Talk about a prime opportunity. When BMW let us wring out its striking new i8 in sunny Southern California we were all in. After all, what could be more perfect than experiencing BMW’s bold halo car in the City of Angels?
Now, count yourself lucky if you’ve spotted even one of these eye-catching plug-in hybrids in the wild. With each U.S. dealership only able to get, at best, one or two i8s a month, sightings are scarce. Test drives? Dream on. So the thousand-watt question: how does the sexiest Bimmer since the M1 supercar drive? At speed or parked, the i8 attracts a village. We’ve never received so many inquiries or thumbs-ups. Just one example: After catching dinner and a movie in beautiful downtown Burbank, we returned to the dark, deserted parking structure to discover a 20-something clicking away with his iPhone. “What is it? It’s beautiful!” he gushed. We were more than happy to enlighten him on the highlights—the i8 packs 357 horsepower, is an absolute hoot to drive and still manages to pull down a slick 31 mpg even when driven with abandon.
The feature that always floors the curious, though, is the i8’s dramatic “wings”—the beautiful swing-up doors. Keep in mind that the i8 is already one of those cars that you fall in love—lust?—with at first sight. BMW has of late taken heat about controversial styling and look-alike designs, but the i8 is proof that the automaker knows how to put emotion, not just technology, center stage. And while we don’t have the privilege of knowing the back-story on the i8’s genesis, in the end, it matters not at all. The futuristic i8’s long, flowing lines are so organic and so sexy, BMW could have planted a lawn mower engine under its gorgeous carbon fiber reinforced plastic body and few would care.
Actually that’s not too much of a stretch. A 1.5-liter twin-turbocharged 3-banger sends up to 228 horsepower to the rear wheels. The front wheels are driven by a 129-horse electric motor. Measured against the current crop of 600-plus horsepower rides, those stats may not raise your heart rate, but all you have to do to get your motor racing is fall into the driver’s sport seat, pull the featherweight door down and stab the start button. Let the grins begin.
Weighing in at 3,285 pounds and more total torque (420 lb-ft) and horsepower (357) than a V8 Chevrolet Silverado, the i8 is a blast to drive. An eDrive button lets you select five modes ranging from all electric—total range solely on battery power is about 21 miles—to our favorite: sport. In addition to regenerating more electricity, sport lets you enjoy the i8’s sharp reflexes without being beat up, thanks to quicker shifts, power management and tighter steering.
The icing on the cake? Some wickedly clever special effects. BMW has literally amped up the excitement by piping in a soundtrack of a highly tuned engine and quick, racing-style gear shifts. We’ll bet they’ll fool your passenger. And please note that singular. The i8 is technically a 2+2 but we classify the rear “seats” as auxiliary storage—the trunk under the fastback glass is just a tad over 5 cubic feet. Louis Vuitton, however, offers a luxe solution in four pieces tailored to the millimeter for the BMW i8. You’ll be able to use that fine luggage while you’re waiting for your i8 as orders are taking 18 to 24 months to fill.
Turns out that BMW’s i8 is not just an incredible statement on where responsible and satisfying motoring is headed—it’s a powerful lesson in supply and demand.