By on September 17, 2015

2015 BMW i8 front doors open lead

2015 BMW i8
1.5-liter DOHC I-3, VANOS, hybrid (Gas engine: 228 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm, 236 lb-ft @ 3,700 rpm; Electric motor: 129 horsepower @ 4,800)6-speed automatic (rear) and 2-speed (front), Lithium ion battery

28 city/29 highway/28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

27.4 mpg on the ‘I didn’t plug-in the plug-in’ cycle (Observed, MPG)

Tested Options: Giga World package

Base Price:
$137,495*
As Tested Price:
$139,495*

* Prices include $995 destination charge.

This is the car that people in the 1970s predicted we would be driving in the year 2000. Fifteen years after the turn of the millennium, the BMW i8 is the machine that looks like no other BMW — and certainly like no other car on the road. Its gasoline and plug-in electric powertrain compliment its looks, bringing together the efficiency of an electric car and the convenience of an internal combustion engine.

But there is a lot more to understand about what the BMW i8 is and is not. Is it an exotic supercar? Or is it a dream of the environmentally minded automotive enthusiast? Or is it something else altogether? Could this be the one vehicle which we cannot currently classify? Or is it all of these things?

Has the future finally arrived?

2015 BMW i8 front 34

Its looks alone draw the attention of everyone on the road. Pedestrians gawk. Other drivers wave or even honk. Some yell out compliments. When parked, crowds gather, pictures are taken. Bros shower it with awe. Ten-year-old boys spew out its specs. Everyone asks to open the doors. Women seem more reserved, quietly judging the car and then its driver. (Except that one mid-twenties woman who, after a quick conversation that divulged her knowledge of all things cars, ditched her man, jumped into the passenger seat, and was ready to go wherever I was going.) Two Jamaican guys explained to me that BMW really means Bob Marley and the Wailers. Most people had no idea what it is but they knew it was special. Potential i8 buyers should know that all this attention gets old really quickly.

2015 BMW i8 side

Pop up the door, place your butt on the wide door sill and slide into the seat — practice makes you a superhero. Once inside, the interior seems intimidating at first, but within a few minutes similarities to any modern BMW can be seen. In fact, I have not noticed any features in this car that can’t be had on a common yuppie enthusiast-leased 335i. Visibility is shockingly good for a mid-engine car. There are small jump seats in the back, which my seven year old daughter loved as she could see out and no one could see her. Much like the Audi R8 or the Acura NSX, and unlike any Ferrari, everything about using this car as a car is shockingly normal and drama free.

In the middle of this vehicle is a three cylinder, 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that produces 228 horsepower while inhaling air at 22 psi. Next to it is a tiny electric motor that produces eleven horsepower and is used mostly to start the engine and mask the turbo lag. It can be thought of as an electric supercharger. Those two send the power to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Up front is another electric motor that produces 129 horsepower and sends its power to the front wheels via a two-speed transmission. Combined, this gadgetry produces 357 horsepower, which sure as heck does not seem like a lot for a mid-engined exotic in the days of 707-horsepower family sedans.

2015 BMW i8 dash

It is my suspicion, however, that BMW wants you to think of its powerplant as a black box. The front clam-shell cannot be opened by anyone other a factory trained technician. The rear engine can be accessed through the rear hatch, except it really can’t. Underneath what looks like an engine cover is another engine cover which is secured with Allen bolts. I cannot recall any other vehicle in which the engine was completely sealed off. Even the 911 allows you to see part of the intake manifold.

Instead, BMW wants you to focus on are the three main driving modes: eDrive, also known as electric; Comfort, also known as normal; and Sport, also known as faster than Comfort. In eDrive, the i8 is a front-wheel-drive electric car. In Comfort, it’s an all-wheel-drive car with either the gasoline engine and/or the electric motors propelling the vehicle forward. In Sport mode, the three-banger is working full-time, the front transmission shifts into another gear, and the rear transmission stays in gear longer. All of this is accompanied by a concert of noises never heard from one car before; the i8 quietly whistles, whines, and snorts, all at the same time.

