Bmw I
BMW's i8. Photo: BMW. 

It can go 0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds, has a TwinPower Turbo 3-cylinder combustion engine situated at the rear axle, sports a front-wheel situated electric motor -- which produces a combined system output of 362 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque -- and gets an estimated 94 mpg. What is it? It's BMW's (NASDAQOTH:BAMXF) new i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. More importantly, it could be the first "serious contender" for Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model S.  


BMW's i8 interior. Photo: BMW.

BMW's i8
From the outside, the i8 is a breathtaking, two-door sports car that boasts a drag coefficient of 0.26, close to 50:50 weight distribution, and, thanks to the use of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, a curb weight of 3,285 pounds. However, thanks to its 2+2 seating layout, the i8 can seat four adults. Further, with the combination of an electric engine in the front and combustion engine in the back, the i8 is all-wheel drive. Of course, for those that want it, the i8 can go 22 miles on pure electric with a top speed of 75 mph.

The bad news is the i8 has a starting MSRP of $135,700 -- before destination and handling, and before federal tax credit, so it's a bit more expensive than most will be willing to pay. The good news is that plugincars reports that BMW expects total volume to be between 5,000 and 10,000 units a year. Moreover, Edmunds states, "At $136K, the BMW i8 will be the first serious contender for the Tesla Model S that has drawn plenty of attention from wealthy buyers who want a green image." 

Tesla's Model S

Model S Photo Gallery

Tesla Motors' Model S. Photo: Tesla Motors.

The Model S is a stylish four-door sedan that can go 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds with the 85 kWh Battery (4.2 seconds if you upgrade to the 85 kWh Performance edition). Plus, it sports a drag coefficient of 0.24, a 48:52 weight distribution, and a curb weight of 4,647.3 pounds. Further, it can comfortably seat five adults, and unlike the i8, is a rear-wheel drive, pure electric vehicle that has an EPA certified range of 265 miles for the 85 kWh battery, or 88 MPGe city, 90 MPGe highway.

Model S Inside

Tesla Motors' Model S interior. Photo: Tesla Motors. 

The MSRP for a 60 kWh Model S starts at $69,900 -- before destination and regulatory doc fee, and federal tax credit, while the 85 kWh Model S starts at $79,900, also before fees and federal tax credit. However, according to Investor's Business Daily, the average selling price for a Model S is over $90,000. 

What to watch
When it comes to price, the i8 is definitely the more costly of the two vehicles. However, when you look at base specs, it's also the most impressive. More importantly, Edmunds predicts that the i8 is the first "serious contender" for the Model S. Unfortunately, the i8 isn't expected to hit showrooms until spring of 2014, so we'll have to wait and see if that prediction turns out to be true. Regardless of whether it steals Tesla sales, the i8 is an impressive vehicle, and was conceived from the ground-up as a plug-in hybrid sports car. Additionally, it's one of the most widely anticipated cars in BMW's history. Consequently, when it comes to high-priced car sales, the i8 is one to watch. 

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Katie Spence has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends BMW and Tesla Motors and owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.