By Zach Vlasuk
BMW could've taken the predictable route and developed another traditional halo car like the Audi R8 or Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, but instead doubled down on its philosophy of "Efficient Dynamics" and produced a sports car for today's more progressive driving enthusiast: the 2014 BMW i8. Its carbon fiber and aluminum shell is home to a mid-mounted turbocharged gasoline engine and an electric drive system that delivers 357 horsepower and an all-electric range of up to 22 miles. Then again, a $136,000 starting price means this next-generation driving experience doesn't come cheap. And while you could purchase two Cadillac ELRs for that kind of money, the i8's price tag still falls roughly in line with its other plug-in hybrid rival, the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid.
If you're in the market for a high-end sports car, but believe strongly in long-term sustainability, the 2014 BMW i8 could be right up your alley. And regardless of your stance on the environment, the i8 makes the most striking visual statement this side of full-fledged exotics.
The i8 delivers high performance on a grandly green scale. Therefore, those in search of a barroom numbers generator should consider the Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi R8, or Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG.
The 2014 BMW i8 reflects the German automaker's commitment to its new "i" sub-brand. Assembled using 100-percent renewable energy, the i8 serves as the marketing umbrella for BMW's growing number of premium green vehicles, such as the entry-level i3.
Driving Impressions The BMW i8 both looks and drives like nothing else on the road today. Select the E-drive setting and the i8 can cruise on electricity alone for up to 22...... miles at a maximum speed of 75 mph. Complementing this engineless mode of travel are a number of noise-attenuation measures aimed at keeping wind-noise and road-noise levels to a minimum. The result is an eerily-quiet cabin that provides disruption-free listening through the standard harman/kardon sound system. Of course, hammering the throttle brings to life the turbocharged 3-cylinder engine and its uncharacteristic baritone bark. And while a 0-60 time of 4.2-seconds is all well and good, the i8's unrelenting power delivery is what truly separates it from conventional sports cars. In terms of handling, the chassis and suspension work together harmoniously to serve up the type of balance and composure for which BMW is renowned. What's more, the electric-assisted steering is so responsive and effortless that a hydraulically-actuated setup would actually take away from the experience. Yeah, we said it.
CARBON-FIBER-REINFORCED PLASTIC BODY
Nearly 50-percent lighter than steel – and just as robust – the i8's carbon-composite body offsets the extra weight of the electric battery without compromising crashworthiness.
UNIQUE ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE SYSTEM
The i8's sophisticated all-wheel-drive system can route 100-percent power to the front wheels, rear wheels, and everywhere in between depending on traction needs.
The 2014 i8 takes the current BMW design aesthetic and adds a subtle dose of modernism by way of reusable materials, blue accents and clear contrasts. The front seats, while comfortable, don't offer a great deal of adjustability due to weight concerns. Out back, the two rear seats are habitable for small children only. The rear cargo area is equally tight, offering less than half the trunk space of a Ford Fiesta. On the electronics front, the i8 includes BMW's i ConnectedDrive service that utilizes topography and traffic information to choose the most efficient navigation route and a smartphone app that lets you lock and unlock doors, monitor battery charging, and activate the air conditioning from virtually anywhere.Exterior
An exercise in ultra-contemporary design, the i8 features expressive front and rear treatments that stretch wide and low to convey a supercar-like stance that is further emphasized by stylized LED headlights and a black translucent V-shaped element that extends back from the grille to the base of the windshield. The BMW i8 also dispenses with a B-pillar in favor of scissor-type doors that help facilitate access to the low-slung cockpit. Despite this futuristic appearance, virtually every design aspect serves a functional purpose. For instance, the hood vent works in conjunction with the slotted kidney grilles to promote cooling, while the split rear wing and front apron vents aid high-speed stability.
The 2014 i8 comes nearly fully-loaded from the get-go with standard features like navigation, leather-wrapped interior panels and upholstery, high-efficiency LED headlights, a fully digital instrument cluster, rain-sensing windshield wipers, front and rear parking sensors, and adaptive cruise control that maintains a preset distance behind the vehicle ahead. Safety features consist of six airbags, BMW Assist with 24/7 emergency services, and a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic passenger cell.
As a low-volume, quasi-exotic car, the i8's options list is limited to a full-color head-up display, a 360-degree camera system that provides a bird's eye view of the vehicle's surroundings, and a pre-collision system. High-rollers can also order a set of custom-crafted Louis Vuitton luggage for the door-buster price of just $26,000.
The BMW i8 pairs an internal combustion engine that drives its rear wheels with an electric motor/generation unit energized by a lithium-ion battery that powers the front wheels. The conventional powerplant is a turbocharged, 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine that produces 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. Combined with the high-voltage battery pack, the i8 packs a net power output of 357 horsepower. Recharging the battery requires 3.5 hours on a standard 110V household outlet and 1.5 hours with a 220V charging station.
AC synchronous electric motor/generator
5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack
1.5-liter turbocharged inline-3
357 net horsepower
420 net lb-ft of torque
EPA city/highway fuel economy: NA
The 2014 BMW i8 carries a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of around $136,600. Limited production and a high level of exclusivity means you can expect to pay full price for your BMW i8 when it comes time to break out the checkbook. Speaking of availability, BMW claims that 80 percent of its U.S. dealers will offer the i8. Of course, there's an all-star cast of alternatives to consider before pulling the trigger on an i8. At the lower region of the pricing spectrum there's the $71,000 all-electric Tesla Model S and the $76,000 Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid. On the opposite end you'll find a comparably-equipped Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid for $127,000 along with the $120,000 Audi R8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe. Like its electrified rivals, the BMW i8 qualifies for up to $5,000 in state and federal tax credits.