The EPA rates the i8 for 28 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, for a combined 28 mpg rating. That may not sound impressive because it does not take into account the 76 eMPG rating, which is the distance a vehicle can travel in electric mode using the amount of energy contained in one gallon of gasoline. The i8 can travel up to fifteen miles in eDrive with a fully charged battery, but that is where I ran into a problem.

I live in a downtown Boston high-rise building where each parking spot is privately owned. There are no changing stations or outlets available, so I was not able to charge the car there. Yes, there are charging stations, but they required me to either park on a downtown street — which I never do with press cars — or pay an exuberant amount of money for a night of parking a mile from my home. Neither of these was a viable option for me, so I relied on the battery being charged through regenerative braking and the three-banger. My driving was limited to heavy city traffic or sensible hooning, nothing in between. My result was a computer-indicated 27.4 mpg, which I thought was pretty good given the circumstances. If I had access to a charging station, I would have no issue driving to work and back in purely electric mode.

2015 BMW i8 exterior details

The i8 is made of a plastic-reinforced carbon fiber tub which sits atop an aluminum alloy frame, with some magnesium thrown in here and there. There are parts of the body that were intentionally left unfinished or unpainted, which look like a mix of fiberglass and carbon-fiber. The batteries, which are located in what could be described as the transmission/driveshaft tunnel on a typical car, along with the motors, are the heavy parts. The curb weight of the i8 is 3,455 pounds, the bulk of which is located just a few inches from the ground.

On paper, with 357 horsepower and at 3,455 pounds, the BMW i8 does not seem all that impressive. Yet, in street driving, it’s like nothing else I have ever driven, mostly due to the massive amount of torque that is instantly available. The total sum of torque the i8’s black box, derived by some highly complex formulae, is 420 lb-ft at some irrelevant engine speed. This is what the driver and passenger feel and it’s what gives the i8 the sense of fast. Be it from the electric, conventional, or both motors, the power is always there; there are no dead spots, no waiting for boost to build, no ridiculously high redlines. Quietly and smoothly, pinning its occupants to their seats, the BMW i8 just goes.

2015 BMW i8 interior details

In a sense, that is where the i8 does not make any sense. The common metrics we associate with performance do not relate the same way to the i8. On paper, the i8 may not be faster than a Porsche 911, but is sure as heck feels faster. Neither any hybrid, nor any vehicle with a three-cylinder engine, is supposed to be this fast. It’s worth noting the obvious: In addition to being fast, the i8 is very much a driver’s car. Handling and feedback through the chassis is typical of sporty BMWs, that is to say great and on par with the Audi R8.

One may think that the i8 is the new M1, but it isn’t. A quick glance inside will reveal that it’s not an M car at all. The seats are not as supportive and lack the various adjustments of the amazing seats that come in every BMW M car. There is no M anything; no M modes, no M buttons. Even the tires, while perfectly suited for the street, and not at all objectionable in casual hooning, aren’t worthy of a crapcan racer (note: this vehicle had the sportier 215mm and 245mm wide tires). The i8 is fast, it does everything well, but it’s not something anyone would do a track day in, and therefore it is not an M car.

2015 BMW i8 rear open door

What the i8 shares with the iconic M1 is that both vehicles mark the start of new era for the BMW brand. The M1 started a line of fantastic performance, yet functional, vehicles. The i8 is here to prove that electric and efficient does not mean boring and slow. None of that stuff about the engine, the motors, the batteries, and the power distribution matters. Here is a machine from the future and in it is a black box that makes it go. It’s stunning, it’s fast, and it’s green.

The future is now.

2015 BMW i8 rear angle

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. In his life he has owned seven BMWs, new and old, all with inline-six cylinder engines and manual transmissions. 

BMW of North America provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. 

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62 Comments on “2015 BMW i8 Review – Supercar for Environmentalists...”


