Reviews

2015 BMW i8 Walk Around

Designers say the BMW i8 was modeled after a raindrop, the most aerodynamic shape in nature. The i8's lines aren't nearly as elegant as those of a raindrop, but every curve, angle and cutout is there for a reason: to help channel air around the car for maximum speed and efficiency.

The stance of the BMW i8 is low and wide. Styling cues are unique to the BMW i lineup. The front end features a slightly different take on the signature BMW twin kidney front grille. Taut headlamp housings are framed in u-shaped LED lights, with LED headlights inside (European-spec cars get laser headlights, but they are not legal in the U.S.). Also notable is the absence of the Hofmeister kink, a trademark curve in the side rear windows of traditional BMWs.

Air is managed through and around the car via deep grooves in the front bumper, a large, imposing hood scoop, giant fender flares, aggressive side skirts and a deeply cut groove that flows up around the rear fender and into the heavily sculpted back end, making the tail lamps appear from the rear view as if they're floating.

The hood and door skins are made of lightweight aluminum, and the roof is carbon fiber. Bumpers are flexible thermoplastic, which not only weigh less than traditional plastic bumpers, but also pop back into shape more easily. The lightweight materials and wind-tunnel minded design combine to give the BMW i8 a drag coefficient of 0.26, which isn't the slipperiest on the road (the Tesla Model S achieves Cd 0.24), but is near the top of the list.

The list of colors is short and sweet: Ionic Silver, Crystal White Pearl, Protonic Blue and Sophisto Gray (which in some light looks almost black). Silver and white paint colors are trimmed in BMW's signature i Blue around the front grille, side skirts and rear bumper. Protonic Blue cars are trimmed in contrasting Frozen Gray Metallic, and Sophisto Gray cars can be trimmed in blue or gray (we think the latter is the most elegant). Show-worthy 20-inch wheels come in a choice of two designs.

Interior

The cockpit of the BMW i8 is sleek, modern and delightful to the eye. Contrasting colors and swooping lines echo the exterior design language. With its wide door sills and low-slung seats, the i8 is a challenge to get into gracefully, but this becomes a satisfying feat with practice (hint: rear-end first is best).

Controls are laid out simply and intuitively. A digital thin-film transistor (TFT) instrument cluster sits in front of the driver, with a speedometer and tachometer that changes color depending on driving mode: Blue for Eco Plus, Gray for Comfort, and a not-quite-angry orangey red for Sport. BMW's wide-screen color display sits atop the center air vent. The center stack contains only a simple row of presets and the climate control panel beneath. The gear shift, drive mode buttons and iDrive interface sit cleanly on the center console.

The seats, dash, and door trim in our test car came wrapped in upgraded leather tanned with olive leaf extract; BMW claims this is an eco-friendly, nontoxic alternative to the usual leather tanning process. The finish was unbelievably silky, described as unborn elephant by a fellow journalist. Sporty seats with plenty of bolstering were comfortable and supportive, and cradled us nicely whether blasting down the freeway or whisking around winding roads.

Like all BMWs, the i8 can be paired with a compatible smartphone and can be equipped with BMW ConnectedDrive services and apps, which allow users to access Facebook, internet radio streaming, places of interest and productivity features like message dictation, which allows drivers to listen to and send emails using voice activation.

In a car where just about everything else is automated, it seems curious at first that one has to schlep the i8's doors open and closed manually. We're told BMW chose not to install automatic closers, because the motor and other necessary parts would add too much weight. We understand the rationale, but the odd angle of the door hinge makes it awkward to close from the inside, leaving us to believe that the only elegant solution is to have a personal valet standing by at all times.

The BMW i8 is a 2+2 configuration, which means it technically has a backseat. Though, the two rear bucket seats are very small and cramped, and wouldn't be suitable for anyone more than five feet tall. On the plus side, they do come with LATCH child seat tethers, so one could technically argue the BMW i8 is a family car.

Though in some ways it would make an epic road car, storage space is not the i8's strong suit. A small cutout beneath the A/C controls will hold a pack of chewing gum. Two small, hinged compartments inside the center armrest can each hold a mobile phone. A single cupholder is located on the passenger side of the center console, and two side-by-side cupholders sit behind the center storage compartment, but aren't easy to access from the front seat, especially while driving. Side doors don't have pockets, since the opening angle of the wing doors would cause objects to go flying.

Trunk space measures a measly 4.7 cubic feet, not large enough for a medium-size wheeled suitcase. But for short trips, there's always the matching, compact Louis Vuitton luggage made specifically for the i8's trunk, which will set you back more than $20,000 and is made from carbon fiber.

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