By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor
The 2017 BMW i8 performance coupe is a rather unusual halo car. While its exotic styling and impressive performance are designed to highlight BMW’s brightest ideas, this car comes with a catch. Instead of a massive V8 or V12 engine, the i8 coupe employs a tiny turbocharged 3-cylinder gasoline engine mated to an electric motor powered by a massive battery bank. This setup, in conjunction with a lightweight carbon-fiber and aluminum body, helps the i8 deliver acceleration and handling on par with such giants as the Audi R8 and Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, but with fuel economy more in line with a 2 Series. Then again, with its limited production and $140,000 price tag, the 2017 BMW i8 is no Prius, although it is definitely green.
The 2017 BMW i8 sports coupe allows you to be green while making others green with envy. Built using 100-percent renewable energy and with a very small carbon footprint, some may consider the i8’s sleek styling and scintillating performance as the car’s 2nd- and 3rd-best attributes.
For some, performance is visceral and BMW’s i8 coupe for 2017 lacks the throaty growl of a big V8 or V10 engine. For that, you’ll need to look to the Corvette Z06, Audi R8 or Jaguar Type-F, all of which cost far less than the i8.
For 2017, the only change to the BMW i8 is the addition of a new color: Protonic Red.
In the world of exotic coupes, the 2017 BMW i8 stands alone. It can cruise solely on electric power at speeds up to 75 mph for 15 miles,...
... at which point the turbocharged 3-cylinder gasoline engine kicks in to rocket the i8 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. While many cars are quicker, it’s the unrelenting way the i8 delivers its power that so takes our breath away. Compared to other exotics, the i8’s cabin is quieter than the Library of Congress at closing time, although the excellent harman/kardon audio system can quickly fill the void. BMW’s years of experience pays off in the i8’s handling, which is more dynamic and responsive than the Tesla Model S or Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid. Even the i8’s electrically assisted steering is effortless and responsive, impressing most of our editors to the point where a number preferred it to a more traditional hydraulic setup.
CARBON-FIBER-REINFORCED PLASTIC BODY
BMW’s 2017 i8 is constructed of a lightweight carbon-composite that is as strong as its steel equivalent but weighs nearly half as much. The lightweight body offsets the added weight of the battery packs and proves impressively resilient in crash tests.
UNIQUE ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE SYSTEM
Standard all-wheel drive is the secret to the 2017 BMW i8’s impressive road manners, capable of routing power to whatever wheels can provide the best grip, be they front, rear or some combination of both.
Despite the outlandish styling, the 2017 BMW i8 is surprisingly familiar inside, using the current BMW aesthetic, albeit in a swoopier manner than we’ve seen. Many of the materials are reusable, and blue accents and clear contrasts add to the futuristic motif. The front seats are comfortable, but (to help cut down on weight) they don't offer much in the way of adjustability. The rear seats are kids-only, at best. The i ConnectedDrive service uses topography and traffic information to choose the most efficient navigation route, and a smartphone app offers remote control of air conditioning, door locks, and other functions.
The BMW i8 has styling unlike anything else on the road. The front- and rear-end treatments stretch supercar wide and low, conveying speed and performance. It's further emphasized by stylized LED or laser headlights, and a black translucent V-shaped element that extends back from the grille to the windshield. There is no B-pillar; instead the scissor-type doors open wide to access the low-slung cockpit. But there's a method to the madness. For instance, the hood vent works to promote cooling, while the split-rear wing and front-apron vents aid high-speed stability.
The lightweight BMW i8 for 2017 comes loaded. Standard features include 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. On the safety side, you get six airbags, BMW Assist with 24/7 emergency services, and a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic passenger cell that could very well survive an anti-tank missile (don't test this, please).
As a low-volume exotic, there aren't a lot of options besides colors. The laser-beam headlights are worth the $6,300 price tag just so your inner Dr. Evil can brag about frikkin' lasers. Two “world” options include Giga and Tera, both offering unique interior colors and accents. Otherwise there's 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.
There are two parts to the 2017 BMW i8 drive system. First is the gasoline engine, a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder that by itself puts out an impressive 228 horsepower. It's paired with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack that, when combined with the gas engine, result in peak power of 357 horsepower. Recharging is quick, too. A standard 110-volt household current can recharge it in only 3.5 hours, while a faster 220v charger can do it in about 1.5 hours.
1.5-liter turbocharged inline-3 + AC synchronous electric motor/generator
5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack
357 net horsepower
420 net lb-ft of torque
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 28/29 mpg; 76 mpge combined city/highway
Range with full charge (electric-only): 15 miles
Range with full charge (electric + gasoline): 330 miles
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
This is an exotic, and it carries an exotic price tag. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for a 2017 BMW i8 is about $141,700 including the $995 destination charge. Options can add more, so don't be surprised if your dream i8 crosses the $160,000 barrier. Don't expect a lot of dickering at the dealer, but you could be surprised at how much the market has softened for a new i8, despite of its limited production and high level of exclusivity. As for alternatives, there is the all-electric Tesla Model S. On the far end, a comparably equipped Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid is $128,000 along with the $120,000 Audi R8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe. Like its electrified rivals, the BMW i8 qualifies for state and federal tax credits. Check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for the i8.