2015 BMW i8 Will Leave You Forever Changed

During a photo shoot, parked at Redondo Beach near L.A., it took almost two hours to shoot 5 minutes of usable video.  People just kept coming up, snapping photos, and asking questions about the car.  Which is totally cool.  People in L.A. get electric cars, consuming truckloads of Teslas and Leafs.

BMW i8They get that it’s a BMW.  They see the twin-kidney grille and famous blue-and-white logo.  But, this carbon fiber and aluminum alien with body hovering over the rear fenders seems from another time.  It doesn’t immediately compute.  Is it electric, gas, or what?

Well, it doesn’t run on kryptonite – and it’s a bit complicated.  The drivetrain consists of a mid-mounted turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, electric motors, and lithium-ion batteries.  Sophisticated AWD employs the gas engine to drive rear wheels while electric motors drive the front.  The system can be adjusted for Comfort (saves power), Sport (toasts power), EcoPro (frugal), or eDrive (uses both gas and electric to their fullest).

All in, the system delivers 357 horsepower, 0-60 mph in 4.2s, and top speed of 155 mph.  It achieves 76-MPGe combined or 28/29-MPG city/highway on gas.  Charging occurs in 1.5 hours (3.5 hrs. on 120v) for 15 miles of emission-free driving before the gas engine fires up.  The engine and re-gen braking can fully replenish batteries on-the-fly.

2015 BMW i8If performance from our scissor-winged friend doesn’t impress you, keep in mind a Lamborghini Countach reviewed by Car and Driver in December 1983 achieved 0-60 in 5.4s and a top speed of 150mphI’m pretty sure the i8 gets better gas mileage and drives better.

There’s smoothness to driving an electric car that is serene.  You hear nothing but tires rolling and torque is instantaneous.  That power can be applied delicately or with the furry of a pissed leaf blower.  It allows the i8 to creep through traffic without burning fossils or storm through rising canyon roads using full power.  Make the most of the mid-engine lay-out, even if the low-rolling-resistance tires will eventually give up.

Given the exterior drama and advanced powertrain, the cabin is surprisingly normal.  Sure, sliding under the gullwing doors takes practice and the dash and console swoop like the exterior, but if you’ve driven a BMW recently, it’s all intuitive.  The cabin is loaded with heated leather seats, iDrive infotainment, harman/kardon audio, voice controls, and heads-up display with navigation directions (perfect for getting around L.A.).  I’d drive it a thousand miles, but with necessarily limited luggage.

2015 BMW i8After dinner with my favorite college professor in Pasadena, I popped the door and was welcomed by ambient blue lighting flowing from every crevice, beaming like a space-set starship.  Beautiful.  I programmed navigation for Hermosa Beach and was off.  Strafing L.A. freeways, using the head-up display to avoid tickets and mis-taken exits streamed to my inner fighter pilot.  Everything feels so normal that you forget how extraordinary this car is.  It was one of the most enjoyable drives I’ve ever taken.

The i8 has limits, but you walk away forever changed.  This is how all cars should always have been and will soon be.  It is so complex, yet so simple – smooth, efficient, comfortable, and beautiful.  Expect to pay at least $136,500.

2015 BMW i82015 BMW i8
Two-passenger, AWD coupe
Powertrain: Li-ion batteries, 1.5-liter I3 – 357hp
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels: 20”/20” alloy f/r
Brakes: regen disc/disc fr/rr
Must-have features: Style, Performance
Elect. driving range: 15 miles
Top speed: 155 mph
0-60 mph: 4.2s
Fuel economy: 76 mpg-e
Base price: $136,500