by Jay Traugott
The i8 is a futuristic coupe from BMW that was one of the first performance hybrids to hit the market back in 2015. Its unique looks distinguish it from all other cars out there thanks to its carbon fiber chassis, butterfly doors, and aerodynamic swoops and buttresses. It's a plug-in hybrid, utilizing a turbocharged 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine which makes 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque and drives the rear wheels. It also has an electric motor which makes 141 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque that drives the front wheels, with a combined output claimed at 369 horsepower. The main competitors to the i8 are the Porsche 911, Audi R8, and the Jaguar F-type, which leaves one question on everybody's lips - can a hybrid really live up to the glorious sports cars of yesteryear?
One of the main updates to the i8 is the increase of the battery capacity to 11.6 kWh, which increases the electric range by four miles and increases the peak power by 12 horsepower. Exterior changes are minimal, with two new colors E-Copper and Donnington Grey to choose from and the option of 20-inch Jet Black alloy wheels with radial spokes. BMW has also introduced Tera World Copper as new interior trim, as well as ceramic controls. Infotainment is upgraded with BMW's iDrive 6.0 software.
The i8 is a truly unique looking car with a very low hood thanks to the electric motor and mid-mounted combustion engine. It has the usual BMW kidney grille design but on this car, the two panels are closed off for aerodynamic purposes. The side profile has swooping lines that join up at the rear of the car where "U" shaped LED lights differ to most BMW models. The flying buttresses and various scoops look incredible, while 20-inch alloy wheels fill the arches in staggered widths.
The i8 has a length of 184.9 inches on a 110.2-inch wheelbase. The height is 50.8 inches for the coupe, while the width of 76.5 inches gives it a low, squat stance. Ground clearance is a mere 4.5 inches, appropriate for a sports car but prone to scraping on large bumps or steep driveways. Thanks to a carbon fiber chassis, the weight has been kept down despite the fitment of batteries and a combustion engine, with the i8's curb weight of 3,501 pounds being marginally heavier than a comparable AWD Porsche 911 Carrera, but lighter than a Jaguar F-Type.
The i8 Coupe is available in an array of six eye-catching color combinations, some of which are exclusive to the i8. The colors available are Crystal White Pearl Metallic with either Frozen Grey accent or BMW i Frozen Blue accent, both of which cost an extra $1,800. Other colors in the range include Sophisto Grey Metallic with either Frozen Grey, or BMW i Frozen Blue accents, or new for 2019, E-Copper with Frozen Grey Accent, and Donnington Grey.
The blue accents really suit the i8, but It's a pity that there aren't any brighter colors available because they would look stunning on a car like this.
There's only a single model in the i8 Coupe range, a plug-in hybrid with newly bolstered outputs for 2019. Upfront, an electric motor making 141 hp and 184 lb-ft is linked to an 11.6 kWh battery, while midship, a turbocharged inline three-cylinder engine makes 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, sending it all to the rear wheels for a combined hybrid AWD system that can switch between front and rear-wheel-drive depending on drive mode and state of charge. The 0 to 60 mph times vary depending on the drive mode used, but in all-out attack mode, the i8 will meet the mark in just 4.2 seconds. In EV mode it takes around nine seconds. Top speed is limited to just 155 mph in hybrid mode, with the limitation of the electric-only mode set at 75 mph.
When the i8 first debuted, it posed the theory of an affordable plug-in hybrid setup in a sports car, which at the time was radical. Now, power outputs have been bolstered, electric range solidified, and more cohesion brought to the system, with a 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine sitting behind the driver, linking up with electric motors up front and a floor-mounted battery pack to generate combined outputs of 369 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. It pairs the electric motor with a two-speed automatic transmission while the combustion engine is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.
