Best Futuristic Hybrid Exotic
Engine: 96 kW eDrive motor; 1.5 Liter 3-Cylinder Turbo engine
Battery Range: 22 Miles; fully charges in 1.5 hours on level two
Transmission: Two-speed electric motor; six-speed engine
Torque: 420 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 95 MPGe (approx)
Weight: 3,274 lbs
Every now and then you come across a car that you know you’ll tell your grandkids about: “I saw that right when it first came out!” you’ll say, reaching for the prunes. The 2015 BMW i8 ($136,000) is such a car. With overlapping layers, crisp lines and spectacular scissor doors, it looks more like a concept than a daily driver. In fact, it hasn’t changed much at all from the original concept car (known as the lengthy “BMW Concept Vision Efficient Dynamics”) that bowed in 2009 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. BMW claims it’s as important to their brand as the beloved M1, not solely from a performance standpoint but also as an industry game-changer. No one has been able to build a production car that can hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds that can also get 100 mpg (not at the same time, of course). But is the most expensive BMW ever worth the hefty price tag or is it just smoke and mirrors (and batteries, and motors, and carbon fiber)?
Collecting more glances than a bikini-clad model walking through church, the i8 is a showstopper on the road. The exterior is gorgeous: the “stream flow wing” at the back of the car is part design, part spoiler and completely beautiful. After opening the scissor door, crossing into the carbon fiber cockpit and taking a minute to realize how lucky you are to be sitting in the future, you find refreshingly minimal buttons, an 8.8-inch screen for the iDrive infotainment/nav system, a continuation of the layering aesthetic, and i-brand “Frozen Blue” accents. Power up (rather than start up) the car and the digital dash welcomes you with a chime and some animation.
This car is actually a carbon fiber shell atop an aluminum frame that houses the eDrive electric motor in the front and the 1.5 liter 3-cylinder turbo in the rear; the battery pack sits where the drivetrain would be. The proof of this configuration is in the pudding. I started in “e-mode”, allowing the approximately 22-mile range battery to confidently power the car along up to 75 mph before the surprisingly (albeit artificially piped into the speakers) throaty six-speed 1.5 liter turbocharged 3-cylinder kicked in.
The i8 looks 10 years ahead of its time, drives like a sports car and sips like a hybrid; it’s just about perfect.
The steering felt confident and the suspension tight, making for great fun on the twisties. However, after a few hours of attacking the canyons, hitting the back roads and cruising on the freeway I found my non-lumbar supported seat less than comfortable; maybe this was why Ethan Hunt ditched his after only a few scenes. Also worth noting was that the i8 was strangely sparse on storage space — a phone and wallet seemed to fill it up, and the freakishly tiny rear seats must be there for an insurance discount.
The i8 looks 10 years ahead of its time, drives like a sports car and sips like a hybrid; it’s just about perfect. “Just about”, because at $136,000 it seems about $35,000 too much. Certainly the price has to do with BMW’s limited run, loads of carbon fiber, and gobs of technology, but at the end of the day a Tesla Model S (admittedly a bit more restrictive in range) with a similar 0-60 time costs less than $100,000 with seating for five and lumbar…and that’s tough to beat.