2018 BMW i8: A vision of the future - now

Posted by Wheels On Edge about 3 years ago
From flying cars to self driving autos, the future of driving is in contention. Grand ideas that never seem to come to fruition pop up almost every day. But you don’t need a crystal ball to see what the future of driving holds. Just walk into a BMW showroom instead. The i8, though on the market for a few years now, looks like it’s been lifted from a sci-fi movie set 30 years from now. But it doesn’t just look like the future. It drives like it too. The realistic, foreseeable future at least.
The party feature of BMW’s hybrid supercar is no doubt its scissor doors. It’s the cherry on top of the sundae that is the sleek, futuristic design of the i8. Getting in and out of the car can be just as dramatic as the doors...but not in a good way. Taller and larger individuals, and those wearing short skirts will find the experience less than graceful. Perhaps a small price to pay however, for a car that demands attention from all angles. From its low and long wheelbase to the flying buttresses arching over the rear wheels, the i8 certainly looks like a supercar. But does it go like one?
On paper, the i8’s figures don’t impress the same way its design does. 357 horsepower, a 1.5L 3-cylinder gasoline engine and transmission from a Mini Cooper seem underwhelming and almost disappointing compared to its $149,900 price tag. But the beauty of the i8 is beyond skin deep. Liberal use of carbon fiber, aluminium and other lightweight materials give the i8 a svelte curb weight of just 1,567 kg. For comparison, BMW’s hot M3 weighs in at 1,622 kg. That tiny engine, when paired with the i8’s 131 horsepower electric engine gives the car a punchy 420 lb-ft of torque and a respectable 0-100 km acceleration time of 4.4 seconds.
Those performance figures translate wonderfully on the road and highway. Even in the midst of a brutal Canadian winter, the i8’s handling is impeccable. Pop the car into sport mode and the drivetrain makes use of both the gas and electric motor to squeeze out as much performance as it can. In sport mode, the i8 feeds some “enhanced” engine noise through the car’s sound system to help add to the experience. Fake sound or not, the lightweight car rockets forward faster than you might expect. Since the rear wheels are powered by the gas engine and the front wheels fed by the electric motor, you get an all wheel drive setup, that when paired with winter tires, keeps you in total control even when the snow is piling down. The i8’s optional laser headlights also impress - greatly aiding night time visibility.

The i8’s performance and handling certainly live up to its supercar looks, but unlike a supercar, the i8 can also be as tame and civil as you need it to be. In its default eDrive mode, the i8 prioritizes efficiency and comfort. The engine will no longer pipe in sound through the speakers and at low speeds, you’ll hear nothing but the hum of the electric motor. The gas engine kicks in under hard acceleration and high speeds, but you can drive the car with just electricity if you want to. Just don’t expect to get very far. The range is pretty paltry. We only got an estimated maximum range of around 30 kilometres. In the middle of winter with a heater on, that number would suffer even further. But at least in eDrive mode, even with the engine in work, fuel efficiency is excellent. The i8 does an excellent job of recharging its battery in sport mode anyway.
From the inside, the i8 continues its futuristic design, but rest assured, there’s nothing alien about its cockpit. One of the i8’s strengths is making such a tech-laden car feel familiar and easy to use. The dashboard’s layout is intuitive and simple, but still stylish. Our car featured an optional two-tone interior with some eco-friendly touches like leather tanned exclusively with plant-based extracts. It also added blue seat belts and other blue accents, complementing the exterior aesthetics. Front visibility from the cockpit is better than one might think for such a low slung car. But be prepared for a large blind spot and a smaller rear window. Thankfully the i8 features a 360-degree camera system. But we would have liked to see a blind spot monitor on the i8, especially given its price point. 

It’s hard to say what the future of driving is. There are many technologies being proposed and tested, but only time will tell which one becomes the norm. It is clear that electric motors will play an increasingly larger part in the future of driving - especially in performance vehicles. The BMW i8 then, gives drivers a taste of the foreseeable future of performance cars. Largely unattainable hybrid hypercars like the Porsche 918 are in an echelon of their own. But with the i8, we see a similar execution of that hybrid drivetrain at a fraction of the cost - and it’s only going to get more and more affordable. The i8’s effortless switching between its two power sources coupled with its dual performance nature mean it really could be used every day and all year, even in the middle of winter. Just make sure to pack some extra washer fluid. If you can find some room in the small trunk, that is. But hey, at least it has one. 

Tags:
2018 BMW i8, review, supercar, plug-in hybrid

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