The 2015 BMW i8 is the second offering from the German automaker's new "i" division (the first was the i3). A gas-electric plug-in hybrid with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine combined with a 96-kW electric motor, this sleek, futuristic coupe looks to strike a compelling balance between sports car and green car. On paper, it sure looks like it has done so, with great power numbers coupled with amazing aerodynamics and a smaller, more efficient powertrain.
I recently took hold of the i8 for a long weekend, putting a couple hundred miles on the odometer in a number of different driving scenarios to test out what this car is capable of being. It's surely one of the most interesting vehicles of the year -- and I'm not just talking about its looks -- so head on through to see what this futuristic, winged ride from Bavaria is all about.
The BasicsSticker Price: $135,700
?Invoice Price: NA
As Tested Price: NA
??Engine: Turbo 1.5L I3 + 96-kW Motor
??Transmission: 6-Speed automatic + 2-Speed gearbox
??Performance: 362 hp, 420 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds
??Fuel Economy: NA??
Seating: Four people??
Cargo Capacity: 5.4 cubic feet
I think I have an idea of what it's like to be a celebrity after spending a few days cruising around in the i8. This car more than stands out on the road. I had people taking pictures, rolling video and stopping me to chat nearly every single time I was out and about behind the wheel.
The i8 looks like a concept car, with its crazy color scheme, striking cuts and lines and its butterfly doors. But even though it appears to be simply an exercise in statement-making appearance, the car is designed this way for a very important reason: aerodynamics. The i8 is as much a green car as it is a sports car, and designing the exterior to slip through the air as effortlessly as possible allows it to maximize its fuel economy.
It's hard to believe this is a BMW. The German automaker hasn't been blowing anyone away in recent years with its conservative and, frankly, boring design language. The company deserves to be lauded for releasing a vehicle that riles up emotion and lust when seen on the street, and also effectively combines form and function.
The futuristic theme found with the exterior design of the i8 continues on the interior. This is especially evident at night, when thin bands of LEDs light up throughout the cabin, making it feel like you're riding inside a computer chip, or playing a part in the movie Tron.
Sports cars tend to lack a bit in the comfort department, but the i8 tackles that shortcoming with comfortable, well-bolstered seats, soft premium materials on all touch surfaces and remarkable sound-dampening, which all but eliminates road and wind noise. Ergonomics are quite good, with the radio and climate controls all easily within reach.
There are a few issues here, though. The lack of storage is striking, and drivers will be dismayed with only a single cup holder up front and few other areas to store phones, wallets and other objects -- there are no door pockets, for instance. Additionally, visibility is quite poor, with sizable blind spots and a very small rear window made from high-tech glass that weirdly distorts objects behind you.
Passenger And Cargo Room
The interior is spacious enough in the front seats, with adequate head, should and legroom. The driver and front seat passenger shouldn't find much to complain about, except that getting in and out of the i8 is quite difficult due to its low stance and butterfly doors. BMW should really include some sort of handle to grab hold of. Women wearing skirts should be especially cognizant of possible wardrobe malfunctions when entering and exiting.
The rear seats and the trunk (if you can call it that) are a joke. Don't plan on fitting more than two people in here, as the back seat area is woefully lacking in headroom and legroom, and the seats actually lean forward a bit, creating a remarkable amount of discomfort for a person of any size. Cargo space is rated at 5.4 cubic feet, which is about enough to fit one or two bags of groceries. Of course, since the gas engine is mounted in the back, the area heats up quickly, so groceries probably aren't the best thing to store back there anyway. I had to use the front and back seats as storage after a trip to Trader Joe's.
The i8's drivetrain -- well, drivetrains, actually -- is remarkable. A 1.5-liter, direct-injected and turbocharged three-cylinder engine rests in the rear of the car. It's basically a sportier version of the engine being used by the new 2014 Mini Cooper. This combustion engine is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, and it drives only the rear wheels. At the front of the chassis is an electric motor, borrowed from BMW's i3 EV. It is mated to a two-stage gearbox, and it exclusively drives the front wheels. When all is said and done, the entire ensemble creates 362 hp and 420 lb-ft or torque. And, boy, is it quick.
The i8's burly power numbers coupled with its low curb weight allow it to sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds. Handling is superb, as should be expected from BMW, with tight, responsive steering and a low center of gravity. Braking is great, too, which isn't always the case with a regenerative setup. Often, it feels numb and unresponsive, but with the i8, stopping is a crisp experience.
The i8 can be driven in three different modes: Comfort, Eco Pro and Sport. Opting for Eco Pro makes the car prioritize fuel economy, softening the throttle response and minimizing battery usage by limiting the output of features like the air conditioning and heated seats. In this mode and Comfort mode, the i8 can be driven on battery power alone up to 75 mph. Range depends on how you're driving, but it should be able to go a little over 20 miles before switching to combustion power.
Sport mode is for when you want to have some fun. Engaging this mode causes the car to become a bit livelier, both in sound and performance, allowing the driver to bolt more quickly off the line and rip around turns. The car is confident on more challenging roads, experiencing little body roll while cornering hard and providing a whirlwind of sensory stimulation for the eyes, ears, feet and hands.
It's not a perfect sports car -- this isn't made by BMW's storied M division, after all -- and there are some flaws. For example, the car noticeably hesitates for a split second off the line, likely to ensure minimal tire slippage. But, it's still a very enjoyable vehicle to drive, finding an engaging balance between fuel efficiency and fun.
Tech And InfotainmentThe i8 includes a wide variety of tech, safety and entertainment features. These include a Navigation system, a cruise-control system with braking function, rain sensor including automatic headlight activation and Park Distance Control (PDC) with sensors at the front and rear of the car.
Opting for the ConnectedDrive Services package, drivers are treated to a host of services and apps, such as a Real Time Traffic Information system that delivers precise traffic congestion warnings and detour recommendations in real time. It also includes High Beam Assistant, a rear-view camera, Surround View, Speed Limit Info including No Passing Info display, and Collision Warning with pedestrian recognition and braking function.
The large infotainment screen is controlled by a knob in the center console, as is the case with most BMWs. I've heard a lot of complaints about using such a system, but, personally, I like it much better than the touchscreen. The software is visually appealing, responsive and, once you spend some time with it, fairly straightforward to navigate (there's certainly a learning curve).
I'd love to write out more of the car's tech features, but it's an exhaustive list and you're a busy person. Just know that it can come with almost any feature you can think of, the speakers are great and everything you could want to know about the car, including real-time fuel economy, is laid out before you.
The BMW i8 is successful in striking a balance between being a green car and a sports car. Fun to drive with a high-tech powertrain that offers low emissions, it's a remarkable vehicle that even the most casual car fan won't soon forget about.
No, it's not an attainable vehicle -- I would guess you'd be very lucky to ever see one on the road -- and it's certainly far from practical, with obvious flaws in its lack cargo capacity and interior space. But it should do wonders in helping the BMW brand be seen as one that has reaffirmed its commitment to emotionally stirring cars and innovation.
If you have an extra $135,000 lying around and are tired of Tesla, here is the next big must-have green machine.