We were promised flying cars, teleportation and hover boards. We don’t have any of that. But now we have this: The BMW i8 and it’s a future that cannot get here soon enough.
My body hurt. My mind was numb. I had just spent a week in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show and was ready to fly home. But first I had to drive a brand-new 2015 BMW i8 to L.A. It’s a rough job, but someone has to do it.
The i8 is BMW’s latest supercar, able to go 0 to 60 in about 4.4 seconds with its hybrid electric/gas powertrain. The i8 looks like a Hot Wheels car, handles like a supercar and is as expensive as a high-end Porsche. With a starting price of $135,000, this isn’t the car for everyone. It’s actually a gateway into BMW’s other hybrid, the cute and cheap BMW i3, a shorter, sporty runaround that BMW is touting as their answer to crunchy hybrids from Honda, Nissan, and Chevy.
I set out, gassed up and fully charged. My time with the i8 was short. I had already spent several days cruising around Vegas where the i8 got more attention than the volcano in front of the Mirage. The car stopped traffic. People gawked from sidewalks and leaned out of cabs to snap pictures.
Stopping at a gas station was an exercise in patience. Everyone had to take a picture and tell me a story about a car they once loved but totaled. It got the most attention parked at a hotel across from CES where most thought it was part of BMW’s trade-show exhibit.
Nope, she was all mine for the next couple of days.
Since the i8 lacks a proper trunk, I jammed my luggage in the back seat and took off to LA down I-15. The sun was shining and the traffic was light. I didn’t plan on taking the quick route all the way to my airport hotel some hundred miles away. Nope, I had all day to get there and was going to make the most of my time with the i8. I turned off the expressway at the first sign of the Mojave National Preserve and found what I was looking for: empty desert roads. I smiled and I assume the i8 did as well.
It’s astounding BMW made the i8 at all. It’s a concept car turned production car. BMW released the stunning concept in 2009 at the height of the recession. Now, some five years later, I’m sitting on the side of an empty road with the i8’s scissor doors open and admiring the desolate beauty outside Las Vegas. All I can hear is a slight whine from the hybrid electric powerplant ready to be abused.
Nestled somewhere within the i8’s frame is an electric motor and tiny 3 cylinder, 1.5L turbocharged engine. They work in tandem to power the i8. The results will make treehuggers and gearheads equally happy.
When driven in hybrid mode, the i8 is quick and plentiful. It can go about 15 miles on effectively just electric power. When the gear shift lever is kicked over to sport mode, the i8 becomes exhilarating.
In either mode it’s quick off the line and at speed. Stomp the right pedal to the floor and the i8 flies to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Even more impressive, though, is when passing is required. As I understand it, the powertrain uses the electric motor to give the moving car an instant boost and then seconds later the 3 cylinder engine takes over. The car leaps forward with supercar might and plants occupants into the seats.
The car simply thunders when driven in sport mode and hugs the roads like a modern supercar should. BMW piped some of the engine noise back into the cabin through the audio system. Sure, that might be cheating a bit, but the notes are genuine and raw. I found the sound to be the most surprising thing about the i8. I simply wasn’t expecting the hybrid to sound so mean.
Read more: Tech Crunch