Altered States

The BMW i8 is a sure conversation starter. Since it’s a technological showpiece, BMW made sure nobody would miss the point and slathered on a rakish style that, in black, looks like a slithering python. In white, it’s like a piece that fell from a space shuttle. Friends will be demanding rides, if not wondering what the hell happened to you.

The real conversation begins when discussing its go power, which comes from three sources: a small but powerful gasoline engine in the rear along with an electric motor amidships and up front. It all totals 357 horsepower when stomping on it in Sport mode. Thanks to the electric thrust, the power kicks in immediately and gets the 3,400-pound vehicle skedaddling down the road like a wild fireball.

But the car conceals a second personality. With a simple slide of the automatic shift, you can transfer instantly into electric-only mode and motor along in silent serenity. It’s pokier under electric power, but feels utterly useful on city streets or the highway. Electric range is fifteen miles, but the gas engine will take you another 300.

It’s easy to fully recharge the batteries by attaching a charging line. But in my time with i8 I never used the cord once, opting instead to run the gasoline engine at times (say, running down I-95). Combined with the other regenerative power devices common to all hybrids, this would recharge the batteries enough for more errands around town. Nifty.

But practical? Savings on gasoline are not likely the priority if you’re going six-figures deep on a car purchase. It has no trunk space. The rear “seats” would be considered spacious by a Pekinese. With those doors scissoring upwards, getting into the car means sidling sideways like a high jumper doing the Fosbury Flop. But once you’re out in the back country, all that typical BMW handling prowess comes to the fore. It feels light on its feet and pretty damned exhilarating.

All the manufacturers (save Ferrari) are preparing advanced hybrids like this. The i8 is BMW’s showpiece and should be considered by those who think driving should be, pardon the expression, a real charge.

BMW i8

Base price: $140,700
As tested: $149,995
Drivetrain: 228-HP turbo 3, plus 129-HP electric motor. All-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: Gas only, 28 mpg. Gas + electric, 76 MPGe



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