Hearing the phrase "high-performance plug-in hybrid" would normally make about as much sense as "jumbo shrimp" or "rational and selfless politician." But the 2015 BMW i8 lends unquestionable credibility to that seeming oxymoron. Able to sprint to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 155 mph, this exotic, environmentally conscious sports machine also boasts a 76 MPGe EPA fuel economy rating. If driving this car is going green, then consider us card-carrying members of the tree-hugger's club.
This BMW's magic happens by way of a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline three-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. Working together, this dynamic duo makes 357 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque and channels it to all four wheels. Running on electric power alone, the i8 can travel up to 15 miles and reach a top speed of 75 mph. When the gas engine kicks on, the i8 has anything but a supercar's appetite for gas as it earns a combined fuel economy rating of 28 mpg and extends the i8's total estimated driving to a generous 330 miles. Recharging the car's battery pack can take as little as 1.5 hours.
Also contributing to the 2015 BMW i8's high performance and fuel-saving capabilities is the car's lightweight construction. Aluminum, carbon fiber and thinner, chemically hardened glass are all employed in its manufacture. Indeed, despite all the hybrid hardware packed into the i8, it is pretty much the same weight and length as a 3 Series sedan. A 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution and low, centrally mounted battery pack promote finely balanced, agile handling to go along with the straight-line thrills.
With its low, sleek body styling and unique scissor-lift-style doors, the 2015 BMW i8 pretty much guarantees that you'll make a grand entrance (and exit). The downside is that getting into the car takes a bit of practice. Inside, the futuristic cockpit uses recycled materials and naturally treated leather. The tiny rear seats, however, are best considered as additional cargo space, which you'll likely need given the trunk's meager capacity.
Perhaps the only real rival to the 2015 BMW i8 is the similarly high-performing 2015 Tesla Model S. It's purely electric and has the accompanying pros and cons to go with it, but it is less expensive and has four doors and usable rear seats. If you decide to go strictly gas-powered, you may look across the showroom at BMW's "M" family of performance machinery, while other sporting choices include the tempting 2015 Porsche 911 lineup as well as the value-packed 2015 Chevrolet Corvette. But for the hybrid buyer seeking sexy styling as well as sizzling performance and admirable efficiency, the 2015 BMW i8 is a very desirable, if conspicuous, choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2015 BMW i8 is a two-door, plug-in hybrid sports car with 2+2 seating. It comes in a single trim level.
Standard features include 20-inch wheels, adjustable suspension, LED exterior lighting (headlights, foglights, running lights and taillights), automatic headlights and wipers, front and rear park assist, an overhead camera view system, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, power front seats, heated front seats, a tilt-and-telescoping and leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic climate control, memory settings and a head-up display.
Other standard electronics features include a navigation system, BMW's iDrive electronics interface, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, BMW Assist, Internet accessibility and a Harman Kardon sound system with an iPod/USB interface, satellite radio and HD radio. Also included are BMW Apps (selected smartphone apps integration) and BMW Remote Services (which allows Apple and Android users to lock the car remotely and turn on the climate control, among various other tasks).
There are three option packages available, known as Worlds. Giga World includes turbine-style wheels and expanded, perforated leather upholstery. Tera World features a choice of the standard or turbine-style wheels and special cloth and leather upholstery. Pure Impulse World includes black brake calipers, a choice of the standard or turbine wheels and a variety of unique interior trim and materials upgrades, including a leather engine cover.
Powertrains and Performance
As a plug-in hybrid, the i8 employs a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline three-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. The gas engine drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, while the electric motor powers the front wheels through a two-speed automatic. When working together, the two combine to provide 357 hp, 420 lb-ft of torque and all-wheel drive.
The battery pack can be fully recharged at home through a standard 120-volt garage outlet in about 3.5 hours. Upgrade to a 240-volt charger (or visit a public station) and you can trim that down to about 1.5 hours.
During Edmunds testing, a European-spec i8 sprinted from zero to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. According to the EPA, the i8 can travel 15 miles on electric power alone. After that, the gas engine comes into play and earns a combined (city/highway) fuel economy rating of 28 mpg, while the total driving range is estimated at 330 miles. The EPA also rates the i8 at 76 MPGe factoring in both gas and electric power efficiency.
The BMW i8 comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Also standard are BMW Assist emergency communications (includes automatic crash notification, stolen vehicle recovery and on-demand roadside assistance) as well as parking sensors and an around-car view camera system.
At the Edmunds test track, the i8 came to a stop from 60 mph in 108 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
Getting into the i8 requires a bit of choreography once the scissor door is swung up and away. You'll have to step over a high sill, so the best way to get in is to sit on the sill, swing a leg over, allow your backside to slip into the seat and then follow with the other leg. It's not hard once you master the move, but you'll want to duck under the bottom edge of the door at the same time.
Once inside the i8, you'll find a multi-tiered and layered cockpit design that uses recycled materials and naturally treated leather for upholstery and panel surfaces. The power seats offer good support and long-distance comfort, and even taller drivers will have headroom to spare. The center stack is canted toward the driver, putting everything close at hand.
The shifter and various mode switches are close by, too, and each selection changes the background color and meter design of the main instrument pod. The dials turn blue in EV mode; Sport is red and Comfort is gray. None of them is particularly attractive or easy to read, though, because the numbers are small, the instrument needles are skinny and neither contrasts strongly enough with the background. As such, one will likely end up using the head-up display instead.
Despite the "2+2" moniker, this is essentially a two-seater, as those rear seats are tiny with scant headroom, and as such are best considered auxiliary luggage space. You'll need it, too, since the trunk is rated at a paltry 5.4 cubic feet.
Around town, the 2015 BMW i8 feels pretty normal. The accelerator is smooth and linear while the brake pedal's action is progressive and natural, without the hardness or "wooden" character of other regenerative braking systems. The hybrid powertrain likely won't overwhelm you with acceleration, but it also never feels winded, and the electric motor's torque covers nicely for the small turbocharged engine as the latter winds up to deliver its power contribution. You'll also notice the unique sound of the i8 while driving, which is no accident. In EV mode, it's eerily silent except for the keening sound of the electric motor and regenerative brakes. Once the engine comes into play, however, an electronic noise actuator under the rear deck lid combines with specially designed sounds emitted from the stereo's rear speakers (whether it's switched on or not). In some ways, it's the opposite of active noise cancellation, but the result is a fantastic case of augmented reality that sounds terrific.
The i8 also delivers stellar handling thanks to its 50/50 weight distribution, a low, centrally mounted battery pack and dual powertrains that essentially make the i8 an all-wheel-drive performance car. The adjustable suspension allows one to tailor the car's handling and ride dynamics to their liking. The base setting is only slightly firm in town, but Sport crosses the line at city speeds. Push the car hard in the sort of driving Sport was intended for, however, and this firmer setting comes into its own, absorbing large bumps and small ripples with apparent ease while keeping the car stable around turns.