As we head toward a future of stricter mileage standards and more emphasis on fewer carbon emissions from new cars, it might seem that fun driving will soon be a thing of the past. BMW begs to differ.
Their new low-slung sports car looks like nothing else on the road. It also accelerates and corners like you’d expect it to. And, it’s pretty gentle on the environment.
The car is the 2015 i8, which will hit dealerships in September. You can plug it in to recharge, and drive around 20 miles via a front-mounted electric motor. Or, step on the accelerator and let an efficient yet powerful gasoline engine join in. Together, they drive all four wheels for great traction.
Ten years ago this might have seemed like some kind of concept car laid out on paper, but not really feasible for a production car. But today, this is a real car that can perfectly balance performance with efficiency. And, it looks good doing it.
Within luxury giant BMW there is the M Division. The various cars that wear the M badge from the factory offer ultimate performance thanks to breathed-on engines and tweaked suspensions. And today, there is also the i Division. Another sub-brand, but this one is geared toward building cars with ultimate efficiency.
First out of the box was the i3, a purely plug-in electric with an optional range-extending engine that keeps it from being an in-town-only vehicle. Not necessarily handsome, but priced within spitting distance of other plug-in cars on the market and giving BMW an urban EV.
Now, their next model, the i8. It’s not inexpensive by a long shot at $136,000. And it can’t go nearly as far as the i3 on battery power alone. But it continues a long-time BMW tradition of making visually appealing high-performance two-doors.
The looks are right off a car show stand. It has a rakish body in a trim size, with a sloping rear roofline and swing-up doors. The only real hint that it’s a BMW (besides the famous blue-and-white roundel emblems) comes from the signature grill shape.
Inside, there’s a little more familiarity for anyone who’s driven a BMW in recent years. The steering wheel, instrument panel, center console, and even the gear selector could be right out of a 3-Series. There is a little bit of contortion required to climb in, as it is a pretty low car. But the clever design of the doors means there is ample space to swing your feet inside once your hind quarters are nestled into the leather-trimmed driver’s seat.
And, there is actually a pair of rear seats, though in the tradition of many sports cars, it’s a “2+2,” meaning two people plus two…very small people. Way out back there’s a small luggage compartment.
The cargo space is at the rear of the car because the engine is nestled just behind the passenger compartment. It’s a 1.5 liter 3-cylinder producing 228 horsepower. Yes, an engine that’s smaller than the ones in many motorcycles, with one fourth of the cylinders the V12 BMW 7-series has.
Turbocharged and making a distinctive growl, this little gas engine combines with the electric motor (mounted up front and driving the front wheels) to create a car that accelerates quite quickly thanks to 357 total horsepower. Helping the performance equation is the carbon-fiber and aluminum construction, which means total weight is just over 3400 pounds.
I got to spend a day with the new i8 in Santa Monica and Malibu during BMW’s media launch of the car. And the bottom line is that it’s everything you’d want in a high-end sports car, and more. In electric mode it glides along almost silently for neighborhood and urban driving.
Then when it’s time for fun, the gas engine kicks in and helps thrust the car forward at a rapid pace. The all wheel drive and BMW’s suspension tuning combine to offer exceptional cornering.
The future is not to be feared. I’ve driven the future, in a way, and it’s rather awesome.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz