There are exotic sports cars, and then there's the BMW i8. Its futuristic styling, sparkling performance and super-cool scissor-lift doors are enough to make the i8 into poster fodder, but what's even more exotic is the plug-in hybrid powertrain that delivers 357 horsepower to all four wheels. It's powerful enough to launch the i8 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and efficient enough to return 28 mpg when running on gasoline power. It can even run 15 miles on battery power alone, after a 1.5-hour charge-up of its lithium-ion battery. Even the key fob — which features a color screen — is cool.
Out on the open road — or on a closed track — the i8 is pure BMW. The electric motor provides a smooth, even flow of power, and the handling is exquisite, thanks in no small part to its even weight distribution and low center of gravity, two attributes aided by the hybrid powertrain. Make no mistake, there are cars that are faster, cars that are greener and cars that are more exotic, but few blend these three worlds as seamlessly as the BMW i8.
Current BMW i8
The i8 is sold in a single trim level, and equipment levels are both lavish and environmentally friendly. Much of the interior is made from recycled materials, and the leather upholstery is naturally treated. There are two option packages, Giga World and Tera World, which consist of exterior and interior trim enhancements, as well as a Protronic Red Edition that gets unique paint, wheels and trim. Also optional are BMW's Laserlight headlamps. They don't actually emit laser beams per se (which is a shame; we'd love to use them to zap other drivers who annoy us). Instead they use blue lasers to excite yellow phosphorous, which results in a brilliant white light.
The i8 is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor; together they deliver 357 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels. With its 7.1-kWh battery pack charged from an external source (which takes about 1.5 hours using a 240-volt Level 2 EV charger or 3.5 hours using an ordinary household outlet), the BMW i8 can run 15 miles on electricity alone. Total range with a full gas tank is about 330 miles.
The experience of opening the scissor-lift doors is nearly worth the i8's lofty price tag, but as with many exotic sports cars, getting in gracefully requires flexibility and practice. The doorsill is so wide that it's easier to sit on it and swing your legs in rather than try to bound over it into the driver's seat. Assuming you make it in without breaking a hip, you'll find yourself ensconced in comfortable, power-adjustable seats with plenty of space to stretch out. Forget about the back seat, which is so small it's practically unusable. Better to think of it as a package shelf, which you'll probably need owing to the tiny 5.4-cubic-foot trunk.
Driving the BMW i8 is an exhilarating experience. The smooth, even power flow of its electrically augmented drivetrain belies the modest 357-hp rating, though you'll definitely feel all 420 lb-ft of torque. At low speeds, the i8 runs on silent electric power; an impatient right foot brings in the gasoline engine. Under high power, the i8 plays engine sounds from the rear speakers. The soundtrack is obviously phony but still rather cool.
Used BMW i8 Models
BMW introduced the i8 for the 2014 model year, and the 2015 model was unchanged. 2016 saw the introduction of Laserlight headlights. For 2017, BMW added the Protronic Red edition, which features unique paint, trim, wheels and seats.