The result is smooth acceleration capable of running with credible sports cars bearing a 9-1-1 designation - at least until battery power runs low, in which case the futuristic look of the i8 is left to be observed at a pedestrian pace. On the go, however, the technology integrates seamlessly and the pace is rapid, with an electric surge almost always present to shoot you through a gap or to overtake at highway speeds. The electronic trickery manages the dual-transmissions smoothly too, so smoothly you'd almost never realize this was a fully digital experience; almost. The augmentation of noise within the cabin is what betrays the setup, with flat-six engine noises pumped through the speakers that don't correlate with the increase in speed or with relevant throttle inputs. You can't drive by sound or by feel - which is odd for purists, as real-world driving is more than just a simulation to be processed by the eyes, but one that requires inputs from all the senses.
Getting into the i8 feels like stepping into the future, and from the moment the car starts it feels different to everything else out there. In electric mode, the performance is nothing to write home about and isn't close to some of the newer electric cars out there. The range of 18 miles is also dismal compared to newer cars that can do hundreds of miles on a charge. At the time that the i8 was released, it was groundbreaking, but even then it was more of a novelty car for BMW to test future technologies.
When pushing on with a combination of combustion and electric power giving the i8 all-wheel-drive capabilities, things begin to feel as they should in a sports car. Low to the ground and with compact dimensions, the i8 seems nimble, and there's a sense of point-and-shoot precision around every corner. Speed comes easily, and the abundance of grip just means you can go quicker.
But it's difficult to feel the limits of the i8, not just because you're thrown out of kilter by the incorrect audio inputs, but because there really isn't much communication coming from beneath you. You point the steering wheel and the i8 goes. There's resistance for the sake of resistance, but there's no feeling as to how much load the front tires are carrying, or where the limits of adhesion are.
The brakes are similarly effective, but also uncommunicative, stopping time and time again, and blending electric regen with friction braking impressively well, but at the cost of communication.
The only place the i8 feels genuinely brilliant is in the way it rides, striking a balance between outright capability - sitting on the road with immense stability - and general ride comfort. Eyes closed (not in the driver's seat, please), you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference in ride quality between the i8 and a BMW Z4 or even a 2 Series.
The main reason to get a hybrid is for the fantastic gas mileage that it gives. When traveling short distances, the i8 can theoretically be used in electric-only mode and eliminate the cost of fuel completely. However, with a short electric range of only 18 miles, most drivers will be making use of the engine.
The i8 has a combined MPGe of 69 when using both the electric motor and the engine and a combined MPG of 27 when using the engine only. The size of the fuel tank is 11.1 gallons, giving the i8 a theoretical range of more than 700 miles. The mileage estimates may be dismal amongst plug-in hybrid commuters, but let's not forget, this is a sports car.
Charge times aren't bad, but the battery pack is small, taking just three hours to charge fully on a level two charging system, while a 50 kW DC charge system will replenish 80% charge in just less than two and a half hours.
There's a certain wow factor that the i8 brings thanks to its unique and futuristic interior. The driver's seat feels like a jet's cockpit thanks to the way the dash and center console surround the driver. The dash has a combination of hard and soft-touch plastics, as well as some handsome carbon fiber complemented by the usual faux aluminum trim, which is thankfully used sparingly. Unique to the i8 are the discrete blue accents, as well as the blue lighting which enhances the cars modern feel. The buttons are well laid out and practical, but some of them have a cheap, plasticky feel. The seats are available in either cloth, leather, or perforated leather and can comfortably seat the front two passengers with the two in the back having a tight squeeze.
On paper, the i8 is a four-seater, although classified as a 2+2 configuration. In the real world, it can seat the front two passengers comfortably with only small children being able to realistically fit into the back seats. The front passengers get 38.7 inches of headroom and 43.1 inches of legroom, which is reasonable for a car of this size, enabling six-foot occupants to be seated comfortably. A range of adjustments means taller drivers can find an ideal position behind the wheel, while the low-slung seats are ideal for a sports car and are remarkably comfortable for one, too. Rear passengers get only 32.4 inches of headroom and a measly 28.2 inches of legroom - enough for short trips, but it's better to use the rear seats as additional storage space.
