I’ve just spent a weekend with BMW’s current vision of the future.
There are some rough edges to smooth out, but the hybrid i8 represents the most important effort by a major car company to define what the performance car of the future can be.
Recently I drove a McLaren 650S Spider for a week and got a good feel for what that car is about. It’s an old-line supercar with the typical responsive powerplant, typical responsive chassis and typical modern brakes.
In some ways, the McLaren is the direct descendent of all big-engined European sports cars, going back to the 1911 Fiat S76 “Beast of Turin” with its 28.5-liter 4-cylinder engine.
The i8 is different. From the outside, the car has a futuristic look unlike anything else on the road. The scissor doors are an affectation; with the doors open, every passerby will want his picture taken next to the car. Getting in and out of any scissor-doored car is a chore. There’s just no way around it. At best, you can learn to perform a semi-dignified flop into the seat.
It’s behind the wheel that things get interesting. The i8 has both a combustion engine and an electric one. Together, they produce 357 horsepower and 420 ft-lbs of torque. This translates into silent propulsion when in comfort (battery pack) mode and a rorty exhaust note in sport (combustion engine) mode.
As I carved through the turns of Marmot Road on Mount Hood, the i8 grew on me. The combination of being pushed by the combustion engine and pulled by the electric motor was different, and in the end, satisfying.
I didn’t find the ultimate levels of handling, but this is still a quick car through turns and on the straightaways.
The word I would use to describe the i8 package is “sophisticated.” The car feels regal at low speeds, at high speeds, in city traffic, on freeways and on backroads.
Aside from the clumsy entrance and egress, this would be a very easy car to live with. While the back seats are diminutive, reminiscent of a 911, I did manage to get my 8-year-old squeezed in back there. There are even three cupholders — a conveniently American touch in a very German car.
In the end, the i8 offers an intriguing sample of one possible option for future high-performance cars. Even the price tag of $150,095 as-tested is not unreasonable in the world of today’s supercars. The more time I spent with the i8, the more I was drawn to its unorthodox but successful approach to motoring.