  • avatar
    Ianw33

    While it is not up my alley, i do respect the tech/engineering that went into this car.

    With that said, i would love to see them stick their twin turbo v8 in this car and have an option to have all the panels the same color.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    A new era of ghastly exteriors?

  • avatar
    Hummer

    I saw one of these last Sunday, he was going about 5 under 70 (the speed limit).

    I don’t really get what’s going here, you pay over $100k for something highly impractical. So twice the price of a corvette, less power than the corvette, same highway MPG, and no matter how many engines you kill in the vette I would place my reliability money on the Chevy.

    You have to really love that city MPG, because the styling doesn’t have half the stay power of a Delorean.

  • avatar
    SlowMyke

    Was it REALLY like nothing else you’ve driven before? And how fast is “fast”? You seem to want to say it’s really fast, but then hint a lot that it isn’t really. It “feels” fast, it “may not be faster than”… I get that feeling fast is really all most people need in a car, but this is a BMW whose exterior and price tag may be writing checks the engine/motors can’t cash.

    Aside from a very mediocre fuel rating and polarizing looks, this doesn’t appear to offer anything a low model BMW coupe can for much less money. I’d even guess most non-M BMW’s beat this in economy and at least FEEL fast enough to make no difference. And add to why I call the economy rating mediocre, you demonstrate very well the shortcomings of the plug in for a lot of people- spotty access to charging means sub 30 mpg for and electric whatever-the-hell-car this is. And besides, can we stop having electric hybrids that can’t even manage 20 miles on electricity? All that money and tech, and there’s a good chance that the electricity wouldn’t last a commute of more than 5 miles each way.

    • 0 avatar

      It was combination of its looks, powertrain geekery, power, and the noises it generated that made it so much different. I personally don’t go bananas for exotics and prefer cars that are more… realistic? Obtainable? So there was an issue of novelty, too. And the fact that EVERYONE was looking at me, which I hated.

      • 0 avatar
        SlowMyke

        Fair enough. I read it as the speed/handling of it was like no other car, which sounded like the typical “omg this brand new performance car is so much better than any other performance car” trope. I can respect the entire experience being a new one.

        Another question, this being a modern BMW after all, what exactly was making the noises? The power train or the speakers? I think weird noises (that weren’t signs of bad things to come) would totally entertain me in a car, but I’d be less thrilled if they were cooked up on a computer and installed into my car.

        • 0 avatar

          I was questioning that very thing, so much so that I had an autojourno friend drive the car while I was in another car near it. It was the car making the noises. I think.

        • 0 avatar
          wmba

          From Car and Driver road test:

          “Zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and 12.4 seconds in the quarter-mile confirm that BMW is earnest in its sports-car intentions. Hold the pedal down and the i8’s little-engine-that-can revs to 6000 rpm through the first five gears to a governed 155-mph top speed in sixth.”

          So it isn’t slow. It’s a Louis Vitton handbag for the status crowd.

          • 0 avatar
            SlowMyke

            @wmba- thanks for the info. Definitely faster than I was thinking. Probably not going to have trouble losing other non-M BMW’s after all. I’m still not sold on it, but it makes more sense knowing there’s at least pretty decent performance to go along with all the showiness.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “this doesn’t appear to offer anything a low model BMW coupe can for much less money.”

      Again, what does that have to do with the thought process of the typical super-car buyer? They want it because it’s expensive not despite it being expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        SlowMyke

        @jmo- that’s all fine and dandy until a 2, 3, or 4 series pulls up next to you and you can’t lose it. I get that some people like the high price tag for bragging rights, but that sort of ego usually accompanies pride in having something something that’s better than everyone else’s. Can’t imagine someone buying the most exclusive BMW being happy about this proposed situation.