As with all BMW's the i8 has a range of high-quality materials to choose from to give it a unique touch. Cloth upholstery is available in Tera Exclusive Dalbergia Brown for $3,700. E-Copper Leather Exclusive with cloth accentuator also costs $3,700. Giga Ivory White Full and Giga Amido Full are perforated leather options that come at no extra cost. The only trim design available is exposed carbon-fiber weave, a nod to the carbon-fiber framework that forms the chassis of the i8 and gives it a suitably sporty appearance. A few brushed aluminum highlights can be found throughout, as can blue hints, a hallmark of BMW i cars.
Trunk and cargo space aren't really strong points of sports cars and the i8 highlights this fact with it's minuscule 4.7 cubic feet of trunk space behind the mid-mounted engine. Unlike many mid- or rear-engined sports cars, there is no 'frunk', as this space houses the electric running gear. As such, the trunk is tucked into the rear of the car behind the engine compartment, and can sometimes get hot due to the heat of the engine seeping in. While it may be possible to fit grocery bags into the truck, due to the perishables going off from the heat it's more practical to use the rear seats as cargo space. Fortunately, the rear seats can be used as additional storage space.
In addition to the tiny trunk, the i8 also has a small glove box, one small and one large storage compartment on the center console, as well as a front cupholder, two rear cupholders, front seatback storage, and a rear storage tray.
While the i8 certainly hasn't got the most features in the BMW range it still offers a wide enough range to keep most people happy, with LED headlights, a multifunction steering wheel, heated front seats, surround-view camera, keyless ignition, cruise control, head-up display, a rearview camera, and BMW's Driving Assistant Package. It also has a fully digital instrument cluster which displays battery usage, performance figures, and all the usual readings. Front and rear park sensors are present, as is dual-zone climate control, push-button start, and the smart key, which displays vehicle charge, climate, and lock/unlock status.
For a sports car, the infotainment system still packs a punch. There's a Harman Kardon premium audio system with 11 speakers including one subwoofer. The i8 also has an 8.8-inch touchscreen with BMW's iDrive 6.0 system, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera, AM/FM radio, onboard navigation, a USB input port, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio with one year's paid subscription. Apple CarPlay is also standard for smartphone integration but unfortunately Android Auto isn't available.
So far there has been one recall for the 2019 BMW i8 because of a fault with the capacitors in the TurboCord Portable Chargers, which may lead to a shock hazard or fire. The 2017 model also had a recall for faulty seat-mounted airbags that don't deploy.
The i8 has the usual BMW four years/50,000 mile warranty which includes the powertrain and basic warranty. It also has an eight-year/100,000 mile warranty on the high-voltage battery and four-years/unlimited mileage roadside assistance. Warranty coverage can be extended at an extra cost, with several options up to an extra four years or 89,000 miles worth of coverage available.
There is currently no data available from either the NHTSA or the IIHS regarding the BMW i8's crash safety performance. However, BMW has a stellar reputation for safety and the i8's carbon-fiber chassis bodes well for stiffness, while many standard safety features should see occupants escape most situations unscathed.
While the i8 lacks some modern driver aids like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, it still has enough for most drivers. Some of the standard safety features include eight airbags with dual front knee airbags and side curtain airbags, ABS brakes with brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, stability and traction control, emergency braking assist, pre-collision safety system, and a tire-pressure monitor. The Active Driving Assistant includes a surround-view monitor, as well as pedestrian protection and city collision mitigation.
The i8 is an innovative car that showcases new technology in an eye-catching design. Compared to most of the cars in its class, the design is unique and is sure to turn heads everywhere. Even among more expensive and better-performing cars, the i8 still stands out. It also has a brilliant interior that befits the wild exterior and gives it even more appeal. As a plug-in hybrid, it poses greater levels of daily usability with reduced running costs, and with two semi-usable rear seats there's an extra element of practicality, too.
