Be forewarned: even 4 years after its introduction, the first generation BMW i8 plug-in hybrid turns heads in the street, and vacuums up the attention of any gear-heads on the road. It’s simply gorgeous from every angle.
With BMW’s almost messianic devotion to achieving both greenness and performance, the i8’s also a triumph of balanced engineering. Consider. The heavier a car is, the more energy it needs to accelerate.
Soaking wet, the i8 weighs 1567kilos. Skinned with thermoplastic, its outer layer is corrosion-free and less scratch prone, and about half the weight of steel. (Another advantage, albeit more altruistically environmental, is that the plastic requires less energy to manufacture.)
Engines are heavy but the i8’s gasoline power source performs heroically on just 3 cylinders: 228hp solo. That’s supplemented by an electric motor that’ll torque out almost immediately at 270 lb-ft. Together, its hybrid drivetrain is capable of 357hp on all four wheels. (See below regarding power split.)
Bottom line? The i8 practically teleports itself from 0 to 100kmh in 4.5 seconds. Purportedly it can achieve a top speed of 250kmh, but the borrowing agreement between manufacturers like BMW and writers like me is “our car, your ticket”.
The point is, despite being a first generation, the i8 will probably change your beliefs regarding hybrids and performance. This ain’t no Prius.
Back to the head-turning effects: at night its “Laserlight” headlights will mesmerize onlookers. An $8,000 premium, they’ll stupefy buyers. Meanwhile, any passengers in the back will have their entire bodies turned. Technically, this car seats four but those in the rear should be hobbit-sized for comfort. Hybrid drivetrains require space; your backseat passengers sacrifice it.
You, the driver, will continually smack your own head at how easily the i8 drives and handles. Some sports cars are moody, like a skittish stallion. At first, I worried this spaceshippy beast would be too much red meat for me. Those doors, rising like a descending raptor on prey, demand an awkward backwards tumble into the leathery sport seat, like some corporate offsite trust-fall.
But it handles so easily. In fact, depending on how you drive it, it performs like a small fleet of cars. Choose from three drive modes: sport, comfort or eco pro. Each has its own feel. In short, the higher gear ratios shorten noticeably; in that sporting spirit, the instrument panel darkens to a flaming red from the eco pro’s cool blue.
Moreover, you can enjoy a front-wheel, back-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle. In pure electric drive, which lasts a maximum of 30ish km when fully charged, it’s all front-wheel because the motor is connected to only the front axle. The gasoline engine only powers the rear axle. Hurray! Enjoy the drift responsibly. Mind you, both sources are often employed, functionally delivering an all-wheel-drive experience.
All this tech rolls on 20-inch tires that grip sharp corners like a drowning man on a lifeguard.
Back to that head-turning gorgeousness: While you’re away from the i8, you can continue enjoying its likeness — from numerous angles it remains beautiful — on its computerized display key.
Base MRSP: $149,900
As Driven: $164,600
Steven Bochenek, is a twice-decorated AJAC Journalist of the Year, runner-up (always the bridesmaid, never the bride).