  • avatar
    SomeGuy

    Every time I see one I stop what I am doing and look. I disagree with the comments. This is one of the finest looking “mass produced” cars on the road. The front actually can be opened by two people, but, like all things German it is overly complicated:

  • avatar
    maxxcool7421

    “”1.5-liter DOHC I-3, VANOS, hybrid (Gas engine: 228 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm, 236 lb-ft @ 3,700 rpm””

    Seems to me the real gem is the 1.5t .. address the lag minus the electric turbo spool and this nugget would replace a number of 4pot bmw engines.

    Stroke it to 1.6L or 1.7L and get another 15-20lb-ft and it would be damn solid for a generic people hauler in the 1-series.

    • 0 avatar
      darex

      It essentially has already been done, just as you suggest. It powers the F54/F56/F55 MINI models and the F45/F48 BMW models (with more to soon follow)

      • 0 avatar
        maxxcool7421

        Yikes… 138hp in the mini. They should not neuter it so badly.

        Setting it for user selectable 150hp-220hp + 180lbft-230lbft would allow them to jettison the 2.0 completely, save a little weight and have tune levels for driver selection.

        • 0 avatar
          Quentin

          My wife is really interested in the new MINI Clubman to replace her 2005 MINI Cooper S (6MT). She asked which engine she should go with. If we were talking the regular hatchback, I’d be OK with the 3 pot, but in the 3200lb Clubman, I would have to go with the 2L 4pot. Our Rav4 would very likely give the 3 cylinder Clubman a run for its money.

  • avatar
    carguy

    To me this is the most desirable car that BMW has made in a long time. Like the 300SL was revolutionary back in the 50s with its forward looking design and use of advanced technology, so is the i8 today.

    In this price range, there are plenty of more conventional sports cars to choose from if you don’t like the i8 but for me I would choose this over an AMG GT, Porsche 911 or any Aston any day of the week.

  • avatar
    dwford

    I want one. Seems cheap at under $150k. Gimme.

  • avatar

    If I took a PRIUS and put it inside the body of a Lamborghini Gallardo…

    That’s basically what the i8 is.

    I drove this car months ago. Wasn’t impressed at all. The doors are cool but it makes ingress and egress difficult for even smaller people. Worse, you’re likely to see more of these wild door designs filter down to ECONO CARS. Eventually Honda Civics will have gull wings and exotic paint schemes.

    Powertrain performance was pathetic.

    Get a P85D instead. $135,000. The i8’s here in NYC carry a $20,000 markup and approach $150,000.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      As a Tesla partisan, I know the P85D is the better car.

      But if I had to choose between the two, I’m just not sure. The P85D, while beautiful, isn’t hot like the i8, and its silent running just isn’t as cool as the i8’s exhaust note.

      But the P85 won’t wear out its welcome like the i8 will with difficult ingress/egress, tiny back seat, and the need for two fuels rather than one.

      • 0 avatar

        This is a financial “choice”.

        Most people aren’t in the market for $130,000+ cars.

        The P85D is $135,000 with nav and moonroof – 2 pieces of equipment I’d refuse to buy it without.

        The i8 costs $137,000 BASE.

        The FACT is that 99.999% of ALL THE HUMANS WHO HAVE EVER LIVED could never, ever, even consider affording these cars.

        So now the question is: do I get the small, impractical, attractive car or the larger, practical, FASTER car???

        Well – an Aventador (impractical) is around $500,000 and a Rolls Royce (more practical) is the same cost or around it.

        It’s basically the same level of decision making.

        Personally – I’d go for the P85D.

        • 0 avatar
          S1L1SC

          One thing to remember is that with the i8 you can keep going once the battery is empty, with the P85D you need a charger and a much longer stop…

          Obviously won’t matter to those that have multiple cars and buy these as toys.

          • 0 avatar

            Range Anxiety is the Model S’s biggest problem.

            That will continue to be the main problem of anyone considering an EV.

            Now they have the P90D and Model X to offer. They all suffer from the same problem.

            They aren’t TIME EFFICIENT unless you have chargers EVERYWHERE.

  • avatar
    Chan

    The i8 is not a traditional supercar. One would not choose it for any sort of “performance.”

