May 1, 2014 8:45 AM | By Nat Barnes for MSN Autos

2015 BMW i8 first drive



2015 BMW i8 (© Photo: BMW)
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2015 BMW i8

BMW previews the sports car of the future

2015 BMW i8 (© Photo: BMW)

Los Angeles, Calif. – The BMW i8 was unveiled as a concept car back in 2011, and now it’s finally here as a production model. With its futuristic looks and outrageous performance and fuel economy claims, it’s hardly surprising that BMW is talking big when it comes to the i8.

Phrases such as “the future of the supercar” and “the sports car of the 21st century” suggest that the German firm certainly isn’t backwards in coming forwards, though with some justification. Plug-in hybrid supercars are hardly common but while the i8 isn’t unique, it’s certainly the first at this price level. Costing $145,000 and set to go on sale in September, the next step up would see you shelling out some $700,000 more for a Porsche 918 Spyder.

Electric performance

2015 BMW i8 powertrain (© Photo: BMW)

With their immediate torque, electric cars are generally quick off the mark and the same is true of the i8. It combines a 96kw electric motor driving the front wheels with a 1.5-litre, turbocharged three-cylinder engine (producing 228 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque) driving those at the rear. That’s the same motor featured in the new Mini Cooper, but with nearly twice the number of ponies in its stable.

On electric power alone, the i8 can be driven at up to 120 km/h and has a maximum range of 35 km, but the gasoline engine will kick in during heavier throttle inputs for maximum performance.

Combined, the systems produce 362 hp which, with a 1,490-kg curb weight (35 kg less than a Porsche 911 Carrera 4), gives the i8 a 0-to-100 km/h time of just 4.4 seconds and a limited 250 km/h top speed. All that from a car with just a 1.5-litre engine, remember.

Doesn't drive like your average electric car

2015 BMW i8 (© Photo: BMW)

Driving the i8 down Santa Monica’s twisting backroads, we couldn’t help but grin. Its light weight, rigid carbon-fibre-based body and low-slung feel (it has the lowest centre of gravity of any BMW) combine to create a very satisfying driving experience.

The result is swift progress and the car's eager nature encourages you to press on

Switch from Comfort to Sport mode and the car’s suspension, throttle response and steering are all sharpened for improved feedback, as well as providing the driver with maximum boost from the electric motor. The result is breathtakingly swift progress and the car's eager nature encourages you to press on.

It sounds great as you zip through the gears using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, while the agile handling enables you to really lean on the outside tires when cornering, accelerating hard the moment you can see a clear exit.

Having said that, the ride quality is good and it’s remarkably quiet on the move, thanks in large part to a lack of any serious noise from the relatively slim tires (215/45 on the front, 245/40 on the rear).

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