It came with a really clumsy name -- Vision EfficientDynamics -- and a very complicated surface design with entirely too many unrealistic show-car details (few really want to travel in a glass-sided car), but we and many of the industry's top designers were greatly impressed by BMW's 2009 Frankfurt show concept car. Four years later, with a simple Apple-like name -- i8 -- and simplified (but definitely not Apple-like) surfaces, BMW's extreme expression of a possible and probable future for the automobile is a brilliant reality.
Not a single line or surface remains exactly as it was on the concept car, and the putative three-cylinder diesel engine has become a gasoline-fueled three -- effectively half of BMW's classic 3.0-liter in-line six -- that's even better for the environment, but BMW has managed to retain all the spirit and sense of the show car's Blade Runner futurism in something we can buy and drive in 2014. The single design element we most appreciated when the concept appeared, its striking centerline profile, remains and is little changed. While various Formula 1–style aerodynamic guides have been slightly rationalized, they were not eliminated. The concept's computed 0.22 coefficient of drag is now 0.26, the taillights are part of the air channel rather than being hung in the flux through that channel, and, of course, the once-transparent sides are properly opaque. The windshield is normally proportioned, stopping at the header bar and not continuing back into the roof.
Some show-car details remain: it looks to be just as difficult to get into the rear seats with the rising doorsill line, and the doors still open oddly, swinging up and forward. However, things like the radiator outlet on the hood are transformed, now appearing to be an inlet. The center front bumper protrudes as a sort of chin, offering a lot more parking protection, the rationalization clearly necessary in the translation from showpiece to practical product. Both front and rear overhangs are considerably longer, one presumes for crash-energy absorption.
In Germany, the color blue represents the same kind of environmentally desirable future that green does for us. The swaths of blue color on the sides of the Vision concept are still there but have been tempered, covering less of the i8's surface area, and look really nice in combination with all the colors we've seen on early i8s. Keeping that show-car element is both bold and commercially clever, we think.
The production i8 interior is not a science-fiction presentation, as one might have expected. Instead, it is, in the purest BMW tradition, driver-focused and quite thoroughly worked out for function. There are a lot of sweeping curved lines, perhaps just a few too many for complete harmony. A band under the instrument cluster sweeps up and over the top of the complex molding encompassing the glare shield, establishing a separate space for the upright navigation and information screen, and leaves us with a number of differently shaped air-conditioning outlets and no sense of orderliness.
It has been almost six decades since the world market was offered a fully realized "car of the future," available to anyone holding the modest sum requested. That was the Citroën DS19, which embodied many of the then-radical features that have become commonplace now. We see the i8 as the contemporary equivalent of that milestone car. The $136,625 BMW represents the kind of luxury/performance vehicle that will be quite common at all price levels in 2074. It sets a new standard for everyday automobiles and is much less extreme in both cost and performance than LaFerrari and the Porsche 918, but it is just as efficient and dazzling in its capabilities.
For all of its unexpected characteristics, its startling yet elegant shape, its retention of the genetic elements that made BMWs "ultimate driving machines," with optimism and enthusiasm, we declare the BMW i8 Automobile Magazine's 2014 Design of the Year.