The BMW i8 strikes a remarkable balance of performance, style, and efficiency
Just what is a supercar? For years that describer has been applied to exotic sports cars with racecar performance. But is performance enough? Hardly. A low-slung exotic built with lightweight materials and great curb appeal is not an unimportant attribute. And rarity is quite often part of the formula along with high prices to match the handcrafted, low-production volume.
A Different Approach
BMW has all the resources available to compete in any product segment it chooses. But even the giants can struggle in some categories. In the luxury sports car niche, BMW has never posed a real threat to archrival Mercedes-Benz’s SL models, even though the Bavarian firm has launched a few interesting assaults. BMW’s total U.S. sales of its 8-Series sport touring coupes (840 and 850) and the stylish Z8 Alpina were about 20 percent of its SL rival.
This time, the automaker has taken a different path to create a “halo” sports car for its luxury brand. The new i8 manages to combine stunning style and sports car performance with remarkable fuel efficiency. And it does all this without the stratospheric price of current hybrid supercar rivals like the LaFerrari, Porsche918, and McLaren P1.
From a Concept to the Street
BMW began what was to become the i8 with its concept robustly labeled Vision Efficient Dynamics. Everyone loved the swoopy show car and it made a cameo appearance in Mission Impossible-Ghost Protocol zipping Tom Cruise and Paula Patton around Mumbai. When BMW announced that it would actually produce this dramatic car, most assumed it would lose much of its sex appeal in the transition to a street-legal car. But when I had the opportunity to preview the finished production prototype, squirreled away in a windowless tent in Pebble Beach a year and a half ago, I was smitten. The real thing looked even better than its award-winning concept predecessor. When does that ever happen?
21st Century Performance
Most red-blooded boys and girls love warp speed acceleration, but honestly, when you’re on public roads, the right foot is seldom planted in the carpet. So we want quickness when needed, like the i8’s 0-to-60 in 4.2 seconds, as well as a robustly adequate 155MPH top speed. Add a nice growl for a visceral stimulation, along with sharp handling dynamics, and I’m a happy camper. Then if you tell me that this thrill ride will also deliver a combined fuel economy of 76MPG, I’m ready to sign up. Scores of enthusiasts have done just that.
BMW created this unprecedented package by combining the lightweight (3,245 pounds) aluminum and carbon fiber construction with two power sources that can unite to produce 357HP and 420 lb-ft of instant torque when “Sport” mode is selected. When you wish to cruise in a more eco-responsible fashion, switch the i8 to “Comfort” and it’s a fashionable EV that can attain up to 75MPH on the highway with electricity. Charging takes just 1.5 hours with 220V and 3.5 hours from ordinary house outlets, and the task can be monitored or controlled from your smart phone. While the electric-only range is a modest 22 miles, the combined 305-mile range is worry-free since any gas station can fill up the petite 11-gallon tank.
While more than a few car enthusiasts worry about the government’s aggressive fuel economy target because of what it might do to the joy of driving, the i8 is proof that fuel sipping and fun are not mutually exclusive. BRIAN DOUGLAS
Photography courtesy of BMW