Welcome to the future of yesterday, today! With auto manufacturers pushing each other to the very limits of technology, BMW has brought to us an exotic mid-engined hybrid known as the i8.
The hybrid and sports car market is growing each and every year with rumors and announcements of exciting new models now a regular occurrence. While the ‘Holy Trio’ of hybrid electric hypercars – Ferrari’s LaFerrari, McLaren’s P1 and Porsche’s 918 – battle it out with their crazy power and equally insane price tags, the i8 sits a little further back, and available at fraction of their respective price points. I guess you could call it the more affordable, but definitely not cheap, mini version of the hypercar.
A few weeks back, I had the chance to spend a few days with this interesting machine.
I’ll be the first to say that, although it performs quite well, this car isn’t about performance. You can pay less than half the price of the i8 and get yourself the BMW M4 if a high performance driving experience is what you’re after.
This i8 is here to show us what the future holds in the sports car market. I mean, it was only a matter of time before Prius thinking was translated over to sportier cars.
From what I’ve gathered over the few years that production electric and hybrid-electric cars have existed, many people are against them though.
The main complaint, albeit a good one, is that hybrid and electric cars lack feeling. But the way I see it, if they’re fast and handle like a champ, I don’t mind them at all.Oh, It’s An i8…
There seem to be mixed opinions about the i8, but I like it. The curvaceous body, sleek lines, massive wheels, intimidating headlights, butterfly doors, and an overall X factor make this car amazing in my opinion.
On paper, the performance numbers don’t sound all too exciting though. It has the 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine out of a Mini in the rear, and with turbocharging it outputs 230hp. Couple that with two electric motors up front generating the equivalent of 130hp, and you have a total of 360hp with 420lb-ft of torque.
And that torque is what hit me first when driving this car, especially at low revs. It’s not something I’m used to at all, and I found myself in lower gears than I thought I needed to be in when taking corners with spirit.
Tipping the scales at 3200 pounds doesn’t make the i8 either light or heavy. I do have to say though, there were times when it felt lighter than it actually was, especially during acceleration. That’s probably because of the two electric motors up front.
So, on paper it’s not too exciting, but after driving the i8 for a week, I can say that it’s both agile and fast. The steering is light but precise, and the Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires grip the road well, especially considering they aren’t all that wide – 215s up front and 245s in the rear.
At first, I felt a little intimidated by all the electronics, but after putting a reasonable number of miles on the car, it’s actually all quite simple. The engineers at BMW have managed to make an extremely complicated car very easy to drive.
There are three driving modes on offer, Comfort, Sport and eDrive.
Comfort, as you’ve probably guessed is for normal everyday driving. The car will dictate how much power to put down from the electric motors and combustion engine to provide the best fuel economy.
eDrive runs only the electric engines via a lithium ion battery pack running through the center of the vehicle, powering the front wheels exclusively. The maximum range is said to be 20 miles at freeway speeds, but I never tried it out as I was either in Sport or Comfort for the majority of the time I had the car.
Sport, the mode you guys would care most about, instantly opens up the exhaust to give the car a nice little rumble. Like Comfort mode, in Sport the car uses both the electric motors and combustion engine, but this time it makes full use of the three-cylinder turbo mill. Driving in Sport also charges the battery for the electric engines, so it’s technically encouraged.
Once the acoustics of the car open up in Sport mode, it almost has a slight raspiness to it at low revs. At higher revs, the shifting sounds finely tuned and flawless, but when downshifting from around 3000rpm, it gives off an imperfect little burble that repeatedly made me smile.
Shifting between Comfort and Sport is a nice little treat too. One moment you’re in your mom’s Prius, and the next you’re in a futuristic sports car that can go from 0-60mph in 4 seconds.
The aforementioned Potenzas wrap around BMW 20-inch rims, front and rear.
The butterfly doors help this thing stand out from the crowd, not that it really needs them to.
Opening and closing the doors usually resulted in a lot of chatter from interested bystanders. I heard everything from the typical “wtf?!” to “mom, look at that white Ferrari!” during my week driving this thing.X Factor
That brings me to my next point, the overall look of the i8.
I did many complete walk-arounds of the BMW, and to be honest, I don’t think there’s one single bad angle. The way it sits so aggressively with its large concept car-type wheels still gives me slight goosebumps, and the headlights make the i8 look menacing. The entire car was shaped in a wind tunnel so I guess function has become form in a way.
There are carbon fiber teasers all throughout the car, and the carbon tub sits atop a lower aluminum chassis that everything else is attached to.
The interior is sleek and modern yet very much BMW, so it’s really easy to familiarize yourself with the car if you’ve stepped into any Bimmer from the past 10 years.
The fully digital speedometer and tachometer is really cool. Comfort mode colors are light and welcoming, but once you enter Sport you get a vibrant red glow.
Shifting into Sport mode is simply done by moving the gear lever five centimeters to the left once you’re in Drive.
I’m really impressed with what this car was able to accomplish. It’s a big step towards the sort of sports cars we will surely see many more of in the very near future. There will always be naysayers, but I ask those people to try them out before jumping to conclusions and writing these cars off.
There are rumors around the internet about a successor to the i8 coming out in the 2020s, with claims of it being all-electric and boasting a whopping 750hp.
Will Tesla’s P85D finally have some all-electric competition? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.
In the meantime, we have the rest of BMW’s i model range to look forward to.
So there we have it. I’ve given you my opinion, but what is your’s on hybrid electric and all-electric cars?