A spaceship for the street

The BMW i8 isn’t new, but it’s my first time behind the wheel. Luckily, I got more than some quick test-drive around the block, I spent a week getting to know BMW’s spaceship for the streets. Like anything with a split personality, the i8 falls under that old saying, “jack of all trades; master of none.” Some call it a supercar. Others call it a dolled up BMW i3 with an overly complicated design and a hybrid powertrain that sips fuel but guzzles expendable monthly income with hefty payments. Yeah, the i8 has some interesting attributes, and that’s what I’m here to explore.

My tester is a 2017 model with only 1,800 or so miles on the odometer. It’s coated in “Sophisto Grey with BMW i Blue” and fitted with the mid-grade and $2,000 Giga World trim package. Only one option is present: the Laserlight headlights, which cost a hefty $6,300. The $995 destination fee is the only other added cost. Still, that pushes the $143,400 i8 past a $153,000 purchase price. Needless to say, the i8 ain’t cheap. But neither is its technology. BMW somehow squeezes 357 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque from a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder and a pair of electric motors. The chassis is made of lightweight aluminum and the body shell is constructed of carbon fiber reinforced plastic. It has two transmissions, AWD, and a combined EPA rating of 76 MPGe. Still, the i8 isn’t perfect. Living with it for a week has uncovered some notable annoyances that a potential i8 owner should definitely know exist.

Continue reading for the highs and low of the BMW i8.

High: Sultry Aesthetics

Wow, just look at it. The BMW i8 is completely worthy of drool and is extremely good at attracting attention everywhere it’s driven. Stopping at the grocery store or gas station means a conversation with strangers. The feeling of being watched is creepily confirmed by glancing at the adjacent car stopped at a traffic light. Someone is always watching. Picking my kindergartner up from school elicited cheerful screams from every kid waiting in line – especially when those butterfly doors open.

And who could blame them – the i8 is gorgeous.

Highs & Lows: 2017 BMW i8 Exterior
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Those butterfly doors are perfectly integrated into the body, they almost disappear when closed.

The mid-engine layout allows for an extremely low and short front hood. The large, swept-back windshield leads into a curvaceous cabin with a teardrop shape. Those butterfly doors are perfectly integrated into the body, they almost disappear when closed. The i8’s visual weight is kept low thanks to the sucked-up side skirts that form the lower air intakes. And those flying rear buttresses… those panels floating beside the rear glass and over the fenders. Not since the 1950s has a car enjoyed this level of sensual bodywork.

Low: Getting In & Out

Highs & Lows: 2017 BMW i8 Interior
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Its carbon fiber reinforced plastic tub, low roofline, and butterfly doors result in an awkward doorway.

As goods as the i8 looks, its carbon fiber reinforced plastic tub, low roofline, and butterfly doors result in an awkward doorway. Getting in and out takes practice to avoid looking like a drunken fool headed home from an all-night bender. Using the i8 as a daily driver is simply difficult – though not impossible. By the third day, my abs were sore from contorting up and over the door sill while avoiding slapping a knee against the steering wheel. Perhaps those suave debonair types with a James Bond physique won’t have that problem.

That said, BMW did an amazing job making the doors incredibly easy to use. Like the body, they use carbon fiber reinforced plastic but use an aluminum skin on the exterior. They feel light as a feather.

Oh, and I’d be amiss should I not mention the lack of an exterior release button for the rear glass. Yep, to gain access to the cargo area (what little there is) required the pushing a button on the key fob or pressing a button on the driver door panel. The mom with two handfuls of groceries kicking her way into her Ford Explorer will laugh at your inconvenience.

High: Next-Level Technology

2015 BMW i8 Drivetrain
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The i8 might not be the most practical grocery-getter, but it’s arguable that picking up eggs and milk is beneath this technological marvel of futurism. From the gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain to its all-digital cockpit, the i8 raises the bar for bleeding-edge engineering.

The powertrain consists of that 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with an electric motor sandwiched between

The powertrain consists of that 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with an electric motor sandwiched between. That combination only drives the rear wheels and charges the 7.14-kWh lithium-ion battery pack located in the center tunnel. Up front is an electric motor that spins a two-speed automatic transmission that turns the front tires. No mechanical connection links the front and rear axles. Combined, the I8’s gasoline engine and electric motors make 357 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to move this 3,300-pound lightweight to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds and onto a governed top speed of 155 mph.

Austin Powers’ nemesis, Dr. Evil, would certainly approve of the i8’s headlights – they’re “LASERS.” No seriously, BMW uses high-intensity lasers to generate light that’s reflected safety onto the road ahead. The lights are so powerful BMW uses two levels of high-beam intensities. Full illumination is only available at speeds over 46 mph. Euro-spec i8s go a step further and use internal light deflector technology to redirect the light beams away from oncoming cars while still leaving the high beams running. Crazy.

Low: Missing Luxuries

Highs & Lows: 2017 BMW i8 Interior
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While the i8 is a high-tech supercar with a $150,000 price tag, it is missing a few luxuries some buyers might miss. Creature comforts like adjustable lumbar supports in the front seats are missing, as are memory settings for the driver’s seat. Sure, the i8 offers separate driver profiles, but simplistic buttons that are easily programmed would be nice. The i8’s rather small rear window and curvy roofline also makes me really miss Blind Spot Monitoring – a safety feature that comes standard on a base Toyota Corolla, but not here. On the convenience front, the i8 only offers three cup holders. Call me a blue-blooded American, but that’s not enough – at least for a daily driver. Buy the i8 for a weekend toy or date night car, and cup holders become a moot point.

High: The Future Looks Bright

2015 BMW i8 High Resolution Exterior
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Reviews of the BMW i8 typically end in some mushy prose like, “if this is the future, count me in.” Yeah, I won’t continue the trend, through I can’t disagree. The i8 is such a promising cross between a fuel-sipping hybrid and an all-out supercar that it blurs the mind of conventional wisdom. For instance, how BMW got that three-cylinder to sound so darn good is beyond me. Of course, the sound heard inside the cabin is augmented by synthesized engine noises over the speakers, but still, there is still a rawness that can’t be replicated by even the most expensive audio systems. Even electric mode provides a crescendoing tone of electric buzz that cuts through the silent e-mode acceleration.

The i8’s design and BMW’s attention to detail are impeccable, too, adding to the mystique of owning such a futuristic looking machine

The i8’s design and BMW’s attention to detail are impeccable, too, adding to the mystique of owning such a futuristic looking machine. It truly looks like nothing on the road. And in a world full of vehicular appliances and cookie-cutter, focus group-approved aesthetics, the i8 stands out.

Ask yourself: who wouldn’t want to be part of a future where cars looked this good and split the difference between tree-hugger and supercar so well? Yeah, you can count me in.

Our full driven review of the 2017 BMW i8 is coming soon.

References

BMW i8

2015 BMW i8 Exterior AutoShow
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Read our full review on the BMW i8.

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