My review of the BMW i8 happens after the first 2-week “break in period”. Then, I may be a little influenced for the “new-toy syndrome”. I will try to be as objective as I can, given the circumstances.
The i8 is actually surprisingly comfortable in its own amazing skin. It needs to be. It looks like a spaceship trimmed with extraterrestrial blue and black. Every person who catches a glimpse locks eyes on it, and you needn’t be clairvoyant to read pedestrians’ thoughts, and even other drivers or passengers’ minds around you in traffic lights which mostly boil down to, “What the . . . ?” while snapping a quick picture from the angle they can catch it.
Graceful entries and exits are not an option, you must suck it up to make that first or last act with car. However, once inside, those doubts on daily drivability fade to a great enjoyment of driving experience and a lot of attention of all eyes around you.
Aside from drawing all the stares (not a trivial thing) this car is very unique in more than one item. To begging with, the i8 is the first car in the U.S. equipped with laser beams – yes, laser headlamps giving an output of pure-white light generated by laser-excited phosphorous – totally safe for oncoming motorists (in case you were wondering). The package with this feature will add $6300 to an already eye-opening price, but oh well, for high-beams that are 1000 times more intense than LEDs you can stretch a little. These new lights are even more energy-efficient than LEDs and are only for use as a supplemental high-beam that activates above 43 mph; the regular low-beams and the high-beams below 43 mph are regular LEDs.
The i8 is a hybrid car. It uses a 3-cylinder turbo to power the rear wheels and an electric motor powers in synch the front wheels. Only when using the relatively small 7.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack alone, what the EPA calls “charge-depleting” mode, will the i8 approach its EPA electricity-plus-gasoline combined rating of 76 MPGe. But, I assure you this will be for a very short sweet electric drive. In reality, the i8 averages 38 MPGe assuming 200-mile ride at 75-mph highway trip for which the first 16 miles are completed using only electric drive.
Now, what everyone wants to know: how would the i8 makes the exit, leaving all hearts beating at higher rate? Well in simple words: FAST, very fast! This car accelerates like a solid-fuel rocket when eBoost mode is engaged by pressing the accelerator pedal through the kickdown switch. It delivers the kind of sustained acceleration that others have compared to the Porsche 911 Turbo. To be totally honest, that feeling is not the breaking point for me. I am more the sweet ride type of guy. With that in mind, I can tell you that driven without aggression, the i8 feels like a normal car for a routine cruising, capable of meandering through traffic like an ordinary family sedan, at least to the extent that those gaping at it allow.
There’s great visibility outward, considering how low the car is, so maneuvering around the gawkers is easy. The narrow Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires, 215/45R-20 in front and 245/40R-20 in back, don’t hum on the freeway the way the wide meats do on, say, a Chevy Corvette. The i8 generates 72 decibels of noise at 70 mph—not luxury-sedan quiet but 4 decibels do make a difference when sustaining a conversation in the cabin at 70 mph.
As a plug-in hybrid, the i8’s front electric motor is strong enough to propel the car all by its lonesome. In the Normal driving mode, most movement begins with only the front motor operating. Occasionally, the three-cylinder engine feels slow to kick in and deliver the intersection-clearing thrust all sport cars enthusiasts seek. Silently creeping into lanes of cross-traffic can raise concerns with unprepared passengers. Moving the shifter over to Sport mode keeps the engine fired and makes gap-shooting feel less eventful. But if you do drive in Sport mode, then be ready to add a few decibels of noise coming for the speakers in concierto with the acceleration and displacement.
There are four seats, but the rears are just laughable pads more suited to cushion a football-stadium bench than to transport guests in a $150,000 car, and the space is itself hospitable only for small children, and let me stress that word “SMALL”. The front seats, however, are extremely comfortable, firm, and supportive in all the right spots to allow long days in the saddle, although they lack the bolstering to complement the 0.95 g that the car can generate in corners. The buckets are mounted deep in a well, so there’s plenty of body structure to brace oneself against.
In hindsight, the BMW i8 is an awesome car for younger generations, worthy of its astronomical price (wrongly targeting the middle-age men with 6-number salary) wanting to feel the adrenaline rush of the speed, the sweet ride of an exotic piece and the stare of many everywhere it goes.