Fri-yay! This time, someone asks me why I hate the BMW i8 (I don’t). But that doesn’t mean it was a success. Let’s find out why.
If you’d like to participate, drop me a question at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, you’ll remain anonymous.
Mike, considering the amount you post about BMW and M, I don’t see you talking a lot about the BMW i8. Did you ever drive one, and did you like it?
Do you think BMW will make a successor? Doesn’t seem like they are too interested in sports cars now.
Kerry, this is a great question (s). The i8, and even the i3, are cars that can be considered failed experiments, though some of the technology those cars pioneered did help to make it onto the broader BMW range. I’ll start with your first question.
Getting back in time
You want a car like this to present a big occasion, and getting inside certainly is. You lift the gull wing door up, step way over the carbon fiber side sill, and sink way down into the driver’s seat.
But once inside, you will notice…nothing really. The i8 stopped production in 2020, and BMW has already moved so far past the tech in this car that it’s now looking dated. Think of watching a movie like Total Recall – a 90’s movie predicting what 2084 will look like. We’re already past the vision of that movie in 2022. So it is with the i8. Maybe one day it will be retro-cool, like an R33 Skyline might be today, but we’re a long way from that happening right now. Don’t you want a single-hump E90 M3, instead of a double?
What’s it like to drive the BMW i8?
A race track was never the place to really push the i8, but that’s where I found myself driving one. BMW held an event at Thermal a few years ago, and I was lucky enough to snag a few laps with an instructor. I left the event somewhat impressed, but once you get back into an M car you soon realize what’s missing.
The i8 is nimble and quick, with plenty of torque on tap. It’s also buzzy and not all that refined. A track car it is not, which is why I was surprised BMW had them out there.
The motor is partially to blame. The BMW i8 has a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas engine with an 11.6-kWh battery pack and two electric motors. Oh, did that make you cringe?
You might look at the horsepower figure of 369 and think “not bad”, but a car that looks (and thinks) this futuristic should be able to get to 60 quicker than 4.1 seconds.
Its all-electric range was only 22 miles – where you gonna go with that? All together, the car had a 35 MPGe rating. I think you can get that out of a 330i now if you tried really hard and leaned forward down a hill.
To add insult to injury, BMW added some styling touches that paid homage to the M1, but you won’t find any M badge on the i8.
Do you care that the i8 was the official pace car for Formula E? BMW didn’t; they left the racing series this year.
So the BMW i8 wasn’t really a performer in range or speed, and the interior wasn’t really remarkable. What about those carbon fiber bits? Surrounding the passenger compartment is a carbon fiber “cage” that encloses the cabin section. When you open the door, you can see some of it exposed on the door sill.
The rest of the car is made of more conventional aluminum, and given the fact that the tiny engine sits in the middle (and the batteries sit on the floor), the i8 is well-balanced.
But it’s let down by tiny tires – 215s in the front. The i8 is a great example of how wheel diameter (20 inches) doesn’t matter nearly as much as the width of the tire. 0.91 gs isn’t much to write home about on a car like this. For reference, my old 328 on all-season tires could pull a 0.86. It’s a difference that’s imperceptible.
And considering it’s made of such exotic and light-weight material, the i8 tips the scales at 3,500 lbs. That’s heavy, man.
While BMW development was going on, something weird happened – electric cars. Tesla proved that it was possible to power a real car with a battery, and so hybrid cars immediately fell out of fashion.
Speaking of, cars like the Acura NSX followed the same formula of the i8, but Acura actually made their car perform. Or, go full gonzo and get an F-Type with a supercharged V-8. Point is, there are many choices when we get to this price point.
I personally think having an ICE and battery should be the powertrain of the future; it provides the best of both worlds, and electric cars have a lot of issues to work through. But regardless, the i8 was the wrong car at the wrong time. Can’t be a car of the future if the future is already here.
Is the BMW i8 worth anything?
I feel a bit bad – I’ve been picking on a car that, when new, cost almost $150,000.
Oops, did I just bring up another problem?
Because while BMWs have historically sold well when priced below $100k, unless your name starts with M and ends with 5, above 100 is an issue. The M8? The M760? Not really successful cars when pit against the competition.
So let’s take a look at what current i8s go for. I’ll call out this example – a roadster with 1,000 miles on it, brand new. It sold at auction for $105,000.
Before you think wow!, please keep in mind that the cost of that i8 new was $173,595. This car lost nearly $80,000 in two years. I will leave that fact there to simmer.
Into the future
So now I’ve given you a million reasons why the i8 is no mas. And yet, on a track, you can’t deny its mid-engine design and punchy turbo engine. In no way does it feel like a lawn mower engine is powering this “super” car. It’s still a BMW, with all the good things that name entails.
But you wouldn’t want to make it a track thing. Those batteries would run out of juice before long.
Kerry also asks if BMW will make a successor, and though they have yet to invite me to the board meetings in Munich, my guess is no.
But I do believe BMW has already given you the answer of the direction they will go in the XM. Another hybrid, this time an SUV designed solely for M, I’m not sure it will fair much better. On one hand, people love SUVs and all things M, but on the other, the price tag of an XM is even higher than an i8, and its still a sport-truck, forever the contradiction.
The XM does have one thing going for it – that sweet (updated!) V-8. It’ll be a real performer. No three-cylinder in sight.
So Kerry, I hope that answers your question. I don’t hate the i8, but I don’t think it belongs in the BMW hall of fame.
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