We're getting so close to the i8 sport coupe, you can almost feel the keys to this plug-in hybrid-powered supercar in the palm of your hand. Our spy photographers have managed to get closer than ever before to an i8 Coupe while it was undergoing a test drive on public roads in Europe. As we've seen on previous i8 test mules and prototypes, BMW engineers have a fondness for swirly blue-and-white camouflage. Yet we've never seen the production car this close, and for the first time we've gotten a peek at the rear-mounted battery pack and interior.
A Look Inside the Cabin and Under the Glass Hatch
The production version of the i8 Coupe, along with the upcoming i8 Spyder drop-top variant, maintains a strong resemblance to the BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics concept that was first shown in 2009. Yet based on these spy shots, there's obviously work to be done before the i8 goes on sale in 2014, most likely for the 2015 model year, and for a price between $150,000 and $200,000. Check under the rear glass of this test car and you'll see a couple rows of exposed (though neatly bundled) lithium-polymer batteries. Rest assured, the i8 coming to a BMW dealership near you is not going to have such naked mechanical bits and pieces.
The battery placement seems strange, however, when you consider the i8 Coupe has a 2+2 seating arrangement and a 131-hp electric motor mounted at the front of the car. A more centrally located position for the battery pack would seem to offer improved weight distribution and packaging, especially since a 220-bhp turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine already occupies space behind the cabin. But this plug-in BMW's preliminary performance specs remain impressive. The i8 has an electric-only operating range of approximately 20 miles and can sprint from 0-60 mph in less than 5.0 seconds. Estimated overall fuel economy is expected to be in the region of 70-mpg.
Ironically, the cabin of this i8 Coupe (at least the little we can see of it) appears remarkably put together and similar to what you'd find in other upmarket BMW products. Visible in the photo of the cabin are console-mounted buttons for the door locks, hazard lights, along with temperature controls and fan settings. The thick-rimmed steering wheel also appears to be standard issue BMW hardware. The one small circular dash-mounted gauge we can spot has markings for 70, 130(?) and 170. While it looks like a turbo boost level gauge, the numbers seem to indicate it's monitoring something else. Any readers willing to submit a guess as to what that might be?