Back in 2011 when the original i8 concept debuted at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, there was really nothing else like it. Plug-in hybrid cars existed, sure, but most were years away from production. The Honda Accord didn’t hit roads until 2013, same with the Ford Fusion Energi. Toyota’s plug-in Prius hit Japanese roads in 2012, while the Mitsubishi Outlander didn’t get a battery that did anything beyond start the engine until 2013.
The closest thing to the i8 was the million-dollar McLaren P1 supercar that used a 131 kW motor connected to a 3.8-L twin-turbo V8 to achieve blistering power numbers.
But the P1 was two things that the i8 is not. First, it emphasized power and performance over fuel economy, whereas the i8 tries to find a happy medium between the two. And second, it cost over five times as much as the i8.
Oh, and the i8 also comes in a convertible.
Horsepower: 369 hpTop Speed: 155 mph0-60 mph: 4.2 secondsQuarter Mile: 12.5 sec @ 113 mphRange: estimated 423 miles (18 miles on battery)Braking 60-0 mph: 128 feet
So if you’re moderately well-off (read: rich) and you’d like to maybe feel like you’re doing your part to prevent the looming climate-change apocalypse, but you still want to enjoy the feel of a performance sports car, then BMW has the car for you.
The BMW i8 entered into production in 2013 and quickly became the world’s best selling electrified sports car—mostly because there really wasn’t any competition in the segment. Plug-in hybrids are usually focused on economy, and while the i8 certainly achieves decent mileage for a sports car it doesn’t exactly have the environmentalist image of, say, a Prius.
Although it really should. Under the hood is an absolutely minuscule 1.5-L turbocharged 3-pot producing 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. That tiny gasoline engine is then mated to a 141 hp electric motor that also produces an additional 184 lb-ft of torque, along with an 11.6 kWh high-voltage lithium-ion battery pack.
The electric and gasoline-powered motors combined make for a substantial 369 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. Zero to sixty is done in 4.2 seconds on its way to a limited top speed of 155 mph.
But the i8 is both a performance and economy car, so how about those fuel numbers? The 2019 version has a full three extra miles of battery-only range than the previous year’s model, bringing it up to 18 miles of electric-only driving. That’s enough for some people to get to work and back, but not quite most.
Total range with fuel and battery combined hasn’t been released yet, but the 2017 model i8 could go 420 miles on a topped-off tank and full charge. BMW says that the 2019 version will get a combined city and highway mileage of 69 mpge, which is pretty darned good for a sports car.
It’s nothing compared to the 133 mpge that the Prius Prime gets, but it’s a world better than, say, a Corvette ZR1.
With a big battery pack weighing the car down, BMW was forced to save weight wherever it could. The chassis is made of a carbon fiber monocoque construction (same as most supercars) and makes extensive use of aluminum in the body, doors, and hood. Inside there’s more carbon fiber, although BMW stopped short of giving it a Lamborghini-style all-carbon interior.
On the dash are two 8.8” screens—one for the instrument cluster and one for the infotainment/navigation. Apple CarPlay comes as standard (but not Android Auto, sorry Google) as do 20 GB of storage. Dual-zone climate control and 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio are likewise standard offerings.
As a driver’s car, the i8 doesn’t come with the full suite of BMW driver assist technologies that it could, but it has enough. Automatic rain-sensing window wipers come with automatic LED headlights (which you can turn into laser headlights as an optional extra) and BMW’s Active Driving Assistant which includes front collision warning as well as collision mitigation/automatic braking.
There is quite a lot of efficient German engineering to enjoy in the i8, but is it worth the $170,000 price tag? That depends. If you want a plug-in electric sports car, there aren’t really many options.
Chinese-owned California supercar maker Karma Automotive has one car, the Remero, but it doesn’t seem to stack up with the i8. Despite having 403 hp from a 2.0-L turbo four and twin electric motors, it still gets to 60 mph in a stately 5.4 seconds. Range is even worse, with a total combined battery and fuel range of 220 miles. It can manage 30 of them on electricity alone thanks to a bigger battery and solar panels on the roof, but the lack of performance in comparison to the i8 is noticeable and unfortunate.
But if you’re a true gearhead, $170,000 can buy you a lot of car. That’s the same price range as the aforementioned Corvette ZR1, or the Porsche 911 GT3, or for a little more you can even get a McLaren 570S. All of these cars have way more power and performance than the i8 at the cost of a little extra gas and a slightly sooner global climate apocalypse.
And there’s the looming specter of the Tesla Roadster, which will provide even better performance on no gas at all, albeit with another 100 grand tapped on to the price.
In the end, the i8 fulfills a niche market that seems to exist almost entirely of wealthy driving enthusiasts that believe climate change is real and that their actions have consequences. It’s a niche that will soon be filled by purely electric roadsters, or by billions of gallons of water from rising sea levels. Whichever comes first.