By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
Occasionally a car arrives in our garage that is so different that we are not quite sure what to think of it. Of the several thousand cars we’ve driven in the last 25 years, the BMW i8 is one of the most unusual, but one of the most exciting.
By looks alone the BMW i8 is a one-of-a-kind. Resembling an exotic Italian sports car at first stare and the more you look at the individual components the more unusual it gets and the interior looks like something we’d see in an auto show as a concept.
BMW calls the design “LifeDrive architecture” and it’s not only distinctive by design it’s revolutionary by structure. The i8 sports car’s passenger cell is built of a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic around an aluminum intensive structure. The resulting i8 weighs only 3,285 pounds, with a very low center of gravity and a low 0.26 coefficient of drag. Combined with BMW’s always impressive suspension components, the i8 not only looks the part of an exotic sports car, but it drives like one. But the kicker is, the efficiency, which is more like that of a Prius.
Once inside the i8, it’s comfortable, but until you master the entrance/exit process, it’s one of the most awkward cars we’ve ever driven/ridden in. The doors are totally cool, rising up and out of the way, but then it’s necessary to climb over or straddle a wide sill and drop into the comfortable seat. (Many years ago Barbara had a legendary Mercedes Gullwing, which had a similar challenge.) Getting in is not too bad, but getting out separates the gymnasts from the aging automotive writers. Bill actually used the i8 to run errands one day and became halfway adept at the process. This is definitely not a car to wear a skirt or dress in, unless you are a master of modesty.
The BMW i8 has a 2+2 seating configuration, but the “+2” is more suited for a purse or briefcase. Sure in a pinch, you could put a person back there, but the degree of difficulty doubles or triples. Luggage space is limited to a 4.7 cubic foot covered compartment under the rear hatch. Also there is some very exclusive Louis Vuitton luggage available.
As distinctive as the design and structure is, it’s the drive train that really sets the i8 apart from the crowd. When was the last time you heard of a $150,000 BMW sports car that’s powered by a twin-turbocharged three (3) cylinder engine and an electric motor?
By definition, the BMW i8 is a plug-in hybrid 2+2 sports car that just happens to be one of the most revolutionary cars ever built.
The BMW Group developed the plug-in hybrid system using a 228-hp (236-lb.ft of torque) TwinPower Turbo 1.5-liter three-cylinder gasoline engine and a six-speed automatic transmission to power the rear wheels. It even has paddle shifters for those of us who must shift. The front wheels are powered by a 129-hp (184-lb.ft. of torque) hybrid synchronous electric motor engine through a two-stage automatic transmission using a high-voltage lithium-ion liquid cooled 5 kWh battery.
Numerically those numbers aren’t over the top, but when you press the accelerator to the floor the speedometer passes 60 mph in a mere 4.2-seconds. (One buff magazine claims 3.6 seconds using the car’s launch control.) Top speed is limited to 155 mph, and amazingly BMW says it will go up to 75 mph on the battery power alone with a range of about 22 miles, but we don’t think it’ll make that distance under full power.
Even with that outstanding performance the i8 has an EPA fuel economy rating of 76 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) for combined city/highway driving with a range of up to 330 miles. Using just the gasoline engine alone the combined mileage is listed at 28 mpg.
The console-mounted Driving Experience Control switch and eDrive allows the driver to set different driving modes. The eDrive keeps the car in an electric only configuration. Select “Comfort” and the car maintains a balance between dynamics and efficiency. The “Sport” mode produces an intensive boost function using the electric motor and it continually charges the battery, which is handy if you don’t want to plug it in. The “Eco Pro” setting maximizes efficiency.
An unusual feature that adds dramatically to the performance persona is the audio system which mimics the sounds of a big high performance engine through the stereo speakers, at up to 87 decibels during full throttle acceleration. We were firmly convinced we were driving a high-performance V-8.
The BMW i8 has just about everything you could possibly want as standard equipment: the latest technologies, high-tech structure, plush seating and even nearly all the latest safety and convenience features like Dynamic Cruise Control. One badly needed feature missing was blind spot detection is difficult to see out the rear when you look over your shoulder.
The base price of the i8 is $137,495, including the destination charge. Our test car had two options: Crystal White w/Frozen Grey paint ($1,800) the Pure Impulse World package and Interior ($10,800). The package adds cosmetic upgrades along with 20-inch alloy wheels, alarm, leather engine cover, heated seats, park distance control, LED headlights with cornering, Active Driving Assistant, head-up display and several other upgrades.
We were obviously very intrigued by the BMW i8, and learned more on each outing, but we just scratched the surface of its features and capabilities, we think. Bill would like to own it, Barbara thought it was too difficult to get in and out of plus too difficult to pay for.
Learn more about the i8 at http://www.bmwusa.com/bmw/bmwi/i8. This is not a car you’ll be seeing in the Trader Joe’s parking lot very often, but it is certainly worth a look if you do see one. Better yet, you can forgo buying that new Porsche 911Carerra GTS or Mercedes SL and buy one of these instead. We can almost guarantee you’ll have the only one on your block.