Looking like it just rolled off the set of a movie studio, the BMW i8 isn’t your typical battery car, trading performance for environmental cred. The futuristic plug-in hybrid is one of the first green machines to match the acceleration of a true sports car while delivering the sort of fuel economy that would make a Prius owner jealous.
The i8 is one of two battery-based vehicles that make up BMW’s new electric car brand-within-a-brand, the other being the pure battery-electric i3. Both models offer a glimpse at where the automotive world might be heading over the next couple decades as global mileage and emissions standards get tighter and tighter. Both models put a premium on aerodynamic design, while emphasizing what industry types like to call “lightweighting.” The i8 makes extensive use of strong, but ultra-light carbon fiber—a material until recently limited to F1 racers and the most exotic of supercars—an approach that translates into significantly improved performance and fuel economy.
How can you launch from 0 to 60 in just over four seconds, while delivering 94 miles a gallon in the European test cycle? At the heart of this high-tech beast is a complex drivetrain that pairs a pint-sized, three-cylinder, turbocharged gas engine with two electric motors. The package can operate in a variety of modes, from pure electric to sport, the latter combining all three sources of power to produce an impressive 357 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. When using the batteries alone, BMW claims a range of 22 miles.
For some, the most appealing aspect is the strikingly distinctive design of the new i8, starting with the scissor doors that yawn wide to let drivers clamber into the four-seater. Officially, the plug-in is a 2+2, but you’re more likely to use the rear seats for luggage and groceries since the tiny cargo bay measures a miniscule 5.4 cubic feet. One of the neatest features of the 2015 BMW i8 won’t make it across the Atlantic, at least not initially. The German maker is still pressing regulators in the United States to approve the industry’s first laser headlights that can illuminate the road to a distance of almost 2,000 feet.
Set to arrive next spring at a starting price of around $136,000, the BMW i8 clearly won’t steal business from the more mainstream green machines like the Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt, but it could give a run for its money to the pure electric Tesla Model S, which can top $110,000 fully loaded. While the Tesla is a handsome, coupe-like sedan, the i8 is a true standout, both visually and technologically. It could soon become the hot new accessory for those who want an environmentally friendly ride that’s more than a stripped-down econobox.