    Rather, I see this appealing to wealthy BMW fans who want to help their brand perform a science experiment. Because that’s what this car is, and when viewed as such it’s actually a really neat little toy.

    Daring styling/aerodynamics, exotic CF construction, independent front/rear powertrains. It’s an innovation enthusiast’s car, and it needs to be experienced with the right mindset.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    >>>
    I have not noticed any features in this car that can’t be had on a common yuppie enthusiast-leased 335i.
    <<<

    Manual transmission.
    Rear-wheel-drive.
    LSD

  • avatar
    JRobUSC

    0-60 3.8s, 1/4 mile 12.4s.

    Everyone is acting like the car is some kind of slow turd. It’s quick. Performance is on par with a 911. And most importantly for someone shopping in the $140k range, it looks “special” and exotic and cutting edge AND satisfies the green crowd as well as the tech folks. In short, it does everything it’s supposed to do.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      “0-60 3.8s, 1/4 mile 12.4s.”

      And, capable of 27MPG city – boy, that sucks… /sarc

      Another car that I would have if I won the lottery.

      But, its attention-gathering capability would lower my self esteem, as my egress from this beauty would be akin to Venus giving birth to Hellboy, and the risk of trample-deaths from the fleeing throngs would be forever on my conscience…

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t understand why people don’t think it’s fast. Did I not write that it’s fast? Or is a mid-12 sec quarter mile not fast anymore? Does everyone here drive a 911 Turbo, a V12 Ferrari, or at least a Hellcat? I don’t know anymore…

      • 0 avatar
        JRobUSC

        Honestly, even if the car could warp the space time continuum, cure cancer, and end racial strife, people would still hate on it, because it’s a BMW, and it’s de rigueur to hate on anything BMW.

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        “Does everyone here drive a 911 Turbo, a V12 Ferrari, or at least a Hellcat? I don’t know anymore…”

        TTAC itself described a car that hits 60 in 5.5 as “not quick”, so indeed it seems that standards have shifted. At this rate, by 2025 a car will be considered too slow to tolerate if the acceleration doesn’t give you an aneurysm.

  • avatar
    mcs

    >> or pay an exuberant amount of money for a night of parking a mile from my home.

    Where are you? I know Boston very well and the charging locations. As far as I know, there are plenty of garages with charging less than a mile from any downtown or Back Bay residential high rises. State Street garage, Rowes Wharf, Post Office Square, Icon, Emerson Place, and the Common. Plenty in Back Bay including Copley Place. Parking in most of those garages at the evening rate for the couple of hours it takes to charge an i8 wouldn’t have broken the bank.

    Then again, the battery on that thing is so tiny it was probably best doing what you did and letting the engine charge it.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I think it’s awesome. Photos don’t do it justice; in person, it’s really stunning.

    The manufacture of this car was featured in How It’s Made – very impressive:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNj5unBhJs4

    Kamil: One thing you didn’t mention was the excellent artificial sound this car produces, which gets piped inside. Any comments on that?

  • avatar
    Noble713

    I’ve seen two in person: one in Omotesando (Tokyo) and one surprisingly in Omoromachi (Naha). Definitely a head-turner.

    I doubt I would ever chose to own one. If I wanted a “proper” supercar for $150k I’d buy a used Lambo, and if I wanted a high-tech geek car I’d buy a P85D.

    The comment above about “contributing to BMW’s science experiment” is probably accurate.

  • avatar
    VenomV12

    I don’t get this car, I think it is ghastly and overpriced and not remotely even a supercar other than sort of looking like one I guess. I couldn’t see buying this over something like am Audi R8 or 911 GT3 or Jaguar F-Type R to name a few cars. I’ve seen this car in the flesh a few times now and it’s just a design disaster in my opinion, not attractive at all.

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    Even as a BMW owner, I am more interested in the Cat 950H wheel loader behind this car.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “There are small jump seats in the back, which my seven year old daughter loved as she could see out and no one could see her.”

    Just like the back of an M-body Fifth Avenue!


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