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REVIEW
From Edmunds.com
2017 BMW  i8 Picture
PROS
  • Exceptional fuel economy for a sports car
  • Exceptional performance for a hybrid
  • Futuristic design
CONS
  • Futuristic price
  • Performance can't match conventional sports cars with similar price tags

It's practically a given that any six-figure sports car is going to have an exotic look to it. That said, the 2017 BMW i8 looks more "out there" than most.

As an exotic sports car, this futuristic-looking plug-in hybrid offers impressive acceleration — the sprint to 60 mph takes just 4.5 seconds. In terms of flamboyant styling, the i8's dramatic sweeping lines and scissor-lift doors make it a safe bet you'll stand out in any crowd. And when it comes to innovative engineering, the i8's plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain can tool along for up to 15 miles on battery power alone. And when the lithium-ion battery pack is depleted, it can be recharged in as little as 1.5 hours by a dedicated charging station.

As far as performance goes, the combination of the turbocharged three-cylinder engine and electric motor sends a total of 357 horsepower to all four wheels, enough output to transform even mundane trips into a thrill ride. With fuel economy averaging 28 mpg and a range of 330 miles between fill-ups, this exotic can keep the fun going for quite a while too.

In keeping with the environmentally friendly supercar theme, the BMW i8's ultra-modern passenger cabin is done up in recycled materials and naturally treated leather. If there's a downside to this car, it's in the form of rear seats so small they're best thought of as additional storage to supplement what's available in the positively tiny trunk.

If you'd like to consider alternatives to the BMW i8, there are two ways to go.  As a fast yet environmentally friendly car, the i8 might compare to the all-electric Tesla Model S or the hybrid Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid.  As a sports car, it might be compared it to the all-wheel-drive Acura NSX or Audi R8 because it has a dimension of all-weather civility that you don't find in a Ferrari or McLaren.

In the final measure, the 2017 BMW i8 remains an "out there" sports car with a uniquely appealing eco-friendly bent. 

WHAT'S NEW FOR 2017

For 2017, the BMW i8 is available in a special package known as the Protonic Red Edition, which bundles unique paint, special body trim, distinctive wheels and custom seats.

2017 BMW  i8 Picture

TRIMS & EQUIPMENT

The 2017 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 alloy wheels, driver-adjustable suspension, LED exterior lighting (headlights, foglights, running lights and taillights), automatic headlights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a surround-view camera system, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, six-way power front seats, driver-seat memory settings and a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The list of standard electronics includes a head-up instrument display, a navigation system, BMW's iDrive electronics interface (with an 8.8-inch central display screen), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, BMW Assist and Online, and an 11-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with a USB port, satellite radio and HD radio. Also included are BMW Apps (smartphone-app 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).

Two optional trim packages are available. Giga World includes turbine-style wheels, upgraded LED headlights and more extensive leather upholstery. Tera World throws in some special interior trim, including unique cloth and leather upholstery. Note that the default package is called Mega World; it's included in the base price. BMW's Laserlight headlamps are available with all three World packages.

A new Protonic Red Edition includes special paint and trim, unique wheels, distinctive seats and interior details and door sills engraved with "Protonic Red Edition."

2017 BMW  i8 Picture

INTERIOR & SAFETY

As with several other exotic sports cars on the market, getting into the BMW i8 requires some practice. Swing the scissor lift door up and out of the way (a cool experience in itself), and you'll find a wide door sill you'll have to step over. With that being the case, the generally accepted method involves sitting on the sill and swinging one leg in, then letting your hind quarters slip into the seat followed by the other leg, all while ducking under the bottom edge of the door. Sounds complicated, but once you get the hang of it, the procedure turns out to be no big deal.

After you're in, you'll find plenty of headroom complemented by power-operated seats that offer good comfort even during a long day behind the wheel. The stylish design combined with high-quality naturally tanned leather and recycled materials gives the passenger cabin the upscale look you'd expect from an exotic sports car. Since this is a BMW, the instrument display and various center-console controls are meant for an actively engaged driver.

The rear seats are really seats in name only; they're much too cramped for human habitation. Much as in a Porsche 911, it's better to think of them as an adjunct to the notably small trunk, which itself offers just 5.4 cubic feet of space.

The 2017 BMW i8's list of standard safety features includes antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat 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-view camera system.

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

2017 BMW  i8 Picture

PERFORMANCE & HANDLING

Power for the 2017 BMW i8 comes from a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline three-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor and a 7.1-kWh 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 an integrated two-speed automatic. Taken together, these two sources produce 357 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque in an all-wheel-drive configuration.

During Edmunds testing, a European-spec BMW i8 sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, a relatively quick time that's nonetheless eclipsed by a number of non-hybrid sports cars on the market.

The i8's 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 Level 2 charging station) and you can trim the time down to about 1.5 hours.

EPA energy-efficiency estimates for the i8 include 15 miles of electric-only range and a combined (city/highway) fuel economy rating of 28 mpg when the gas engine comes into play. Total driving range is estimated at 330 miles. The EPA also rated the BMW i8 at 76 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent), factoring in both gas and electric operation.

On the road, the 2017 BMW i8 feels surprisingly friendly thanks to a combination of smoothly powerful acceleration and predictable braking without any artificial feel. The speed comes on in a smooth and linear fashion as the electric motor's instant torque fills in gaps in the power curve while the turbocharged gasoline engine is getting up to speed. Acceleration under full throttle is nothing less than impressive.

Driving the i8 also has a distinctly aural component. Under pure battery power, the silence is broken only by the turbine-like whine of the electric motor. Step on the accelerator hard enough to bring the gasoline engine online and specially designed engine sounds emanate from the rear audio speakers (even if the audio system itself is off), creating an enhanced auditory experience. It's kind of fake, but it sounds great.

Handling is likewise exceptional, thanks in part to the car's equally balanced weight distribution and low center of gravity. The adjustable suspension allows you to dial up the firmer Sport settings for tackling a winding stretch of road. Around town you'll want to use the standard setting in everyday motoring because Sport mode can be downright harsh on poor quality pavement.

VERDICT

Offering thrilling performance, impressive fuel economy and all-electric motoring, the futuristic 2017 BMW i8 redefines what a sports car 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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