Brains, meet brawn

BMW i8


November 17, 2014 GP100 By
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The 2015 BMW i8 could rightly be called the most significant automobile of the year. A concept-turned production vehicle with minimal changes and with no compromise in materials or style, its appearance is the most futuristic of any vehicle on the market today. As for performance: 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and 420 lb-ft of torque put this plug-in hybrid on par with gas-guzzling mid-life crisis machines. This is the closest anyone has come to the the best of three worlds: exciting visceral performance, pioneering design and exceptional fuel economy.

With its hood scoop, crisp lines, “stream flow wing” and spectacular scissor doors, the BMW i8 brings more drama than the week before senior year prom (without all the cattiness). To meet performance demands from both a power and efficiency perspective, BMW chose to use predominantly carbon fiber throughout — so much so that they decided to buy a company that produces it rather than continue paying someone else — delivering a car that weighs a comparatively lightweight 3,455 pounds. That carbon fiber monocoque chassis sits on an aluminum frame that houses the eDrive electric motor in the front and the 1.5-liter 3-cylinder turbo in the rear, powering the wheels directly and virtually eliminating the need for the drivetrain — and leaving the perfect spot to place the the battery pack.

The interior never betrays the futuristic vision of the i8, with i-brand “Frozen Blue” accents in the form of contrast stitching and seat belts, as well as minimal dash buttons and a glorious 8.8-inch screen for the iDrive infotainment/navigation system. Power up the car and the stunning digital dash welcomes you. The “e-mode” option provides emission-free driving up to about 20 miles, depending on driving style and conditions, while hitting speeds up to 75 mph before the 1.5 liter 3-cylinder turbo kicks in, the best-sounding sub-six cylinder you’ll ever hear; though technically, what the driver and passengers hear is a combination of actual engine sound and pre-recorded track piped in through the speakers.

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The steering feels confident and the suspension tight, making for great fun on the twisties. In sport mode, the throttle blips on downshifts to ready the next gear, and the engine mapping evolves nearly to the point where it can anticipate the driver’s decision to shift with either the wheel-mounted paddles or the shifter itself. The i8 slingshots out of corners — even uphill — once again demonstrating how surprisingly powerful that 3-cylinder engine really is. The howl coming from the rear will, at certain moments, make you feel like you’re driving a 911, without the hassle of a happy tail.

All of this new-age design has well-executed engineering to thank. BMW has perfected the complex dance between electric motor and combustion engine, giving supreme efficiency and power that puts the i8 is way ahead of its time. And beyond that, Das Germans have been able to create an all-wheel-drive car that uses software rather than a drivetrain (the batteries are stored in the shaft).

The BMW i8 is the perfect intersection of where we have come from and where we want to go. The powertrain technology, harmonious implementation of carbon fiber and aluminum, and interior stylings put it in a class onto its own; part 911 and part Prius, it’s unlike any car ever made, though imitators are sure to follow.

$136,000+



Engine: 228 hp turbocharged 1.5L three-cylinder + 129 hp electric motor
Horsepower: 357 (combined)
0-60: 4.2 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph
Curb Weight: 3,455 pounds
Charging Times: 240V level 2, 1.5 hours @ 16 A
120V level 1, 3.5 hours @ 12 A