BMW i8 Plug-In Hybrid Sports Car (2014 Model Review)

Written By: Brittney B. 

                                                 BMW i8 Plug-in Hybrid Sports Car

If automotive lineups had action heroes, the BMW i8 would be one of them. In fact, Tom Cruise himself drove an early prototype of the i8 in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. As the star raced through crowded Mumbai streets to prevent a nuclear explosion, the futuristic coupe's sporty speeds, power and handling were on full display. The production version is equally worthy of a big-screen reception, and not just because of its powerful and daring design. Thanks to an efficient plug-in hybrid drivetrain, the sports car is also doing its part to save the planet.

In the rear, a three-cylinder, 1.5 L turbocharged combustion engine gets up to 231 horsepower and 236 lb-ft (320 Nm) of torque. It's supplemented by a 7.1 kW lithium-ion battery pack, so the car still manages to emit just 49 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. The range on one battery charge alone is a mere 23 miles, but an electric motor in the front axle constantly recharges the battery, and the total EPA-estimated range is a much more impressive 330 miles.

The i8's drivetrain achieves a convenient combination of power and efficiency, and BMW is touting it as an integral part of their new EfficientDynamics design strategy. Depending on which power source you want to rely on the most, you can select from four different driving modes: Comfort, Sport, Eco Pro and eDrive. You can also activate the eDrive technology in any mode except Sport, to further increase the car's overall efficiency.

The i8's aerodynamic exterior, which is distinguished by a low and wedge-shaped body, is full of innovative and sporty features that decrease the car's air resistance and maximize its energy efficiency. Large Air Curtains reduce drag, side skirts direct air back to the rear engine, and rims minimize turbulence. You can choose how much light it reflects, too, thanks to paint colors that range from white to dark gray. Standard paint options are metallic gray or blue, while higher-level "World" trims also offer silver and white options.

The i8's two doors are 50 percent lighter than conventional options, thanks to a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber plastic, and they're also hinged to swing upward and glide gently back down. After you climb inside, the futuristic and eco-friendly features continue. Surfaces throughout the cabin were created from recycled plastic bottles, and the leather seats were dyed with olive leaves and fitted with bold "frozen blue" or "frozen gray" seatbelts. You can even customize the ambient lighting, which comes standard with every i8, to cast a white, amber or blue LED glow throughout the door and dashboard area.

Of course, BMW is still best known for its luxury, and a couple of optional features show just how upscale this hybrid can be. The first, an 11-speaker surround sound system, was manufactured exclusively by the audio brand Harman Kardon. It delivers high-definition, equalized sound throughout the entire cabin. Louis Vuitton also customized a collection of black carbon fiber luggage to match — and fit perfectly inside — the i8's seats and storage compartment. Each piece is lightweight but sturdy, just like the car they complement, and they're even lined with black and blue microfiber to replicate the interior and exterior color scheme.

The base "Mega World" trim is already loaded with standard features usually reserved for more expensive trims, and the model starts at $136,500. You'll have to pay an additional $950 if you want to ship it to the United States, and upgraded trims cost anywhere from $2,000 for the "Giga World" to a whopping $10,800 for the "Pure Impulse World".

BMW i8 Plug-in Hybrid (Click on Images to Enlarge)


Environmental Footprint

The i8 is so efficient because of its five-foot long battery pack, which designers and engineers had to accommodate with a longer frame and butterfly doors. Similarly, BMW altered its manufacturing and assembly choices in order to maximize the car's overall sustainability. They chose a factory near the Grand Coulee Dam to create the car's carbon fiber, so that it could rely solely on hydroelectric power for its energy-intensive process. The i8's German assembly plant is also powered by renewable energy, the majority of which comes from windmills.

BMW even conducted its computerized crash testing in Iceland, for two carbon-conscious reasons: 80 percent of the nation's energy supply is renewable, and the cold outdoor air can cool its software servers naturally. While the i8 hasn't received an official environmental footprint ranking, its eco-friendly production process definitely sets it apart from other plug-in hybrids.


Rumor Has It

California drivers have reported sticker prices as high as $247,450 for new i8 models, and critics speculate that the markup is so high because it's so difficult to find the car in the United States. BMW may scale back i3 production in order to meet high market demand for the i8, which currently only has a limited production, but the automaker is also looking to the future.

Power and software upgrades will make the model's next generation more powerful and pricy than the original i8. It may be released in 2016 or 2017 as the BMW i8S, which some predict will be the CEO's last hurrah before he steps down. Rumored improvements include additional cargo capacity (made possible by removing the rear seats), better brakes, wider tires, and a new drivetrain that could increase the total power to 524 HP.


Manufacturing/Assembly

Like its all-electric cousin, the i3, the i8's carbon fiber is produced in a factory powered by hydroelectric energy in Washington state. After it leaves the United States, the carbon fiber is turned into lightweight, production-ready parts in Wackersdorf, Germany. Finally, every i8 is assembled at a plant in Leipzig, Germany that runs almost entirely on wind power.


FIVE things that BMW i8 owners LOVE about their car:

  • Battery fully charges in approximately 1.5 hours (220V Level 2 Charger)

  • Brakes are more responsive than in most cars, including non-hybrids

  • Interior is completely silent in eDrive and Comfort modes

  • Accelerates from 0-60 mph in just 4.2 seconds (or according to some tests, as low as 3.8 seconds)

  • Minimalist cabin controls are intuitive and simple, which makes it easier (and safer) for drivers to switch modes and monitor performance statistics


FIVE things that BMW i8 owners DISLIKE about their car:

  • Backseat bench lacks support, so the i8 is only comfortable and practical for two drivers

  • Thick door pillars completely block views from the rear

  • Exclusive iDrive infotainment system is confusing and difficult to navigate, in part because the menu can only be controlled by a wheel on the console

  • Stereo simulates additional engine noise in Sport mode, drowning out other cabin sounds

  • Flashy design details attract attention (and inflate the price), which is problematic for drivers who would rather keep a low profile and avoid unnecessary costs