BMW’s i8 is sex on wheels
During a photo shoot, parked at Redondo Beach near L.A., it took the folks at BMW almost two hours to shoot five minutes of usable video. It wasn’t because the team was incompetent — it was just that people just kept coming up, snapping photos and asking questions about the car.
Which is totally cool. People in L.A. get electric cars, consuming truckloads of Teslas and Leafs. But they also “get” that what they are looking at is a BMW. They see the twin-kidney grille and famous blue-and-white logo. But what of this carbon-fiber-and-aluminum alien, body hovering over the rear fenders? It seems from another time and doesn’t immediately compute. Is it electric, gas or what?
Well it doesn’t run on kryptonite … though it might as well. It’s a bit complicated. The drivetrain consists of a mid-mounted turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, electric motors and lithium-ion batteries. Sophisticated AWD employs the gas engine to drive rear wheels while electric motors drive the front. The system can be adjusted to four different modes: Comfort (saves power), Sport (toasts power), EcoPro (frugal) or eDrive (uses both gas and electric to their fullest).
All in, the system delivers 357 horsepower, 0-60 mph in 4.2s and a top speed of 155 mph. It achieves 76-MPGe combined or 28/29-MPG city/hwy. on gas. Charging occurs in 1.5 hours (3.5 hrs. on 120v) for 15 miles of emission-free driving before the gas engine fires up. The engine and re-gen braking can fully replenish batteries on the fly.
If performance from our scissor-winged friend doesn’t impress you, keep in mind a Lamborghini Countach reviewed by Car and Driver in December 1983 achieved 0-60 in 5.4s and a top speed of 150 mph; I’m pretty sure the i8 gets better gas mileage and drives better.
There’s smoothness to driving an electric car that is serene. You hear nothing but tires rolling and torque is instantaneous. That power can be applied delicately or with the fury of a pissed leaf blower. It allows the i8 to creep through traffic without burning fossils or storm through rising canyon roads using full power. Make the most of the mid-engine lay-out, even if the low-rolling-resistance tires will eventually give up.
Given the exterior drama and advanced powertrain, the cabin is surprisingly normal. Sure, sliding under the gullwing doors takes practice and the dash and console swoop like the exterior, but if you’ve driven a BMW recently, it’s all intuitive. The cabin is loaded with heated leather seats, iDrive infotainment, Harman/Kardon audio, voice controls and heads-up display with navigation directions (perfect for getting around L.A.). I’d drive it a thousand miles, but with necessarily limited luggage.
After dinner with my favorite college professor in Pasadena, I popped the door and was welcomed by ambient blue lighting flowing from every crevice, beaming like a space-set starship. Beautiful. I programmed navigation for Hermosa Beach and was off. Strafing L.A. freeways, using the head-up display to avoid tickets and mistaken exits streamed to my inner fighter pilot. Everything feels so normal that you forget how extraordinary this car is. It was one of the most enjoyable drives I’ve ever taken.
The i8 has limits, but you walk away forever changed. This is how all cars should always have been and will soon be. It is so complex, yet so simple — smooth, efficient, comfortable and beautiful. Such excellence doesn’t come cheap — expect to pay at least $136,500.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 17, 2015.