For the striking design of its thermoplastic-and-aluminum body alone, the 2015 BMW i8 is a novel vehicle. But its ability to accommodate four occupants in such a low and shapely mid-engine design with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain elevates the BMW i8’s status to groundbreaking.
Behind the passenger compartment, which is made primarily of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic and aluminum, is a twin-turbocharged, 1.5-liter inline 3-cylinder gasoline engine. It develops 228 hp at 5,800 rpm and 235 ft lbs of torque at 3,700 rpm, and it is connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Up front, a 129 hp electric motor instantaneously produces 184 ft lbs of torque and delivers it to the front wheels via a two-stage automatic transmission. Because the electric motor’s torque arrives without delay, the propulsion system’s total output of 357 hp and 420 ft lbs of torque feels more substantial than the numbers suggest, and it enables the wind-cheating i8 to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155 mph. Because the BMW i8 is a hybrid, it consumes far less fuel than a gas-powered GT with similar capabilities.
The BMW i8’s doors fly up and out to dramatic effect, inviting the driver and passengers into an ergonomically friendly interior. Carbon-fiber Louis Vuitton luggage designed specially for the i8—a must-have option for fashion-conscious owners—stows above the engine, making the BMW i8 a legitimate GT 2+2 for long-distance driving. With a 50/50 weight distribution and a low center of gravity, the i8 handles superbly and rewards competent drivers on challenging roads. Five driving modes range from eDrive (for 100-percent electric) to Sport.
The shape of the 2015 i8 evokes BMW’s M1 supercar of the late 1970s, but the vehicle’s primary purpose is to showcase the company’s i-brand technology. In doing so, it demonstrates that a hybrid can be as exciting to drive—and use every day—as more conventional and powerful GTs.