Is the BMW i8 Still Impressive?

From Road & Track

It was like nothing we’d ever seen. The i8 hit the road in 2014 and it was a totally different sort of sports car. It was mainly carbon fiber. It was mid-engined, but instead of a V10, V8, or even one of BMW’s straight sixes, it had an inline-three from a Mini that was boosted to hell. And it was a plug-in hybrid.

In some ways, the carbon construction and hybrid powertrain made it similar to the Porsche 918, McLaren P1, and LaFerrari. The difference was that it cost one tenth the price. When it came out, we hailed it as a triumph, as a vision of the future today, and a car that still had its quirks. It was a complex car, but a clear win for BMW, particularly in the publicity department.

The i8 was everywhere from tech sites to fashion mags. Celebrities were seen in them and people who never cared about a car in their lives were talking about it. The first few times we got in an i8, we couldn’t go far without someone taking a picture, asking about it, or just staring and giving a thumbs up.

Photo credit: DW Burnett/Puppyknuckles

Then, seemingly overnight, the i8 disappeared.

It’s not like it suddenly became bad to drive. That part is the same as it was three years ago. BMW’s slightly experimental exotic coupe is still interesting to drive in the best sense of the word. In all-electric mode, it has a gentle whir that makes it sound like a spaceship, just like it looks. It’s not nearly as quick as a pure electric car and range is just 15 miles, but that’s why you have the gas engine.

In sport mode, the electric motors and 1.5 liter three cylinder combine to make 367 horsepower and instant torque. Any gaps left by the gas engine are filled with power from the electric motors. It makes the i8 far quicker than you’d think it would be.

Photo credit: DW Burnett/Puppyknuckles

Driving it fast feels like a digital device simulating an analog experience. The engine noise being piped into the cabin is fake, the steering is electric and can be vague, and the whole electric motor boost thing is freaky. As Chris Harris said in our first drive, sometimes something that looks like a second gear corner is actually far faster if you do it in third and rely on the torque. It’s a weird, but wonderful, experience.

It’s also not like the i8 suddenly looks boring.

There still aren’t very many cars that attract as much attention as an i8. Even though we first saw the design in concept form in 2009, it’s aged so well that it still looks like it’s from the…

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