As we all bear witness to the current shift away from gasoline engines, we end up with some truly blockbuster matchups. No longer is it just carbs vs. fuel injection, rear-wheel drive vs. front-wheel drive, displacement vs. boost, or manuals vs. automatics. Now we have rivalries that pit internal combustion in its entirety against and the very future of automotive power. Cue the explosions and thunder storm. We don’t even have to use cars from different manufacturers. Case in point: the M4 vs. the i8.
Despite drastically different approaches to performance, the stats on these machines are actually nearly parallel: both take a little less than 4.5 seconds to hit 60 mph, both weigh about 3,450 pounds, and both can attain a top speed of 155 mph.
Yes, the power and torque figures are completely skewed, and the drive layouts are thoroughly dissimilar, but that’s what makes it so interesting. It’s the old school against the new school, analog against digital. The petroleum will run out eventually, but today is not that day. Who will win this battle?
Autocar set out to find the answer using a race track and two capable drivers. The result is what you’d expect in some ways, but a complete surprise in others. As the future wrestles away the present from the past, we expect many more battles like this to come.
Click past the jump to read more about the BMW i8 and M4.
Taking a spot at fourth on our list of top Performance Cars of the Year, the i8 represents the Bavarian way forward for sporting drives when the fuel starts to run out. Not only is it the first mid-engine car BMW has made in several decades, it’s also the company’s first sports-oriented hybrid, with a turbocharged, 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels, and an electric motor spinning the fronts. Total combined output when the battery is topped off comes to 362 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, which is especially impressive when considering its 95 MPGe rating.
Even though there are two engines and a floor of batteries onboard, BMW kept weight down by using aluminum and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic extensively in the construction. It also looks tremendous; just strap an ion drive onto the roof, and the i8 could easily sit in some spaceman’s orbiting asteroid garage.
As the more conventional sports car option in this contest, the M4 is responsible for defending the honor of un-electrified displacement all over the world. But don’t think this machine is a relic from the past: the new M4 uses two turbos to boost a 3.0-liter, inline-six, petrol engine to 425 horsepower and 406 pound feet of torque, with peak output hitting around 5,500 rpm. That’s a good deal lower than the 4.0-liter V-8 that it replaces, which should help offset the instant torque of the hybrid i8.
Putting down the power is a seven-speed, dual clutch transmission, but there’s also a standard six-speed for those who like it the old-fashioned way. It’s a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe; it doesn’t get much more traditional than that.