If the 2014 BMW i8 lives up to its claims -- elite sports car performance, miserly fuel economy, quick charge times -- prepare to rethink your ideas of what a hybrid can be.
More horsepower than a six-cylinder 3 Series; exceptional fuel economy; futuristic design.
Futuristic price, minus the world-beating performance of models priced about the same.
The 2014 BMW i8 is an all-new model.
Based on the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept car shown a few years ago, the 2014 BMW i8 represents the German automaker's vision of a high-performance plug-in hybrid. If this is what the future looks like, sign us up. Zero to 62 mph in 4.4 seconds? A full charge in three hours from a regular garage outlet? Approximately 95 mpg? Yes, please.
For the i8, BMW chops its classic 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine formula in half. The i8 uses a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline three-cylinder paired with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. The three-cylinder drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, while the electric motor powers the front wheels through a two-speed automatic.
The engine and electric motor combine for 362 horsepower, 420 pound-feet of torque and all-wheel-drive performance, all integrated into a chassis that is 10 pounds lighter and 1.5 inches longer than the 3 Series. The i8 also delivers stellar handling thanks to 50/50 weight distribution and a low, centrally mounted battery pack, although standard 20-inch wheels seem like a suspect choice for maximizing corner-to-corner performance.
BMW says the i8 can also travel 22 miles and reach a top speed of 75 mph on electrons alone. Uncorked with the gasoline engine in the lead, it will reach a top speed of 155 mph. Sounds like a pretty good future to us.
Lightweight construction helps bring lofty performance within reach, notably an aluminum chassis, chemically hardened glass (similar to that used in smartphones) and extensive use of carbon-fiber-reinforced panels within the 2+2 passenger cabin. Those plus-2 rear seats are small, however, smaller than even a Porsche 911's, and are best considered auxiliary luggage space. Even settling into the front seats requires some practice given its unique scissor-lift-style doors.
We drove a recent i8 prototype and found the i8's easy thrust in all-electric mode a close match for the Tesla Model S. In its Sport mode (there are also Comfort and Eco Pro settings), the i8 further awakens, feeling light, agile and averse to body roll. The hybrid never quite overwhelms with acceleration, but it also never feels winded, the electric motor's torque nicely covering for the small turbo as the latter winds up to deliver its power contribution.
Whatever the i8 lacks in competitive performance, it won't lack for style. Its low-slung profile is punctuated by standard U-shaped LED headlights. You can even order the i8 with laser headlights where regulations allow (sorry, U.S. shoppers). Inside, a multitiered and layered cockpit design uses recycled materials and naturally treated leather for upholstery and panel surfaces Like the smaller i3 electric car, the i8 will offer three trim levels -- Mega, Giga and Tera -- all with varying degrees of sport and luxury appointments.
The 2014 BMW i8 arrives in the spring and starts around $136,000. That's well above its most obvious target, the Tesla Model S, and that kind of money also buys a lot of Porsche 911. Performance aficionados won't likely be swayed and may even look across the BMW lineup to the "M" cars. But for the hybrid buyer seeking power, performance and efficiency through a lower profile, the 2014 BMW i8 presents a unique choice.
Check back for more information on the 2014 BMW i8, including specs, driving impressions and buying advice as it becomes available.
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