While the ability to run emissions-free is extremely attractive, it's more useful to European cities that limit vehicle use. It will, of course, save you significant money at the pumps and BMW is developing several plug-in charging solutions for customers, including its own solar-powered carport.
The batteries can also be charged on the engine's overrun or with regenerative braking. The latter creates an unusual pedal feel, where the first portion of the brake pedal travel is sharp and communicative. But the harder and longer you push, the more wooden they feel. It's not that the four-piston front brakes won't stop you; they're very effective. However, you'll need to get accustomed to the pedal feel.
Similarly, the steering is excellently weighted but utterly numb. It does exactly as you command, but you'd have little idea if the tires were in trouble. And despite wider 215/45 front and 245/40 rear Bridgestone S001 tires on all US cars, the i8 looks and feels rather under-tired.
This might be psychological since BMW endowed the i8 with an extraordinarily competent chassis. The handling was superb, with a natural lean towards slight understeer. However, it was generally very neutral, with small amounts of oversteer possible after severe provocation. What's more, the car cornered incredibly flat, body roll seemingly alien to its DNA.
Surprisingly, BMW hasn't provided the driver with a Dynamic Damper Control button. Yet the i8 is equipped with DDC as standard - it simply adjusts automatically to the driving mode, road surface and your inputs. That said, it was rather stiff on surface streets, but seemed to be more forgiving as speed increased. Some of Mailbu's roughest canyon roads upset the car's composure slightly because the suspension seems to have a short travel, but it was generally an exemplary and entertaining drive. While not a track car, the i8 will be an enjoyable companion for anybody with a regular commute that involves challenging roads.
As usual, BMW went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the car was perfectly balanced. Placing the batteries down the spine of the vehicle and surrounding them in refrigerant to avoid the danger of fire from overheating.
With the engine at the rear, the weight distribution is a commendable 47/53%, making it almost ideal. And with much of its weight concentrated below the floor, the i8 has the lowest center of gravity of any BMW built to date.
The only meaningful downside we could discover was the wide sills that make egress slightly awkward. The side windows don't lower fully, leaving an inch of glass to knock your elbow on. And there's a distinct lack of storage space. The rear luggage compartment might take an overnight bag but there are no door pockets, with only a couple of stowage areas in the console and a small glovebox. However, BMW has come to your aid with a line of tailor-made Louis Vuitton luggage designed to slot into all the available space, including the rear seats that even young children might find constricting. A rear luggage area might have been more useful, but BMW has tried to make the i8 as flexible as possible by offering four seats. So we look forward to seeing the first Thule roof box mounted to this sportscar.
Not only is the car good looking, fun to drive and remarkably efficient, it also benefits from a raft of support services called 360? Electric. This will include a BMW i Wallbox for home charging (with the solar-powered carport also announced) and a ChargeNow card for a cash-free payment option at public charging stations. There are also a number of efficiency systems to reduce the amount of time you waste looking for parking spaces. Furthermore, BMW is offering easier maintenance, repair and breakdown services.
And there's an app for that. Your phone can monitor the battery's charge, telling you how long it needs to be plugged in, when it's ready and how far you can travel.
The technology even extends to laser headlights, which sadly won't be available in the US because the ancient laws hadn't predicted it might be an option one day. However, the Europeans will enjoy the range and clarity of the beam.
With a base price of $137500, you have to ask what the i8 is competing against. You have to assume it will attract Tesla drivers who want more visual drama and driving excitement. It should also attract Porsche 911 Carrera owners, who won't get the same visceral sportscar feel, but will enjoy its technology and their contribution to the reduction of global warming.
As a city car, the i8 has few peers. It can slip silently and emissions-free through any metropolis, casting a stylish shadow. Yet it's also able to pick up and go at the press of a button or moving the shift lever.
This might be the moment we discovered the future of performance driving, and it's alright by us!
2015 BMW i8
Rear gasoline engine, RWD; front electric motor, FWD
1499cc inline B38 three-cylinder 12v gasoline engine with turbocharger, Vanos, Valvetronic, direct injection. BMW eDrive electric motor for EV and hybrid drive
six-speed automatic transmission rear, two-speed automatic front
four-piston calipers, 13.4" rotors f, single-piston, 13.4" r
aluminum double-wishbones f, five-link axle r
Wheels & Tires
20x7.5" f, 20x8" r wheels, 215/45 R20 f, 245/40 R20 r tires
Max power (gasoline)
228hp at 5800rpm
Max torque (gasoline)
236 lb-ft at 3700rpm
Max power (electric)
129hp at 4800rpm
Max torque (electric)
Max power (combined)
Max torque (combined)
75mph (in EV mode)
approx 94mpg combined (TBC)