For the last four years, I, and much of the car world, have been waiting the arrival of the revolutionary 2015 BMW i8, which debuted as a tantalizing concept car in 2009 and even gave Tom Cruise a ride he’ll never forget in Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, in 2011. After what has seemed like an eternity, the car is finally ready to hit the streets, and BMW recently put me and a handful of other automotive media types behind the wheel of this radical new supercar, and—spoiler alert—it’s freakin’ amazing, and soooooo worth the wait! Is it worth $136K, though? We’ll get to that later.
Let’s just look at it for a hot minute. While certain parts of the i8’s anatomy are clearly BMW—twin kidney grille, forward-leaning “shark nose”—the rest of the i8 establishes a whole new, future-tastic design language for BMW’s new “i” brand, where conventional stuff like fenders and bumpers give way to disjointed and, in some cases, floating elements. The hood vented in the middle extracts heat from the electric motor bay. The tail lamps look like light sculptures yet actually play a role in aerodynamics. And then there are those doors, which swing up like a swan spreading its wings—very dramatic. And alas, the car couldn’t get you more attention if you strapped a naked Zach Efron to the roof.
The interior is no less fantastic, with a sweeping dashboard and multi-configurable instruments that switch from blue in what I call “responsible” (Eco) driving modes to sinister red in “whoop-it-up” (ie: Sport) mode. Most switches including the iDrive controller and the stand-up infotainment screen are stock BMW pieces, but their arrangement here is super-futuristic. Materials and fit/finish are as near Bentley-grade, as you’d hope in a $136K car, with unvarnished carbon fiber in the doorsills (much of the car’s structure is, in fact, carbon fiber) and blue seatbelts that match the car’s standard blue exterior accents serving up some surprise and delight.
Aaaand it gets better on the road. Interestingly, the i8’s two power sources—a pair of electric motors powering the front wheels, and a three-cylinder gas engine powering the rear—operate independently, effectively turning it into an all-wheel-drive sports car. In pure electric mode on a full battery charge, the i8 can drive without gas for over 20 miles before the gas engine jumps in to help. Or if you step hard enough on the go-pedal, the gas engine will kick in. In Sport mode, the gas engine is always on, making all of the i8’s 357 hp available to catapult you from zero to 60 mph in just four seconds. Handling is awesome, thanks to its very low center of gravity and sharp, responsive steering. And kudos to BMW for engineering brakes that regenerate a lot of energy without that weird tugging feeling endemic to electron-powered cars.
The i8 isn’t perfect: Getting in and out over those wide door sills takes some practice (especially after leg day at the gym); the windows leave about an inch of glass above the sill when lowered, making it impossible to hang your arm out on a beautiful day; and the trunk is tiiiiiiiny. And while it has two rear seats, you won’t want to put actual people back there, at least if you want to keep them as friends.
Still, no such shortcomings can sour my love of this car. Here is a car with Porsche moves, sci-fi styling, and, perhaps the best of all, an uncanny ability to wipe that smug grin of green superiority right off of a Tesla Model S driver’s face. At $135,700, its price is aspirational, but not ridiculous. There are many a Mercedes that cost more. There is so much high technology, so much thrust, so much efficiency and, of course, styling like nothing else on the road, that I think BMW could have priced it even higher.