But how does it fare as a sports car? I'm afraid not so well. While it may be quick, competent, and look good, it lacks key sports car traits that are integral to the experience. The lack of feel throughout is amplified by the simulated sounds that don't correlate with the actual driving experience, while performance hinging on how much charge you have in the battery is a recipe for a let-down when you need performance most.
As a technological exercise, the BMW i8 is tremendous, but as a sports car, it's just not. The futuristic looks hype it up to standards it can't achieve, and at the end of the experience, you're left with something beautiful that ultimately leaves you feeling cold, and a sports car should never feel cold.
There is only one model in the i8 coupe range and it has an MRSP of $147,500, which excludes any registration, taxes, and licensing, as well as destination fees. That's expensive and places the i8 in some lofty company alongside the likes of Porsche's 911 GT3 at $143,600, the Jaguar F-Type SVR at $122,750, and the Audi R8 (V10) at $164,000.
The i8 Coupe is a single-model plug-in hybrid sports car with a hybrid all-wheel-drive system and combined outputs of 369 hp. The standalone trim features staggered width 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, an 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Harman Kardon premium audio system with 11 speakers, a rearview camera, onboard navigation, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio with one year's paid subscription. Apple CarPlay also comes as standard but unfortunately Android Auto isn't available. Other features include a multifunction steering wheel, keyless ignition, cruise control, BMW's Driving Assistant Package, a head-up display, surround-view camera, and a fully digital instrument cluster.
1.5-liter Turbo Inline-3 Plug-in Hybrid
With a hefty asking price of nearly $150k, the i8 boasts all the features you'd expect as standard. As such, options are limited, with just a single piece of equipment available at an extra fee. For $6,300, the Icon adaptive LED headlights with Laserlight is an expensive and ultimately unnecessary option, but if you're going to have a futuristic sports car, it may as well include laser headlights, right?
With only one BMW i8 Coupe available, it comes down to personal taste as to how you customize the offering. In light of there being no vivid colors available, we'd recommend Crystal White Pearl with Frozen Gray accents ($1,800) outside with the no-cost option of 20-inch W-Spoke wheels, while inside we suggest opting for the Tera World Copper scheme - a $3,700 option that equips copper leather with cloth accentuation. Don't bother with the laser headlights. All-in, the aforementioned options get you an i8 at $153,000. Or you could spend similar money on an Audi R8 and get that sweet V10 singing in your ears...
The 911 has a legendary reputation spanning decades and is synonymous with great all-round performance in a reliable package that can be used daily. The i8 is a young upstart looking to make a name for itself and prove itself worthy, but it fails to do so with cold driving dynamics, performance hinged on how much juice is in the battery, and limited levels of practicality compared to the 911. With only one model of i8 Coupe to choose from there's no choice when it comes to engine selection, but the Porsche has a number of offerings that are cheaper in price than the i8. In fact, the i8 goes for $147,000 and makes a total of 369 hp. In the same price range, it's possible to get a GT3 for $143,600 which makes 500 hp. There's no doubt about it, the 911 is the better car, even if the gas mileage is a fair bit higher, but that's the price you pay for the most comprehensive sports car on sale today.
The M4 is the i8's stablemate, but that's where the comparisons end. The M4 has a well-earned reputation for offering brilliant performance and driving dynamics. It may not have the same extreme styling of the i8 but looks great in its own right. The M4 is powered by a turbocharged 3.0 liter, six-cylinder engine connected to a six-speed manual transmission, and makes 425 hp compared to the i8's 369-hp three-cylinder engine and electric motor combo. While the i8 has great takeoff and the advantage of all-wheel-drive, the M4 is more of a driver's car, communicating better and feeling more involving - all while offering a full-size trunk and rear seats. Out of the two, there's no doubt that the i8 has more 'wow' factor with its outrageous styling and butterfly doors, but in terms of functionality and practicality, it's hard to beat the M4, especially when at $77,650 it's half the price.