Feature Focus: A Look at the BMW i8’s Innovative Hybrid Powertrain


Part supercar, part plugin-hybrid and part futuristic space machine, the i8 is like nothing else on the road today. It’s time to take a look at what makes it so unique – its innovative powertrain.

Like a lot of hybrid sports cars, the i8 uses a combination of electric motors with a gasoline engine. But how BMW has set this up is truly different. At the heart of the i8 is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, mounted mid-ship.

Paired to an 11-hp electric motor, the turbo three-cylinder can send a total of 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. But BMW isn’t done there. A second electric motor sits up front sending an additional 129 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels.

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Not only does this create a total system output of 357 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, but the i8 further maximizes performance with another crafty trick up its carbon fiber sleeve. There is not one, but two transmissions in the i8. Hooked up to the mid-engine is a six-speed automatic while the front motor has a two-speed auto of its own.

SEE ALSO: 2016 BMW i3 Review

All of this allows the BMW to reach 60 mph from a standstill in around four seconds. Power delivery is instant and once the initial electric wall of torque subsides, the turbocharged engine takes over and keeps the i8 flying towards the horizon. Best of all, the transition between electric and gasoline power is completely seamless and the two transmissions work in perfect harmony. There are even wheel mounted paddle shifters that control the rear six-speed automatic – the front mounted two speed always remains in the vehicle’s control.


Not Just Performance Car, It’s Also an EV

But the innovative engineering doesn’t stop there. The mid-engine, four-seat, swan-wing doored car can operate in front-wheel drive. Using a small lithium ion battery pack, the i8 can operate solely using the front motor for upwards of 15 miles on a single charge before the gas engine kicks in. And when under all electric power, there’s more than enough torque to move the i8 around with authority.

Even in adverse weather, the all-wheel drive i8 doesn’t miss a beat or confuse the delicate balance between the engine, motors and transmissions. This truly is hybrid technology done right.

Discuss this story on our BMW i8 Forum

  • tonye

    Unique? Hardly… the NSX has more power and more motors!

  • Teckler

    Oh, so the NSX, RLX and MDX use a Carbon Fiber core, have a turbocharged three-cylinder engine and get 28 mpg? Wow. I had no idea.

  • tonye

    We’re talking about the combination of ICE/electric motor/generator/gears in one axle and electric motors on another axle

    Sport Hybrid POWERTRAINS!