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REVIEW
From Edmunds.com
2014 BMW  i8 Picture
PROS
  • Exceptional performance for a hybrid
  • Exceptional fuel economy for a sports car
  • Futuristic design
CONS
  • Futuristic price
  • Still can't match the even stronger performance of similarly priced non-hybrid performance cars

The 2014 BMW i8 represents the German automaker's vision of a high-performance plug-in hybrid. Just consider these three key stats: zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, a full battery pack recharge in as little as 1.5 hours and a top speed of 155 mph. If this is what the future looks like, please tell Marty McFly and Doc Brown to sign us up.

For the i8, BMW uses a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline three-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. The two power sources combine for 357 horsepower, 420 pound-feet of torque and excellent all-wheel-drive performance. Relying solely on electrons for propulsion, the i8 can travel up to 15 miles and reach a top speed of 75 mph. The combined city/highway fuel economy running with the gas engine stands at a respectable 28 mpg, while total driving range is estimated at a generous 330 miles.

Lightweight construction utilizing aluminum, chemically hardened glass (similar to that used in smartphones) and a 2+2 passenger cell integrated into a carbon-fiber chassis contributes toward the i8's lofty performance capabilities. Indeed, despite all the hardware packed into the i8, it is 10 pounds lighter and just 1.5 inches longer than the 3 Series. A 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution, a low, centrally mounted battery pack and those dual powertrains essentially make the i8 an all-wheel-drive performance car.

The BMW i8's unique scissor-lift-style doors guarantee you'll make a grand entrance (and exit), though they also mean that settling into the front seats requires some practice. But that's just the price paid for the i8's showcar styling, which is further emphasized with U-shaped LED headlights. Inside, the futuristic cockpit uses recycled materials and naturally treated leather. The minuscule rear seats, however, are best considered as an added cargo hold, especially since the trunk itself is so small.

Perhaps the only real rival to the 2014 BMW i8 is the similarly high-performing (and all-electric) 2014 Tesla Model S, which has the significant advantages of a much lower price tag, four doors and usable rear seats. If you decide to go strictly gas-powered, you may look across the showroom at BMW's "M" family of performance machinery, while other sporting choices include the tempting 2014 Porsche 911 lineup as well as the value-packed 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. But for the hybrid buyer seeking sexy styling as well as sizzling performance and admirable efficiency, the 2014 BMW i8 presents a unique choice.

WHAT'S NEW FOR 2014

The 2014 BMW i8 is an all-new model.

2014 BMW  i8 Picture

TRIMS & EQUIPMENT

The 2014 BMW i8 is a two-door, plug-in hybrid sports car with "2+2" seating. It comes in a single trim level.

Standard features include 20-inch wheels, adjustable suspension, LED exterior lighting (headlights, foglights, running lights and taillights), automatic headlights and wipers, front and rear park assist, an overhead camera view system, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, power front seats, heated front seats, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic climate control, memory settings and a head-up display.

Other standard electronics features include a navigation system, BMW's iDrive electronics interface, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, BMW Assist, Internet accessibility and a Harman Kardon sound system with a USB/iPod interface, satellite radio and HD radio. Also included are BMW Apps (selected smartphone apps integration) and BMW Remote Services (which allows Apple and Android users to lock the car remotely and turn on the climate control, among various other tasks).

There are three option packages available, known as Worlds. Giga World includes turbine-style wheels and expanded, perforated leather upholstery. Tera World features a choice of the standard or turbine-style wheels and special cloth and leather upholstery. Pure Impulse World includes black brake calipers, a choice of the standard or turbine wheels and a variety of unique interior trim and materials upgrades including a leather engine cover.

2014 BMW  i8 Picture

INTERIOR & SAFETY

Getting in the i8 requires a bit of choreography once the scissor door is swung up and away. One faces a high sill and the best way to get in is to sit on the sill, swing a leg over, allow your backside to slip into the seat, then follow with the other leg. It's not hard once you master the move, but you'll want to duck under the bottom edge of the door at the same time.

Once inside the i8, the driver is ensconced in a multi-tiered and layered cockpit design that uses recycled materials and naturally treated leather for upholstery and panel surfaces. The power seats offer good support and long-distance comfort, and even a 6-foot-2-inch staffer fit with headroom to spare. The center stack is canted toward the driver, putting everything close at hand.

The shifter and various mode switches are close by, too, and each selection changes the background color and meter design of the main instrument pod. The dials turn blue in EV mode; Sport is red and Comfort is gray. None of them is particularly attractive or easy to read, though, because the numbers are small, the instrument's needles are skinny and they don't contrast strongly enough with the background. As such, one will likely end up using the head-up display instead.

Despite the "2+2" moniker, however, this is essentially a two-seater, as those rear seats are tiny with scant headroom, and as such are best considered auxiliary luggage space. You'll need it, too, since the trunk is rated at a paltry 5.4 cubic feet.

The BMW i8 comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Also standard are BMW Assist emergency communications (includes automatic crash notification, stolen vehicle recovery and on-demand roadside assistance) as well as parking sensors and an around car view camera system.

At the Edmunds test track, the i8 came to a stop from 60 mph in 108 feet.

2014 BMW  i8 Picture

PERFORMANCE & HANDLING

As a plug-in hybrid, the i8 employs a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline three-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. The gas engine drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, while the electric motor powers the front wheels through a two-speed automatic. When working together, the two combine to provide 357 hp, 420 lb-ft of torque and all-wheel drive.

The battery pack can be fully recharged at home through a standard 120-volt garage outlet in about 3.5 hours. Upgrade to a 240-volt charger (or visit a public station) and you can trim that down to about 1.5 hours.

During Edmunds testing, a European-spec i8 sprinted from zero to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. According to the EPA, the i8 can travel about 15 miles on electric power alone and uses electricity at the rate of 43 kWh per 100 miles driven (remember that the lower the number here, the better.) After that, the gas engine comes into play and gives the i8 an EPA combined (city/highway) fuel economy rating of 28 mpg. Total driving range is estimated at 330 miles.

Combining gasoline and electric power in a way that BMW has done with the i8 cannot be easy, so it's all the more impressive that the i8 feels pretty normal. The accelerator is smooth and linear, while the brake pedal is progressive, without the hardness or "wooden" character of other regenerative braking systems. In Sport mode (there are also Comfort and Eco Pro settings), the i8 further awakens, feeling light and agile. The hybrid boasts smooth and strong acceleration, with the electric motor's torque nicely covering for the small turbo as the latter winds up to deliver its power contribution.

The i8 also delivers stellar handling thanks to 50/50 weight distribution, a low, centrally mounted battery pack and dual powertrains that essentially make the i8 an all-wheel-drive performance car. The adjustable suspension allows one to tailor the car's handling and ride dynamics to their liking. The base setting is only slightly firm in town, but Sport crosses the line at city speeds. Push the car hard in the sort of driving Sport was intended for, however, and this firmer setting comes into its own, absorbing large bumps and small ripples with apparent ease while keeping the car stable around turns.

VERDICT

Given that the 2014 BMW i8 is capable of elite sports car performance, miserly fuel economy and quick recharge times, it may cause you to rethink your idea of what a hybrid can be.

Copyright Edmunds.com, Inc. All rights reserved. First published on www.edmunds.com and reprinted with permission. Edmunds and the Edmunds.com car logo are registered trademarks of Edmunds.com, Inc.
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