Four-seats, carbon fiber construction, a mid-mounted three-cylinder engine, two transmissions and a pair of electric motors.
Front Motor: Electric
Power: 129 hp, 184 lb-ft.
Mid-Engine: 1.5 L turbocharged three-cylinder + electric motor
Power: 228 hp, 236 lb-ft.
EPA Fuel Economy: 76 mpge,
CAN Fuel Economy: 6.4 Le/100 km
US Price: BMW i8 begins at $141,695 after destination charges
CAN Price: BMW i8 begins at $152,868 after destination charges
The BMW i8 truly is an unusual car. Built as part of the company’s concept for sustainable mobility, the i8 is one of two models in BMW’s i sub-brand. Unlike the electric i3 city car, the i8 is a hybrid performance vehicle that’s out to prove a supercar can be fast and efficient at the same time.
Using carbon fiber construction, the car features seating for four people in front of the mid-mounted engine. These extra accommodations makes the i8 almost a foot longer than the Audi R8, albeit with a similar profile. The roof at its highest point is four inches lower than that of a similarly sized Mercedes E-Class Coupe, though, making the i8 look like a true supercar.
But the i8 doesn’t look like anything else on the road. Falling somewhere between a concept car that accidentally slipped into production and a product sent back in time from a futuristic society, the i8 is full of creases, curves and contours all shaped by the wind.
The futuristic theme continues with the stylish interior, which is more elegant than the outright funky BMW i3. It’s nicely finished using high-quality materials and feels every bit worth the i8’s $141,695 entry fee.
Customizable accent light strips are placed throughout the cabin and add a bit of a spaceship aura to the driving experience at night. The dual digital display screens are fully customizable as well, displaying all the important information in a variety of ways.
As should be expected, rear seat space is tighter than a domestic airline’s economy cabin, and despite there being a storage area placed behind the engine, at 4.7 cubic feet, cargo capacity matches that of a Mazda MX-5. Best to pack light if you plan to take the i8 on a road trip.
The Heart of the Efficient Beast
A lot of cars on the road today claim to have a unique or cutting edge drivetrain, but with the i8, it’s absolutely true. Sitting midship is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine paired to an 11-hp electric motor. Combined, they send a total of 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels.
Complimenting that setup is a second electric motor up front pumping an additional 129 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. But the innovation doesn’t stop there, as there’s not one, but two transmissions. Hooked up to the mid-mounted engine is a six-speed automatic, while the front motor has a two-speed auto of its own. This all adds up to a zero to 60 mph acceleration run in four seconds or less, with top speed limited to 155 mph.
Smooth, Seamless and Fast
Acceleration is instant and quick. A wall of electric torque gets the car off the line with authority. As electric juice begins to max-out, boost has built up in the turbocharged engine and it takes over, creating plenty of power on tap at all times. The car is far faster and feels far more powerful than the specs would suggest.
The transmission dance between the six- and two-speed automatics is completely transparent. There’s never any strange gear change behavior or missteps. For those wanting a bit more control, it’s possible to change gears with the paddle shifters in sport mode, but they only control the transmission in the back, as the one in the front is always operated by the car. Despite being a conventional six-speed automatic, it responds quickly to inputs and downshifts without delay.
My only real complaint with the drivetrain has to do with the engine’s sound. Although it is moderately loud on the outside and not all that bad sounding for a three-cylinder, inside audio is pumped through the speakers to create a more pleasing tone. It sounds like a six-cylinder and there are even hints of Porsche 911 flat-six in there.
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Not Your Everyday Supercar
But the i8 is more than just a fast car. It’s a true plug-in hybrid. When fully charged, the i8 can drive up to 15 miles on electric only power by — get this — using only the front wheels. Yup, this wedge-shaped supercar can transform into a front-wheel drive commuter.
SEE ALSO: 2016 BMW i3 Review
To keep the car in all electric-mode, simply press the eDrive button. Once engaged, the car has more than enough power to move around town – there’s enough torque to break the front tires loose when turning.
When the battery runs out, a level-two charger can recharge the battery in just 1.5 hours, or you can just let the engine do it. With a full charge, the i8 is rated at 76 MPGe, but even in full gasoline mode, it still achieves a combined average of 28 mpg – not bad for a car with this kind of performance. Best of all, the transition between electric and gasoline propulsion is completely seamless at all times.
Not a Numb EV
The i8 is more than a straight-line rocket, unlike some other electric cars. It’s designed to handle corners just as well. Using extensive amounts of carbon fiber, the car tips the scales at 3,455 pounds and features a slightly rear-bias weight distribution.
To balance efficiency and cornering grip, the i8 wears skinny offset tires. Despite this, it grips very well in the corners – a testament to how well-designed the chassis is. It doesn’t require big meaty tires to compensate when making a turns, yet remains very stable at freeway speeds.
The steering is just like a sports car of this caliber should be. It’s direct, quick and responsive. The car as a whole behaves and responds a fraction off of say an Audi R8 V8 or Porsche 911, but it comes with the added benefit of being a plug-in hybrid car as well.
The Verdict: 2016 BMW i8 Review
It’s hard not to like a car with the i8’s looks, specifications and presence. But after driving it for a while, it’s the experience behind the wheel that really sets it apart. There’s a lack of the usual EV compromises as the car drives just as well as anything else in its class, yet is full of incredible technology and is ridiculously efficient.
At this price point, this would easily be my near-supercar choice.
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