I Think I8 Can: Will a Refresh and Extra Range Give BMW's Fading Eco Supercar a Boost?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

When it went on sale in the latter part of 2014, BMW’s i8 was something of a sensation, though the enthusiasm had as much to do with the car’s jarring design as its technology. I seem to recall Tom Cruise tooling around Dubai in one, possibly in one of the 87 Mission Impossible films.

Boasting scissor type doors, a plug-in hybrid powertrain, a backseat you’d never want to find yourself in, and a sticker price well north of 100 grand, the i8’s time as a media darling wasn’t long-lived. Like a child’s new toy, interest quickly fell away.

There’s two i8s arriving this spring; one a refreshed coupe, the other offering an al fresco motoring experience, sans backseat. Perhaps more importantly, there’s been an effort to fix a serious deficiency in the i8’s green halo: its incredibly limited electric range. Pricing, now released, shows a considerable markup for the drop-top. Can a double-duty lineup, beefed-up eco credentials, and an extra shot of power gild the i8 once again?

Considering the i8’s status as the electrified i sub-brand’s flagship, Bimmer certainly hopes so.

For 2018, the i8 hits the juice bar, swapping its 7.1 kWh battery pack for an 11.6 kWh unit. The electric motor spinning the front wheels grows in power from 129 horsepower to 143 hp, affording the i8 speeds of up to 60 mph when operating in hybrid mode. Fully electric driving range grows from a paltry 15 miles to 34 miles — making gas-free commuting possible, at least in some cases.

When combined with the turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-three driving the rear wheels, the electric motor brings total system output to 374 hp, up from 357. Torque stands at 420 lb-ft.

One thing not staying put is price, as the i8 Coupe’s MSRP grows from $144,395 after delivery to $148,495. Going topless adds a $16k premium, for an out-the door price of $164,296. Naturally, there’s no shortage of add-ons capable of bumping that sticker even higher. Together, Coupe and Roadster will embark on a charm offensive designed to reverse the model’s sales trajectory.

In its first full year on sale in the U.S., BMW moved 2,264 i8s. Hardly Camry volume, but the i8 is hardly a people’s car. The following year, 2016, saw i8 sales slip to 1,594 units, with 2017 taking volume to new depths. Some 488 buyers took home an i8 last year. In January, 32 Americans said, “I think the i8 is right for me.”

Whether or not the changes coming for 2018 rekindle interest in the model, BMW’s electrified fortunes aren’t dependent on it. With 25 electric or hybrid models in the pipeline, it’s the public’s reaction to i-branded crossovers and sedans that will make or break Bimmer’s product strategy.

[Image: BMW Group]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • TheEndlessEnigma Ah GM, never stop being you. GM is working hard to make FIAT look good.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Top Gear of the 2000's was a fresh concept and very well done. Sadly to say there isn't a TV show concept that doesn't eventually exhaust fresh ideas and, as a result, begins to rehash and wear out once were fresh ideas. The show eventually becomes a pale imitation of itself, then begins to embarrass itself, it will get to a point where it jumps the shark. Top Gear began to get stale, the Clarkson, Hammond and May left and the formula failed - surprise! the presenters were part of the magic. Fast forward many years and Grand Tower is trying hard to be Top Gear but it's all very obviously scripted (it always was by felt spontaneous in its original form), Clarkson, Hammond and May are much older, tired and have become caricatures of themselves. Guys, just stop. You should have stopped 10 years ago. Now you're just screwing with your reputations and legacies.
  • FreedMike Kudos to Toyota for making a legitimately slick looking piece (particularly in metallic cherry red). But PHEVs seem like a very narrow niche to me. Yes, the concept is cool - if you play your cards right you never have to fill up with gas, and the gas engine means you don't have to worry about charging facilities - but the operative words are "if you play your cards right." And PHEVs have all the drawbacks of EVs - spotty charging availability, decreased range in cold conditions, and higher price. Personally, I'd opt for a non plug-in Prius and use the plug-in money to upgrade the trim level. It's slower, but even the base Prius performs roughly on par with a Corolla or Civic, so it's not a dog anymore. But who buys a Prius to go fast in the first place? If I wanted to "go gas free," I'd just buy a BEV. YMMV, of course.
  • Analoggrotto Anyone seeking benchmark affluence will get the EV9 by Kia the most cutting edge electric vehicle on the market bar none.
  • Fahrvergnugen Any rollback would be inevitable if Agent Orange were elected anyhow.Next stop would be coal-powered ICE. Good clean American coal. Nice coal. The BEST coal.👿🐂💩
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