Mission accomplished. That was the phrases that Alexander Bilgeri, BMW's new Vice President of Corporate Communications, used to describe the process of taking the Vision EfficientDynamics concept and turning it into the all-new 2015 BMW i8. I still can't get over how close the concept is to reality.
After a day of driving the BMW i8 through the city streets of Los Angeles, up into the canyons of Malibu and down the PCH into Santa Monica, I have to say that the future looks very bright for the BMW i brand. Everywhere you went, the car was the center of attention. It captured the attention of men, women and even small children. Camera phones were out everywhere we drove and that must have BMW smiling.
The BMW i8 is the future. Not just in it's futuristic looks, but in terms of the technology behind the car. While the i8 can function as an electric only vehicle (for a range up to 22 miles), the primary purpose of the electric motor in this hybrid is to increase fuel efficiency while providing a very necessary boost in power at the low end. This allows the use of a smaller 3 cylinder, 1.5 liter combustion motor (borrowed from the new MINI) in combination with the eDrive motor (borrowed from the BMW i3) to produce a total of 357 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque.
In addition to the hybrid technology above, the BMW i8 is built with minimizing weight heavily in mind. The i8 utilizes an aluminum frame and pairs that up with a passenger cell made out of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). All said and done the i8 weighs in at 3,285 pounds and has has the lowest center of gravity of any BMW in production. A lot of work went into the weight saving and you are reminded of it every time you open and close the doors on the car.
Interior and Ergonomics
Take one look inside the cockpit of this futuristic-styled hybrid and you know that it is definitely a BMW. The BMW i8 has the signature driver oriented dash, familiar controls with screen displays (including the touch iDrive controller) and a similar layout of buttons related to driving the car. If you were blindfolded and placed in the car without the roundels, I have no doubt you would know it is a BMW. It is for that one reason where I was left wanting more. The design is great and controls are all easy to work, but it lacks the same wow factor that the exterior provides.
The one place on the interior where the i8 shines is the use of a fully digital instrument display panel that changes based on the mode of driving you are in. The screen is vibrant and rich with color. Standard mode transmits data in a blue/gray with a speedometer and a "power meter" that shows the driver what the electric motor is doing. Toggle the gear lever into sport mode and the display turns red with a more familiar tachometer replacing the "power meter". Eco pro mode goes the opposite direction and adds an efficiency display which helps the driver maximize fuel efficiency.
One more note on the interior. I had originally intended to talk about the awkwardness that exists when you first attempt to get in and out of the i8 passenger module. It was a bit tricky the first couple of times but it became second nature by the end of the day which was a relief. The seats are positioned extremely low and you certainly feel almost connected to the car given the seating position. If you are tall and require more leg room, the back "seats" will quickly become completely unusable. To be fair though, it is unlikely that anyone would ever ride in the back seats of the i8 anyway given how small they are.
How Does it Drive
Let's start with electric only driving or eMode as BMW calls it. Driving through the city streets in Los Angeles, eMode is great. The car barrels down the streets essentially being a Front Wheel Drive car powered only by eDrive motor that utilizes the 7.1 kWh lithium ion battery pack stretched below the passenger cell. The i8 performs admirably but I was not able to quite eke out the range that we had been told to expect in our briefing earlier in the day. While the range is quoted at 20-22 miles, my driving partner and I were only able to get 17 before the 3 cylinder motor powering the rear wheels came to life.
Once the electric only range was done, it only made sense to dip right into sport mode to see the true performance of this hybrid beauty. Off the line at a red light, the BMW i8 rips through the pavement and sets you back in your seat just as I expected from the published zero to sixty time of 4.2 seconds. The power delivery is smooth and consistent with the 6 speed automatic transmission and there is no lag in power thanks to the torque from the electric motor.
Later in the day, we arrived in the canyons of Malibu and were treated to some amazing roads that put the i8 to work. Once again, the car was put into sport mode and I was pleasantly surprised with the balance of the car through the tight turns and the ability of the hybrid drive to provide power delivery so quickly. The amount of torque available immediately certainly helps in these situations.
The one down side to all this spirited driving was surely the fuel economy. BMW's staff was quick to point out that the published 94 mpg number was based on EU testing and that they did not have official EPA numbers yet. Those are set to come in the next few weeks. Our 25.8 miles per gallon on the trip computer at the end of the day was not even close. This is still great fuel economy for the performance and size of the i8 but it does disappoint, given the number of times sustainability was used in the press release. Hopefully on a more extended road test in the future, we can put the i8 through some more extensive testing in regards to fuel economy and produce some better numbers.
Based on my day of driving, I have to agree with Alexander that this is mission accomplished in many ways. The i8 is mesmerizing to everyone who gets within eye sight of it and we had plenty of onlookers asking for more details about the car. The i8 isn't cheap with a starting price of $135,700 (plus $950 destination and handling) but there truly is nothing else to compare it to. I wouldn't doubt there is at least one person who we talked to that will be on the phone with their local BMW dealer asking how they can get one for themselves. We wish them (and you) the best of luck, given the long wait lists that exist at most dealers already.
BMW has produced an amazing car in the i8 and has shown that an automotive manufacturer is capable of bringing a true concept car into production. While we have no idea how many BMW will sell or what the future holds, there is no doubt that the BMW i8 is going to be a major influence in the future of the BMW brand in terms of technology. If you have a chance to drive one, do it, but be warned that driving the car may lead to a drain on you bank account. You have been warned.
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