Review: 2015 BMW i8

bmw i8 toronto skyline

Written by: Calvin Chan

Photography by: Don Cheng

 



The future is here.


Man built the pyramids, man stepped on the moon, man developed vaccines, and now man constructed the i8. A hundred years from now, man will look back at this moment and define it as the turning point of automobiles.


Enter the 2015 BMW i8, one of the most conceptual and innovative vehicles in today’s electric market filled with Teslas, Leafs, and Volts. The i8 is a plug-in hybrid sports car made of carbon fibre and utilizes both an electric motor and a gasoline engine to power all four wheels, and BMW sees it as the way of the future.


“Wait, did you just say, plug-in sports car?” That’s like turning Sunday Mass into a sweaty exercise routine or putting Boxing Day and Zen together in the same sentence. Who would have ever thought such an idea would come into fruition?

 


When you look at a plug-in Prius, you don’t think of excitement. You think of a dull driving experience and all the dollar bills you’re saving at the gas pump. But when you peek at the i8, you notice distinctive scissor doors and supercar-like appeal that has hardly deviated from BMW’s original sketches on the drawing board.


Where the i8 largely differs from other boring plug-ins is with its very unique powertrain. There’s a turbocharged three-cylinder engine from a MINI Cooper powering the rear wheels with 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, and there’s also an electric motor powering the front wheels with 129 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, making the i8 technically all-wheel drive.


The combined output? A shy 357 hp and 420 lb-ft – not bad, but certainly not supercar numbers. A high-powered 7.1 kW lithium ion battery also sits between the seats to assist in the powertrain’s transitions, but how BMW managed to squeeze out all that power from a dinky little three cylinder and an electric motor still boggles my mind. Must be a Pikachu rolling around in a hamster wheel somewhere in there.

 


While the output isn’t oh-my-god-hellcat worthy, there is one number that car enthusiasts should appreciate: the i8’s curb weight. This wide-bodied machine from the future weighs only 1,485 kg thanks to an extensive use of carbon fibre and aluminum. That’s about the same weight as a run-of-the-mill Volkswagen Jetta.


Carbon fibre is light, rigid, and flexible, making it the ideal material for eco-friendly hybrids like the i8. Not only is this material incredibly expensive to mass-produce, but in the sub-$150k market, it’s rarely used for anything other than “sporty” dashboard panels. I guess the i8’s $150,000 price tag is starting to appear reasonable.


The result is a 0-100 km/h time of 4.4 seconds, and it’s even faster when you use launch control. Okay, it’s not as quick as a BMW M5 or even an M4, but it was never meant to be. The beauty of the i8 is that it carries split personalities. Almost like having two cars in one, you have to appreciate the duality to fully understand it.

 


When you fire up the electric motor, the i8 is docile, quiet, and passive. Listen hard and you can even hear the whizzing of electrons. Better yet, you can travel 37 km without using a drip of gasoline up to a maximum speed of 120 km/h. Yes, many will complain that the i8’s limited electric range doesn’t stand up next to a Tesla’s, and that the number will shrink even further if you have a lead foot, but the magic with the i8 is with its regenerative features.


Every time you coast or brake, the i8 will harness the otherwise wasted energy to recharge the battery. A good 30 km stretch of highway in sport mode will net you around 10 km back in electric charge that you can use separately. So despite the hampered range, the i8 has the ability to cycle back and forth between gas and electric without ever needing to be plugged into a socket.


The dark side of the i8 emerges when you flick the gear selector into Sport. It’s like shifting a B-2 Stealth Bomber into full kamikaze mode. The three-cylinder mounted behind you fires up with the authoritative roar of a super-sized six-cylinder and the entire vehicle stiffens up for a more dynamic experience.


The rear-mounted engine and front-mounted electric motor work together in marriage to provide an incredible amount of low-range torque and mid-range pull. There’s no denying the absence of turbo lag either, and the immediacy of power delivery is instantaneous and dizzying. Just ask the multiple passengers that have sat next to me during launch control…

 


Mated to a six-speed transmission out back and a two-speed up front, the i8 blips, screams, and burbles like someone who forgot to take their daily dose of lithium. Downshifting from third to second gear also sounds incredible. Unfortunately, a great deal of exhaust noise is fabricated and piped through the speakers, as is the norm in this day and age. If you can live with it, then hat’s off to you. But there’s going to be a handful of people loathing BMW’s aural trickery.


Regardless of the driving mode, the i8 rides like a GT cruiser with a not-too-rigid suspension and good on-road manners. The bucket seats are comfortable, visibility is great, and the interior is well insulated and silent as a church. But I’ll admit, driving the i8 isn’t as rewarding as looking at it.


Note: if you’re thinking of buying one of these, don’t expect to stay under the radar.


