I recently had the opportunity to drive a BMW i8. This opportunity presented itself in Greenwich, Connecticut, which is where you’ll find a lot of BMW i8s. It’s also where you’ll find a lot of Ferraris, and Bentleys, and Range Rovers, and people who know exactly which fork to use when they’re seated at a table setting that contains seven of them.
Now, before I get started with my thoughts on the i8, I’d like to first tell you what I thought about the i8 before I drove it. Namely, I thought: This is a stupid, boring electric car, and it’s all about its "cool" styling and its futuristic engine, and I’m going to hate driving it. Also, I thought: This thing has a three-cylinder engine? A THREE-cylinder? What is it? A half-car? An automotive toddler? A baby sports car that wants to be a Porsche 911 when it grows up?
Here’s another thought I had: I can’t believe they’re charging $150,000 for this thing. Really, I’ve always been stunned by that. This is a BMW with a 3-cylinder engine and a paltry 20-mile electric range, and they have the gall to ask one-hundred and fifty grand for it? Tesla wants half that for the Model S, and it’ll go ten times as far. And if you get a Model S, you don’t have to open the i8’s crazy butterfly doors every time you get out, which is like an announcement to the world that you employ people to browse Amazon for you. See the BMW i8 models for sale near you
So I thought all those things, and then I pulled up to drive it at the owner’s house in Greenwich. And then I thought: It really is beautiful.
And it is. It always has been. Regardless of what I’ve thought about the i8’s value proposition, or its electric motor situation, I’ve always been drawn to the car whenever I see one in person. Here in Philadelphia, where I live, the i8 is pretty common — and yet, every single time I see one go by on the street, I stop and stare at it like that scene in Independence Day where Will Smith walks outside, and sees the alien mothership, and quickly realizes he and that guy from Jurassic Park must team up to save our civilization.
So the first thing I did with the i8 was I made a little video with some of its quirks, which you’ll see above. And then I took it out on the road.
Now, what I was expecting when I drove the i8 was that it would be three things, in this exact order: First and foremost, I expected it would be futuristic. I thought BMW’s main objective in creating this vehicle was to make something that drove, and sounded, and felt like the future, so the people who bought it could think they were realllly ahead of the curve, like those people who had iMacs back when all the rest of us were using PCs with monitors the size of a bedside table.
Second, I expected it to be an electric car. In today’s world of alternative-fuel technology, I figured BMW would put all its engineering effort into making this thing seem so electric, and so alternatively fueled, and so technologically advanced, that you’d forget about the fact that you spent one hundred and fifty large on a car with the same number of cylinders as a Geo Metro.
And finally, third, I thought — on some teeny-tiny level — the i8 would be a sports car. I assumed BMW was focused on the futuristic thing first, and the electric thing second, and then maybe, if they had a litttttle engineering budget left over, they’d actually make the i8 kind of exciting to drive. But mostly, what I thought was that BMW designed this car so that I’d be cruising around in it, musing about all the futuristic-ness, and I’d forget all about the fact it feels like a Nissan Leaf with a smaller back seat.
Well, I was wrong.
Here’s what I learned about the BMW i8: it’s a sports car first, and it’s all that futuristic stuff second. Maybe it’s because my expectations for the thing were so low, but I seriously enjoyed driving it on some nice, empty, well-kept back roads. Handling was sharp, steering was communicative, power was impressive — much better than I thought it would be — and I must admit I even got suckered in by the fake engine note being sent through the stereo speakers.
When I was driving it, I wasn’t thinking about how cool I looked or how futuristic I felt. I was pushing the pedal down, enjoying the impressive acceleration, and gaining confidence as I drove through the curves. Let me put it this way: When you really get on the accelerator, and when you’re sharply steering through some tight corners, you don’t think about the gimmicky doors, or the 3-cylinder engine, or the tiny back seat. You only think that you’re having fun, lots of fun, and also you wonder if there’s a way you could hack the engine note to play a 1960s Ferrari through the speakers, instead of whatever BMW is sending in there.
So I came away from my time with the i8 both surprised and impressed, and I have to admit it was a far more engaging vehicle than I was expecting. I also started to understand why this thing is worth every penny of its asking price: because no other car combines the i8’s impressive performance, and its advanced powertrain, and its futuristic design and features. In fact, when I went to open those butterfly doors to get out of the i8, I wasn’t feeling self-conscious: I was thinking that maybe this is proof that car enthusiasts won’t be left behind in a future full of electric cars. Find a BMW i8 for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.