By Bennett Oghifo
Four seats, carbon fiber construction, a mid-mounted three-cylinder engine, two transmissions and a pair of electric motors.
The BMW i8 truly is an unusual car. Built as part of the company’s concept for sustainable mobility, the i8 is one of two models in BMW’s i sub-brand. Unlike the electric i3 city car, the i8 is a hybrid performance vehicle that’s out to prove a supercar can be fast and efficient at the same time.
Using carbon fiber construction, the car features seating for four people in front of the mid-mounted engine. These extra accommodations makes the i8 almost a foot longer than the Audi R8, albeit with a similar profile.
The roof at its highest point is four inches lower than that of a similarly sized Mercedes E-Class Coupe, though, making the i8 look like a true supercar.
But the i8 doesn’t look like anything else on the road. Falling somewhere between a concept car that accidentally slipped into production and a product sent back in time from a futuristic society, the i8 is full of creases, curves and contours all shaped by the wind.
The futuristic theme continues with the stylish interior, which is more elegant than the outright mid-mounted engine is a six-speed automatic, while the front motor has a two-speed auto of its own. This all adds up to a zero to 60 mph acceleration run in four seconds or less, with top speed limited to 155 mph.
in the front is always operated by the car. Despite being a conventional six-speed automatic, it responds quickly to inputs and downshifts without delay.
My only real complaint with the drivetrain has to do with the engine’s sound. Although it is moderately loud on the outside and not all that bad sounding for a three-cylinder, inside audio is pumped through the speakers to create a more pleasing tone. It sounds like a six-cylinder and there are even hints of Porsche 911 flat-six in there.
Not Your Everyday Supercar…
But the i8 is more than just a fast car. It’s a true plug-in hybrid. When fully charged, the i8 can drive up to 15 miles on electric only power by — get this — using only the front wheels. Yup, this wedge-shaped supercar can transform into a front-wheel drive commuter.
To keep the car in all electric-mode, simply press the eDrive button. Once engaged, the car has more than enough power to move around town – there’s enough torque to break the front tires loose when turning.
When the battery runs out, a level-two charger can recharge the battery in just 1.5 hours, or you can just let the engine do it. With a full charge, the i8 is rated at 76 MPGe, but even in full gasoline mode, it still achieves a combined average of 28 mpg – not bad for a car with this kind of performance. Best of all, the transition between electric and gasoline propulsion is completely seamless at all times.
Not a Numb EV…
The i8 is more than a straight-line rocket, unlike some other electric cars. It’s designed to handle corners just as well. Using extensive amounts of carbon fiber, the car tips the scales at 3,455 pounds and features a slightly rear-bias weight distribution.
To balance efficiency and cornering grip, the i8 wears skinny offset tires.
Despite this, it grips very well in the corners – a testament to how well-designed the chassis is. It doesn’t require big meaty tires to compensate when making a turns, yet remains very stable at freeway speeds.
The steering is just like a sports car of this caliber should be. It’s direct, quick and responsive.
The car as a whole behaves and responds a fraction off of say an Audi R8 V8 or Porsche 911, but it comes with the added benefit of being a plug-in hybrid car as well.