2015 BMW i8 Review and Road Test

2015 BMW i8

We take a spin in BMW’s time machine

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Um…time machine?

OK, so there’s no flux capacitor on the rear console and you won’t be able to step back into 1955 hoping to attend the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Despite the lack of actual time travel ability, the i8 is indeed a glimpse into the future. It’s so loaded with cutting edge technology and it gives is an idea of what the future of performance motoring might offer while simultaneously underlining the fact that hybrids needn’t be dull transportation appliances.

So the perfect car for the unassuming introvert, then.

Are you kidding!? Take a good look at this thing.  Equal parts drama and sci-fi inspired beauty, it isn’t an ideal choice for those who prefer to keep a lower profile. There is nothing on sale today that comes close to it’s jaw dropping styling; BMW really nailed the design on this one. And you better be prepared to talk to many strangers whenever you’re not moving. It touches folks from all corners of the automotive galaxy- the car enthusiasts go bananas and will want to ask you questions about it’s performance and bleeding edge tech. The tree huggers will want to know “is it more economical than my Prius?” and marvel at how completely opposite the i8 is to the hybrid they’re driving. Even those who don’t have a shred of interest in cars will approach you, asking questions like “wanna trade?” Such is the gravity of the i8.

A hybrid with performance chops in lockstep with those bedroom poster looks? Seriously?

The i8’s total system output is 357 horsepower and 420 lbs/ft. of torque when you’ve got the rip snorting 1.5 litre inline three gas engine (with a stratospheric 152 horsepower per litre) and electric motors working together for maximum effect. At a time in motoring history when 500 horsepower gets a shrug from some folks, these numbers are hardly impressive until you consider that they have to motivate something that weighs about the same as a VW Golf. Which means when you put your foot down, the i8 scoots forward in a delightfully pleasing matter. We gave lots of rides to people during our time with it, and the unanimous look of joyful shock (and maybe a little bit of terror) never got old when it stormed off the line. Despite all that snort, the i8 delivered almost unbelievable fuel mileage- and it seems strange to even write this for a car capable delivering such genuine thrills- 8.2L/100km was what we recorded after a week of driving with plenty of enthusiasm. That’s better than some diesel compacts we’ve tested, and vastly better than some of the mainstream products we’ve had parked in the Carpages Garage recently. Truly remarkable stuff.

OK, so it’s fast. How’s the handling?

Like the Tesla Model S, BMW has built the i8 with a keen eye for balance- it’s said that the car has the lowest centre of gravity of any BMW ever made, and has perfect 50/50 weight distribution. All the carefully placed batteries and drivetrain gubbins conspire to impart a feeling of almost impervious stability. So yeah, it loves tackling corners, and it will do so at speeds that will startle driver and passenger alike with no drama and produce virtually no body roll, squat or dive. When in Sport mode and the various engine and motors are producing maximum shove, it’s got four-wheel drive, further sticking it to the tarmac. The steering lacks a bit of feedback and there are times the brake feel is marred by the need to regenerate electricity, but this is once hugely impressive piece of kit.

Is plugging it in a must? What happens when you deplete the batteries?

Full disclosure: due to infrastructure constraints we only plugged the i8 in once during the course of our road test. This of course is one way to charge up the batteries but certainly not the most fun way of doing so. When you notice the range readout for the batteries is getting low, nudge the shifter to the right to engage Sport mode. That will fire up the gas engine and allow the system to operate in its most aggressive regenerative setting. Head to your favourite stretch of road and drive with enthusiasm and watch as the battery charge climbs as you drive. Even if you’re just heading down the highway and not trail braking with earnest into corners you’ll have almost fully restored the battery capacity after 45 minutes. Then switch back to Comfort mode and enjoy silent, fully electric propulsion.

How does this dizzying amount of technology work together?

To explain how BMW managed to pull of such a seamless experience when utilizing any one of the i8’s various drive modes would take such a long time that all but the most hard-core car nerds would succumb to their eyes glaze over in boredom. Understand this: even when you factor in the impressive performance, surprising efficiency and knockout looks the prevailing achievement BMW pulled off is getting all this kit to work together without the driver noticing the hugely complicated handoff between electric motors and petrol engine. It all just works. Enthusiasts needn’t fear a future of hybrid powertrains when you see what the i8 can do, and remember folks- this is only the first attempt. Think about how much better the concept will work after years of building on the knowledge required to execute such a remarkable car.

Sounds like the perfect car.

Even halo cars like the i8 aren’t immune to flaws. Before you even turn a wheel you’ll be acutely aware that there is no way to get in and out of the i8 gracefully; you’ll have to learn to contort your body while simultaneously dropping your butt into the seat. Once there, you will notice that the A-pillar is very much in your face, and over the shoulder visibility is quite compromised. Say it’s a nice day and you want to cruise around with your arm resting on the door? Gonna be hard to do that since the windows don’t roll down completely. And you may want to reconsider if you plan on taking your i8 on a long trip. There’s hardly any storage to put your stuff including a tiny cargo area that gets quite warm, and the back seats are basically upholstered platforms to put a couple of overnight bags at best. Although these issues do tend to annoy, you honestly forget all about them when you’re driving the i8.

I only have the budget for one car. Could I use the i8 all year around?

First of all, at just over $150,000 the i8 is a bargain. That kind of scratch isn’t exactly a pittance, but you get your hands on what might be the most advanced sports car on sale today. With all the exotic materials like carbon fibre and composites that make up the i8 coupled to the way the propulsion systems cleanly interact with one another we wouldn’t be surprised if BMW loses money on each one they build. Plus, you get incredible fuel economy while you sail past the traffic in the HOV lanes. People asked if you could daily drive the i8 all year around, and the answer is most assuredly yes. With the impeccable balance and four-wheel drive, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if the i8 was just as impressive in the winter as it was while spent time with it in the summer. If you want to put one of these in your driveway, you’ll want to act fast- they are not making a ton of these things. Plus, the i8 is way cooler than the DeLorean, even if it doesn’t include a Flux Capacitor.

2015 BMW i8– Specifications

  • Price as tested: $152,500
  • Body Type: 2 door, 2+2 passenger coupe
  • Powertrain Layout: Front: Electric Motor/Rear: Gasoline Engine with All-Wheel Drive
  • Engine:  1.5-litre turbocharged inline-three, DOHC, 12 valves
  • Horsepower: 228 @ 5,800 rpm
  • Torque (lb-ft): 236 @ 3,700 rpm
  • Front electric motor output: 129 horsepower/184 lbs.-ft.@ 0 rpm
  • Total System Output: 357 horsepower/420 lbs.-ft. of torque
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Curb weight: 1,524 kg (3,360 lbs.)
  • Fuel consumption: 8.2L/100km (29 mpg)