If the BMW i8 were a human being, it would be Kate Upton in her birthday suit strutting down Main Street. I’m not exaggerating when I say we were gawked at everywhere we went. The grocery store, the drive-thru, parked at grandma’s house, people look at you like you’re some sort of alien that has just time-warped from the future of hovering automobiles and freaky AI robot slaves.

 


And those dihedral scissor doors mounted on the A-pillars don’t help with subtlety either. Park the i8, swing those doors open, and you’ll hop out like a newborn celebrity on a red carpet. In other news, the i8 has got to be the cheapest car in Canada that comes standard with these butterfly wings. Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Lamborghini Murcielago, and the LaFerrari all have them but cost nearly five to ten times more than this little Bimmer.


However, what the i8 gains in flashiness, it loses in accessibility and ergonomics. Countless passengers have bumped their poor heads and sprained their backs trying to duck under the doors and “hop in”. Climbing in and out is more of a strict choreography than a let’s-just-wing-it approach.


We found that the easiest way of ingress was to take a seat on the overly large door sill and then gyrate your upper body like a BB-8 and sort of, fall in gracefully. Oh, and you can actually drive with the scissor doors open - if you’ve ever seen those VICE documentaries where the Yakuza ride around doors-open in their Lambos, you’d know what I mean.

 


If you’ve ever driven any modern BMW, you’ll feel right at home inside the i8. The steering wheel is meaty and plastered with familiar buttons, knobs and paddle shifters from the oh-so-colloquial 3-series. The gear shifter isn’t some time-warping device that only a rocket scientist could modulate, nope, it’s the same one as the 3-series. So is the touchscreen, and so are the HVAC controls.


In fact, the interior is such a stark contrast to the overly flamboyant exterior that you could even call it minimalistic. There aren’t many buttons lying around and no convoluted center console. Inside is an OCD man’s playground with light ivory leather and optional blue seatbelts.


For such a low-slung car with flowing lines and scissor doors, visibility is pretty good from all sides. Ground clearance is also rather exceptional – there were no speed bumps or hills that I struggled to get over. Much to my dismay however, there is no blind spot monitoring system available on the i8, only forward collision braking systems.


Another minor gripe was that the windows didn’t fully open, so you can’t rest your arm out of the door and cruise like a typical BMW driver. The trunk was also pea-sized due to the combustion engine taking up most of the real estate. You can fit some bags and even some camera gear, but don’t expect to haul anything bigger.

 


The i8 is technically a 2+2 seater but unless you have children that missed out on growth hormones, the rear seats are meant for storing inanimate objects rather than living humans or pets, unless you bathe in cruelty.


Oh, and the keyfob is the exact same one found in the $50,000 BMW i3. Yup, for nearly triple the price, you thought they’d change up the key. Optimistically, the key casing is made of a biopolymer based on the oil distilled from castor beans and mixed with 30% glass fibre. It saves trees but for $150,000, I want a key that can be used as a paperweight.


Call us shallow, but I’d say our love for the i8 outweighs our nitpicking. This forward-thinking BMW has surprisingly good visibility, the engine sounds mean and throaty despite being fake, it’s one-tenth the price of similar hybrid sports cars like the Porsche 918 and McLaren P1, those scissor doors ooze the rich-factor, and it’s got a familiar BMW interior that makes us feel right at home.

 


If this i8 appeared on the roads a decade ago, it would be hailed as a unicorn. In fact, when the i8 concept was first unveiled in 2009, it caused a hailstorm of automotive commotion. Optimists would be disappointed that we still need roads today, but we’re getting mighty close to not needing gasoline. And while most of us are worried that tight fuel restrictions and downsizing engines would harm the future of sporty automobiles, the i8 stands its ground and shows us that you don’t need a V12 to deliver driving pleasure, just three cylinders and a Pikachu.


The i8 might not be the fastest, the most focused, or even the most practical electric vehicle in the herd, but it’s a significant step forward in technology. BMW has developed a car that shows us that it is possible to combine the excitement of a sports car with the emissions of a hybrid.


Welcome to the future. It’s the dawn of a new generation of automobiles.

 


Photo Gallery:

 

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Specifications:

型号 Model: 2015 BMW i8

顏色 Paint Type: Protonic Blue Metallic
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $150,000

試車售價 Price as Tested: $152,500
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,800
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,689 / 1,942 / 1,297

車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,485
引擎 Engine: 1.5L TwinPower Turbo 3-cylinder engine (rear) + Electric Engine (front)
最大馬力 Horsepower: 228 hp (gas) + 129 hp (electric) = 357 hp combined
最高扭力 Torque: 236 lb-ft (gas) + 184 lb-ft (electric) = 420 lb-ft combined
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed automatic (rear) + 2-speed automatic (front)
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Mid engine, Front and AWD

油耗 Fuel Consumption ( Combined ) L/100km: 2.1 (conservative driving)
油耗 Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 6.2 (average driving)

輪胎尺碼 Tires: Bridgestone Blizzak 20-inch

 



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