Reviews

2017 BMW i8 Driving Impressions


With its gasoline-powered 228 horsepower at the rear wheels, and 131 electric horsepower at the front wheels, the i8 makes a potent combined 357 horsepower, and can accelerate to sixty miles per hour in an extremely quick 4.2 seconds. But, although it might be seen as a rival to the Audi R8 or Porsche 911, because of its size and price, it’s not really in that ballpark. And if it comes up against a McLaren or Lamborghini in a canyon-carving contest, the BMW will be blown into the weeds.

In Sport mode, the response is far more aggressive than any other mode. The instrument faces turn red and a tachometer replaces the power meter. At 75 mph, that 2-speed transmission driving the front wheels shifts into its high gear, to carry the car to its top speed of about 135 mph, no threat to that Porsche. Which is not to say it still isn’t capable and fun, driving it hard like we did on the Los Angeles Crest Highway, that legendary twisting canyon road.

There, in Sport mode, the ride was firm but compliant, the cornering controlled, with some bobbing and jiggling over the pavement irregularities in hard corners. The i8 offers pleasant neutral handling. The electric power steering is precise, and there’s satisfactory feedback through the steering wheel.

Sport mode, selected by pulling the shift lever to the left, uses engine overrun and regenerative braking to recharge the battery at a higher pace than the default Comfort mode. That allows the i8 to deliver sustained full power.

Back down in E-Mode, if you accelerate too hard, past a stiff pedal detent, the engine will engage, and you have to re-select E-Mode to shut it off. Regenerative braking is stronger in E-Mode, slowing the car to nearly a stop before braking is required.

Around town the i8 is a quiet, calm, smooth electric car that effortlessly keeps up with most traffic. On trips it’s a seamless hybrid that delivers good fuel efficiency. On twisty two-lanes it feels like a spirited sports car.

It’s incredibly complicated, electronically, to merge and combine all these demands. A driver who understands the car’s personalities can use them to balance his or her own desires for sportiness and energy efficiency.

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