Among Northern California’s throng of expensive Teslas, Porsches, and Ferraris, few rides draw the attention on the road like BMW i8. On the highway, passengers and drivers reach for their cellphones to snap a photo. In parking lots, curiosity-seekers gather around the sleek-body hybrid draped in E-Copper paint like moths drawn to a light source. At home, neighbors who I rarely see, stop over to say “hello.”
Remarkable because most other high-performance cars in the $150,000 price range outnumber the i8 ten to one. Yet they lack the magnetism of BMW’s plug-in hybrid. This year, BMW brings the Roadster version into production after years of teasing and refreshes the Coupe model.
Changes for 2019
- Total system output increased to 369 horsepower (+12 hp)
- Improved battery capacity and all-electric range
- New E-Copper and Donnington Grey exterior colors
- New Tera World Copper (leather and cloth accent) upholstery
- Carbon fiber interior trim (standard)
- Ceramic controls
- 20-inch Jet Black lightweight alloy radial-spoke wheels
- All-new Roadster model
Not your everyday hybrid
Low, broad-shouldered, and ultra sexy, the BMW i8 Coupe looks like a supercar it isn’t. Get-up and go comes from a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline three-cylinder paired to a six-speed automatic transmission that works seamlessly with an electric motor featuring a 2-speed automatic. The 228 horsepower combustion engine and electric drivetrain output a combined 369 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque.
The electric motor propelling the front wheels, fueled by an 11.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, has a peak output of 141 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. In default driving mode, all-electric max speed is 65 mph. Switch to eDrive mode and top speed raises to 75 mph. All-electric range is roughly 20 miles, which is a significant 70 percent jump of cell capacity from 20 to 34 Ah.
The entire cabin — formed from carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) — protects the driver and passengers. Slipping in and out of the low seats requires dexterity and muscle control of a gymnast, but it is a feat easily mastered. All-around visibility is surprisingly good, and the layout of the cabin feels comfortable right away.
There are four driving modes to call upon. The default COMFORT mode offers a balance between performance and fuel efficiency. SPORT mode calls up the power of the turbocharged engine, with added boost supplied by the electric motor. ECO PRO mode programs the i8 a more efficient, optimized driving style that uses both all-electric mode and hybrid mode. Finally, eDRIVE mode is all-electric, which stays engaged at speeds up to 75 mph for an entirely an emission-free drive.
Engaging the turbo three-cylinder is music to my ears with a pitch-perfect exhaust note that resonates with a throaty snarl. Even though BMW’s practice of piping artificial engine noises through the car’s Harmon Kardon speakers comes off as a sham to purists, nevertheless, the auditory sonic trickery sounds badass.
All is forgiven when everything goes into motion. The i8’s firm suspension and near 50-50 weight distribution delivers flat handling and excellent body control without the harsh ride of a tight sports car. Delightfully,
With a heavy right foot, the combined energy of the combustion and electric motors flattens you into your seat with sufficient force. With this in mind, BMW claims the i8 Coupe can reach 0-60 in less than 4.2 seconds and can make the jump from 50 to 75 mph in just 2.6 seconds.
The BMW i8 is not for everyone, but it’s a must-see
While the 2019 i8 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it still sums up as an extraordinary well-executed, high-performance plug-in hybrid that will never slip past unnoticed. However, the i8’s rock star status doesn’t evoke the same feelings of excitement that Lamborghini used to when I was growing up.
Photo credit: Derek Mau and Norman Woo
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