Why BMW Put the Kibosh on Alpina's Four-Cylinder 460-HP i8

Images: BMW

Perhaps the most recurring complaint about the plug-in hybrid, scissor door-having BMW i8 sports car has been that it has the looks and price of a supercar, but at under 400 horsepower, not the power of one. But critics might have changed their tune if they’d had the chance to drive the four cylinder, 460 horsepower BMW i8 that BMW’s right-hand tuning company Alpina cooked up. The only thing is, BMW made sure it never came to market, Alpina’s CEO told Jalopnik.

(Full Disclosure: BMW flew me business class to Munich, put me up in a fine hotel, and fed me good food just to show me cool car things. Among those things was the driver’s seat of the Alpina B7, which I will review soon.)

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Last week, I had dinner in downtown Munich with Bavarian Tuning Company Alpina’s CEO Andreas Bovensiepen. Also at the table was the founder of BMW Blog, Horatiu Boeriu, who probably knows more about BMW than anyone I know. He asked Bovensiepen about a four-cylinder BMW i8 project—one that I’d never even heard of, and that Boeriu told me he’d only heard rumors about.

Well, those rumors were true, because as I scarfed down my delicious Schweinebraten (pork with dumplings and gravy), Bovensiepen took out his phone and showed Boeriu and me pictures of the prototype. He described how his team had to modify the stock rear subframe (the stock subframe is shown below) to get the bigger engine to fit, and told us that the resulting hot-rodded i8 had a horsepower figure 100 ponies higher than that of the stock i8, which made around 360 horsepower combined from its front electric motor and rear inline-three.

Four hundred and sixty horsepower? Not bad. Not crazy for a supercar, but a solid improvement over the standard i8.

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The son of Alpina’s founder also told us that BMW ultimately killed the project due to issues related to brand identity. I don’t remember the exact reason he gave Boeriu and me for why BMW put a stop to the four cylinder i8 project, but he did mention that the prototype’s prominently exposed exhaust was a problem.

I can imagine why. The BMW i-brand is all about “sustainable mobility,” and throwing in a bigger, more powerful internal combustion engine with prominent exhaust pipes may not really communicate that. So that may have been one issue, but the bigger one, as I understood it from Bovensiepen, was that the Alpina brand is all about filling niches in the BMW portfolio, and not competing with BMW’s core brand or with the M-division. A fast i8, one might think, should be an M-car, and not an Alpina.

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Still, this thing would have been cool. And though it’s a bit disappointing that the 460 horsepower i8 never reached the market, it’s still interesting to see—on the cell phone of the company’s CEO, no less—that Alpina actually put together such a prototype.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio