There are sports cars. There are hybrids. There are even hybrid sports cars now. But the 2014 BMW i8 is a hybrid sports car like no other. This second offering from the manufacturer's eco-friendly sub-brand (following the recently introduced i3 city car) is loaded to the teeth with technology, performance, and sheer, unbridled cachet.
While these qualities are not unusual in the nascent hybrid sports car segment—Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche all have brand-new models that meet the same criteria—the BMW i8 costs about $700,000 less than the next expensive entry. It's going to seem beyond ridiculous to describe a $145,000 sports car as being a great value—until you consider all the advances working their magic under the shapely skin of this particular sports car.
The hybrid powertrain of the i8 is an engineered marvel because it gives the car unrivaled duality. It has the capacity to transform from a mild-mannered electric vehicle into a full-bore sports car merely by shuttling the gear lever into sport mode.
The car's hybrid powertrain consists of a 96-kW electric motor that sends power to the front wheels and a turbocharged 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder gas engine that delivers power to the rear wheels. This gives the i8 true all-wheel drive and that, too, can be beneficial to sports cars. In sport mode, both energy sources are operating at maximum capacity and, together, they produce 362 horsepower.
If this figure doesn't seem impressive for a sports car in this day and age… well, frankly, it isn't. But when you take into account the lightweight construction of the i8—arguably, the most impressive aspect of this impressive car—you soon learn that 362 horsepower is just about right.
When the i8 is in all-electric mode, it's not a quick car, let alone a sports car. As with all EVs, it has good acceleration from the word go, but it tapers off rapidly. This mode delivers a top speed of 120 km/h and a range of 37 km before the gas engine kicks in. With the even-more-frugal eco pro setting engaged, you can apply maximum force to the gas pedal and not much will happen. But this is also why the BMW is well-suited for stop-and-go traffic in a congested city.
In Beverly Hills, where outrageous, expensive and rare cars can be found on every block, the whisper-quiet BMW i8 pulled attention like nobody's business. When we stopped to take photos, gawkers and amateur photographers alike joined in. We gave rise to a new digital trend called the "i-selfie"—people capturing their likeness and their fondness for the car in a single frame.
Later, we explored the other side of the car's nature by powering through the endless entertaining canyon roads of Malibu. Here, we kept the i8 in sport mode the entire time and pushed the car to its natural limits. The car proved to be quick and the small gas engine delivered a surprisingly pleasant growl. The most pleasing aspect of the i8, though, is its remarkable handling, which links back to its technologically advanced construction.
As to other aspects of the BMW i8, there's much to praise. The exterior styling is aerodynamically efficient and completely unique from an aesthetic standpoint. The interior is a brilliantly executed blend of eco-luxury. The seats and instrument panel are tanned using olive leaf extract, while virgin lambs wool and recycled polyester are used for the carpets and trim pieces. The feel of all the materials is high-grade.
Some observers may contend that the introduction of a low-volume, high-cost hybrid sports car is not a topic worth much discussion. Fair point, as the 2014 BMW i8 will not be for everyone. But there are advances on this car that will trickle down to other, more affordable and more family-friendly vehicles before long. In terms of technological achievement alone, then, this is a great car.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker.
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