Nm of which comes from the petrol engine).
The petrol engine sends power through a six-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels, while the electric motor sends drive to the front wheels via a two-stage automatic transmission.
With a kerb weight of 1490kg and an 0.26Cd aerodynamic rating, BMW claims a 4.4-second 0-100km/h and fuel consumption of 2.5L/100km.
The 5kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides an electric-only driving range of 35km at speeds of up to 120km/h, while plug-in recharging capability means that the electric-only driving range can be 'topped up' through a household power outlet in addition to utilising the brake energy regeneration system on-board.
Drive modes include Comfort, which promises a driving range of over 500km; Sport, with an overboost function for the electric motor; and Eco Pro, which prioritises hybrid or electric-only running.
A double-wishbone front axle combines with a multi-link rear suspension. In addition to standard 20-inch alloy wheels, the BMW i8 also gets electric power steering and dynamic damper control as standard.
BMW claims that CFRP (carbonfibre reinforced plastic) is around 50 per cent lighter than steel and 30 per cent lighter than aluminium. While the passenger cell is entirely made of CFRP, the doors are a CFRP-aluminium mix, the dashboard beam is made of magnesium, while the chassis is constructed out of aluminium.
The interior shares some design cues with modern BMW models, while a full suite of Connected Drive technologies are also available as an option, including auto high beam, rear-view camera or full surround-view camera, speed limit information display, collision warning with pedestrian recognition, head-up display, online entertainment with concierge services and traffic information guidance.
Curiously, although BMW executives at the show claim the i8 offers a modern interpretation of the driving dynamics found in the BMW M3, the BMW M Division has been kept separated from the i8 project. Even at Frankfurt, BMW was at pains to point out that the i8 was part of an 'i' sub-brand and was therefore engineered by a separate group of engineers. It also ruled out the possibility of an i8 'M' saying that for now the company would focus completely on launching the i8 and its city-car i3 sibling.
The BMW i8 is produced at a dedicated plant in Leipzig, Germany, a factory which uses 100 per cent renewable electricity and will produce the car in both left- and right-hand-drive. While the i8 is set to go on sale in Europe early next year priced from 126,000 Euro ($180,000), the car will also make it to Australia either late next year or early 2015, as BMW Australia prepares to launch the 'i' division locally.
Click on the Photos tab for a full BMW i8 gallery.