Until just a couple of years ago, the idea of putting a hybrid-electric powertrain in a high-end, exclusive sports car was unheard of. Hybrids, it was believed, were plodding, boring little machines made up of cheap plastic and ugly designs. Now, of course, this cliche is being proven wrong as bigger, faster, more beautiful cars worthy of the “supercar” title enter the field. The BMW i8 may be the car that sets the standard for others to follow in that regard, having a price tag far lower than the much-ballyhood Porsche 918 and green credibility that stretches beyond nearly all others, including those with a Tesla name on them.
The BMW i8 is built in a low-emissions, green-powered manufacturing facility using a preponderance of recycled materials. Capable of 90+ miles per gallon, the i8 can also speed from zero to sixty miles per hour in only four seconds and reach speeds up to 155 mph. It’s a plug-in hybrid capable of powering itself in front-wheel drive as all-electric or all-wheel drive when the small engine engages. The car is made up almost completely of aluminum, carbon fiber, and pressurized glass. Its aerodynamics are verging into Formula territory as well, with a drag coefficient of only 0.26. In short, it’s well-worthy of the “supercar” name while delivering fuel economy that many small sedans and hatchbacks can only dream of.
The exterior design of the i8 is a combination of technology showcase and automotive car show conceptual. Its extremely unique exterior has lines, curves, and edges that belie its sleek aerodynamics with swoops and cuts that give the appearance of turbulence while providing extremely slick aero performance. Blue accents denote that the car is part of BMW’s blue line of efficient vehicles. Peering LED headlamps, a large hood opening for air exhaust from the battery cooler, and muscular rear fenders all promise that this low-profile car is all about speed.
The doors open in a “butterfly” style, lifting up and forward so that when both are open and onlookers view the car from the front, they see the shape of a butterfly. Large wheels, pressed out to the corners of the car and riding the edge of the fender openings, are clad in low-profile performance tires. Everything about the exterior of the BMW i8 says that it is both fast and innovative. The actual car does not disappoint on these fronts.
Inside the i8’s interior is beautifully driven towards performance and comfort. Its chief drawback is the difficult entry and egress due to its being so low to the ground and having that large, thick sill that must be stepped over. With practice, however, it becomes easy to get in and out of the car.
The driver and front passenger are greeted by well-made, very proportional sport buckets that are very adjustable and nicely clad in leatherette materials. A large tunnel separates the two seats, under which are the 7.1kWh of battery to power the powerful electric motor that propels the car.
This hump creates a divide between the seats, but interior space is sufficient that there is no cramping and once seated, both driver and passenger are comfortable.
During driving, controls are all ergonomically placed and tuned towards performance comfort. At night, soft-glow blue lighting in some interior packages creates a unique ambiance. Optional blue seatbelts and highlights add to the i8’s hybrid appeal. When driivng, the i8 is so aerodynamic that wind and road noise are minimal.
Sound dampening using a new, high-strength glass which reduces weight keeps engine and road noise at bay.The rear seats, this being a 2+2 coupe, are mostly for extra luggage rather than people. They are small, cramped, and may accommodate children, but little else.
The i8 is a performance car like no other. The front wheels are powered by an electric motor and battery pack while the rear wheels are powered by a three-cylinder turbocharged engine which rests behind the back seats ahead of the luggage compartment.
Driving the i8 is unique in that the engine and motor work independently but in concert. The engine produces 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque while the motor produces a further 129 hp and 184 lb-ft. The i8 itself only weighs about 3,300 pounds at the curb and with its slippery wind resistance, extremely low center of gravity, and wide body stance, the car moves exceedingly fast.
Performance testing netted 0-60 mph times of only 4.2 seconds and 90-degree, single-lane cornering at over 60 miles per hour. Top speed in the i8 is 155 miles per hour and the electric motor is capable of propelling it up to 65 mph without assistance from the engine.
A six-speed automatic transmission runs from the three-liter engine to the rear axle while a two-speed automatic runs the front axle from the electric motor. This allows both power sources to propel the car at all speed levels. When propelling the car from a stand-still, the driver, if astute, will note that the i8 runs in all-electric mode for the first few miles per hour as it gains speed.
Once RPM are up to engine efficiency points, the engine engages. This saves “winding up” the engine to speed, which reduces drag and fuel usage, even in performance driving. The car also aggressively recharges the batteries through regenerative and engine power production, even in Sport mode. The car’s all-electric range is just under 30 miles per full charge and it can be plugged into any compatible charging system or outlet when parked.
Technology in the i8 focuses on the infotainment screen and the digital readout at the center of the instrument cluster. Through these, all aspects of the car’s status and configurable settings can be made. This includes powertrain, interior lighting, infotainment, phone connectivity, and more. It’s a well-done package that is surprisingly easy to use on most levels.
The infotainment screen is controlled through BMW’s proprietary iDrive dial and push-button interface on the center divide. It’s intuitive and has a short learning curve.
Control is augmented by steering-mounted buttons that can be used to do most basic tasks while on the road.Standard and optional safety technologies include active collision avoidance, a 360-degree around-view monitor for parking, a heads up display for driver focus, and more.
The i8 was designed to outperform all crash test requirements in Europe and the United States. Its materials are all well-proven to have excellent qualities in impact absorption and resistance as well.
Because of the car’s design, its active and passive safety options, and collision avoidance options, we’re scoring the BMW i8 high in safety despite its not having undergone crash testing yet. As of this writing, the i8 is undergoing EuroNCAP testing. It is unclear whether it will be required to undergo U.S. testing due to its expected low sales volume.
The BMW i8 is a supercar and thus is not likely to ever have “cost-effectiveness” in the accountant’s sense of the term. Most of the car’s appeal is in its fun factor, great looks, and exclusivity rather than in its cost of ownership.
Most buyers can expect the BMW i8 to hold its value for resale well thanks to the exclusivity and innovation. The high price tag and limited usability, however, make it a car that only a very few will be interested in owning and it’s unlikely to be a primary vehicle for daily driving in anyone’s garage.
Academically, the i8 ranks low in cost-effectiveness, but because it’s not a vehicle that people buy for practical purposes, this is not likely a metric which will be of importance to most potential buyers.
The BMW i8 is a true supercar in every sense. It’s a showcase of advanced technology, an innovative use of efficiency and performance, and a beautiful combination of style and power. The car turns heads at every locale and is a true joy to drive. Obvious impracticalities are secondary to the excellence the i8 shows at every level. The i8 is a car worthy of every award it’s won.