I attended car guy confession yesterday. As I sat on the old vinyl bench seat of the automotive confessional the high priest of octane slid open the screen and I quietly bared my soul. “Oh, father of the four wheels I must confess to a love or maybe it’s lust of a car with…” I finally stammered out, “ A car with 3 cylinders.” “Her body is stunning, carbon fiber with curves and lines that drive a car guy crazy. Her name is i8.” He was patient with me as I confessed my transgressions and unholy fascination with an engine spinning an odd number of cylinders, but still I could feel the judgment being laid upon me. Finally he provided me with absolution as he said, “I understand son many a car guy has sat in your place attempting to contemplate the new testament of a modern hybrid.” My penance was 8 Hellcats and 2 our V8s. As the screen closed I could hear my Henry Ford Apostle mutter, “That i8 is one wicked beast.”
While the BMW i8 may be in its third year of production the exterior design of this mid-engine sports car remains on the cutting edge with even the very latest models simply hoping to compare. The i8 is one of the flagship purpose built hybrids that have been hitting showroom floors for the past several years. We are not talking about shoehorning in a bunch of batteries and “converting” a regular production car. The elite sport car hybrids are ground up designs with performance exceeding their gas breathing brethren. One major difference for the BMW is that the i8 bridges the gap between ultra-exotic hybrid performance and price to a slightly more practical application. Yes, the price is still in the upper deck at $140,000ish but think about how this compares to the Porsche 918 which pushes towards the million dollar mark. The field is narrowing with a new kid on the block, the 2017 Acura NSX just moved in priced around $156,000.
The i8 may “only” be packing a 1.5 liter 3 cylinder gas engine, but the mischievous German designers kept the steel at bay and leaned on weight saving carbon fiber reinforced plastic to help bolster performance and efficiency. The curb weight of modern cars has been growing faster than the waistlines of us buffet loving Americans. The salad eating i8 shrugs of the girth with the U.S. version weighing in at a svelte 3,455 pounds. Just down the showroom floor a BMW 5 series pushes the scales another 1500 pounds as it closes in on 5,000 pounds. The i8 is a hybrid, but more specifically it is a plug-in hybrid. So when you go to Whole Foods you can park right up front and have the i8 suckle free energy while you shop for organic almonds. While the i8 is on the leading edge of the plug-in hybrid world it still takes two and half hours to fully charge. Most of us can fill our tanks with dinosaur juice in less time than it takes to buy a 64 ounce soda and heat up a bean burrito in the painfully slow microwaves of our local convenience store. Yes, I want to be a good steward of the earth, but can I please do it in a hurry?
The other part of the performance advantage the i8 relies on is to use the intrinsic advantage of a hybrid, almost instant performance through electric motors. One motor sits up front and drives the front wheels. A second electric motor lends a helping hand to the mid-mounted turbo powered three cylinder which throws out a very healthy 228 horsepower. All this equals 357 horsepower and 420 foot pounds of torque. Step on the accelerator (I can’t see calling it the gas pedal) and it’s on like Donkey Kong as the i8 hits 60 in just about 4 seconds on the way to a healthy governed top speed of 156 mph. While taking a tour of the i8 at Baron BMW I asked my tour guide, Zach Ryder, if we could take a peak under the bonnet. He gave a wry smile and informed me the three cylinder heart of the i8 sits under a solid cover accessible only to those technicians with the proper tools and training. Think of it as a chastity belt for hybrids. I still have no idea how you check the oil.
The inside of the i8 will be familiar to those who know the work of the Bavarians. Many of the bits and pieces seem to have been pulled out of the standard BMW parts bin. Sitting in the leather wrapped world my first thought was “glass cockpit”. I am not sure if that was the intent or not, but you should not be surprised the gauges and needles are gone replaced with a screen behind the steering wheel and another at the familiar BMW locale, centered on top of the dash. I believe at some point during the design and planning of the i8 they decided a back seat would expand the potential pool of buyers. If you ever find yourself designing a mid-engine sports car whether it be hybrid or gas, please for the love of all that is holly don’t attempt a back seat. All too often the result is almost comical. BMW tried to make the best of it, but the effort fights against the beautiful design of the car.
Of all the things BMW threw at the i8 the single coolest feature has to be the doors. Most will call them butterfly doors as they hinge on the A-pillar swinging upwards. Yes, you could hit your head on them and they might make egress and ingress into the cockpit a bit awkward, but I don’t care! They are cool and I want to look cool while leaving a minimal carbon footprint.