You’ll never forget the first car you ever drove. Even if you got behind the wheel of it decades ago, you probably still remember who made it, what model it was, the way it sounded when you planted your foot down, and all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies.
As you drove more and more vehicles, some of them blurred into one another. You forgot about certain cars because they were so lackluster that they didn’t make an impression on your memory. Some may have been so problematic that you chose to forget about them.
BMW introduced the i8 for the 2014 model year. It created the flagship of its electric i lineup by combining Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) and aluminum, adding turbocharged gasoline-fed internal combustion to electric power, and pairing daily driver comfort with exotic looks.
It’s been a long time since we first started driving. We test new cars almost every week of the year. That doesn’t change the fact that we will always fondly remember the 2017 BMW i8. Its design was stunning, its cabin was a special place to be, and its performance was engaging. The automaker calls the i8 “no ordinary sports car.” We call it “unforgettable.”
2017 BMW i8 Exterior
The BMW i8 is easily one of the most beautiful modern cars we’ve ever seen. We’re a little past the hang-a-poster-of-a-cool-car-on-your-bedroom-wall days, but if we weren’t, a 2D version of the i8 would be the last thing we’d look at before going to bed and the first thing we’d see after waking up. Just look at our Sophisto Grey Metallic/BMW i Frozen Blue test vehicle ($152,695 as tested) – and good luck finding an angle from which it looks anything less than breath-taking. Right above the lightweight thermoplastic front bumper, the wide, blue-rimmed twin kidney grilles spread outward toward the LED headlights and U-shape LED daytime running lights. A set of 20-inch alloys wrapped in Bridgestone Potenzas perfectly filled the wheelwells. The windshield leaned back and connected to a CFRP roof that gracefully flowed back toward the rear and morphed into a pair of L-shape blade spoilers. Those framed the transparent cover over the turbocharged i3 gas engine and the 4.7-cubic-foot cargo hold, and sat above and separate from the U-shape LED taillights.
The i8’s profile of windswept lines, dynamic surfaces, and attention-getting curves was classic supercar design for the new age. Despite that undeniable truth, we couldn’t seem to agree with our friends and the people who felt compelled to approach us and comment on the i8 (there were a lot of those) on what the i8 looked the most like. The seemingly floating roof, i Frozen Blue accents, and aero channels between the spoilers and the taillights brought a spaceship to mind. Others who said something about the i8 usually uttered a sentence that had the word “Batmobile” in it.
How could we forget about the i8’s cool aluminum-skinned butterfly doors? That’s easy. We couldn’t, so we didn’t. Neither did anyone else who saw them swing up.
2017 BMW i8 Interior
Once the doors were in the sky, we had to choose which way we were going to slip into the 6-way heated front seats. We could face away from the car, go rear-end into the seat, then swing our legs inside or put our legs in first and slide over the wide doorsills until we were seated. Getting out was trickier, making it hard to look cool even though we were exiting a machine as visually wicked as the i8. We were OK with that. We enjoyed being cupped by the Giga World interior theme’s fully perforated Ivory White leather buckets. Ambient lighting added ribbons of color at night. If we didn’t feel like turning and pushing down on the iDrive controller to enter an address into the navigation system, we could just use its quick and convenient handwriting recognition feature by swiping a fingertip across the top of it to form letters and numbers. Once we had our destination set, we followed the path to it by looking at the 8.8-inch high-resolution screen. Checking our speed on the way there was as easy as checking the high-contrast gauges, but we preferred the even easier way: glancing at the full-color head-up display.
Exotic sports cars are not typically synonymous with driver comfort. However, as BMW says, the i8 is no ordinary sports car. We wouldn’t have hesitated to drive it for thousands of miles on a cross-country trip. The ride quality had a sporty firmness to it without being flinty. When we pushed the brake pedal, we never felt the Brake Energy Recuperation system snatch or grab. On a full charge and a topped-off 11.1-gallon gas tank, the i8 can get two front passengers (and two tiny travelers in the rear “seats”) across an EPA-estimated 330 miles.**
2017 BMW i8 Performance
As if it weren’t the case already, BMW’s powertrain engineers won’t forget the i8, either. When it debuted, it was the first BMW production model powered by a 3-cylinder gas engine. The direct-injected and turbocharged 1.5-liter power plant generates 228 horsepower and 236 lbft of torque. It’s connected to a 6-speed automatic and spins the rear wheels. The front wheels are powered by a 129-horsepower/184-lbft eDrive electric motor that routes its juice through a 2-speed automatic. If you do the math, you get a total output – gas and electric – of 357 horsepower and 420 lbft. Those figures and the i8’s all-wheel drive mean it can go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.
BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control manages which power sources are engaged and how they deliver their outputs. In its eDRIVE setting, the i8 runs on pure electricity (for up to 15 miles). COMFORT mode strikes a balance between outright performance and fuel economy, which is rated at 28 combined MPG (gas only) and 76 combined MPGe (gas and electricity).** SPORT mode boosts the gas engine’s performance with the full power of the electric motor. The ECO PRO mode focuses on maximum efficiency, whether the i8 is running on pure electric or hybrid power.
BMW says you can fill its battery pack in 2.5 hours with a Level 2 charging station. We chose a more exciting way of putting juice into it: SPORT mode. Bumping the shifter to the left turned the gauges red and fired up the gas engine behind us. After 20-30 minutes of spirited driving, we noticed the electric range go up by 5 miles (total electric range is 15). Taking the i8 out onto City Park Road, a long and winding strip of pavement in Austin, Texas, revealed a satisfying weight to the electric steering. That resistance turned the steering into a creature we had to grab by the scruff of the neck and push where we wanted it to go. Given how fun that road was and how enjoyable the i8 was on it, the only place we wanted to go was further.
2017 BMW i8 Safety
The i8’s front, front seat-mounted side-impact, and front knee airbags were important. So was its Head Protection System. The same goes for the i8’s Active Driving Assistant with Surround View, a bundle which includes Frontal Collision Warning, Pedestrian Protection, and City Collision Mitigation. However, those features weren’t exactly memorable. Our i8’s optional Laserlight high beams were, though. That’s right. Lasers! They not only look cool, but they have twice the range of conventional high beams (up to 1,969 feet).
2017 BMW i8 Overall
Our week with the 2017 BMW i8 was one we’ll never forget. If you want to get one, just remember prices for it start at $143,400* – and to get it at an AutoNation-affiliated BMW dealership.
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2017 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.