BMW i8 Plug-in Hybrid: Best-looking Disappointment EV Fans Have Ever Seen

By · August 02, 2011

I was enthusiastic when BMW unveiled its Vision EfficientDynamics concept two years ago. It had it all. A breathtaking design, and a promising plug-in hybrid drive train with two electric motors—one per axle—making the car a powerful all-wheel-drive electric car. More than that, it had a small super efficient three-cylinder diesel in the back, to add range and power for high speed autobahn driving. Treehuggers and sports car fans alike were reunited. The car was so highly acclaimed that BMW had no other choice but to green-light it for production. That's what it did. But what we saw two years ago is not this car. This i8 Concept is an "in-between" car—between the 2009 concept and the regular production model that will arrive in 2014.

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

The design remains absolutely fabulous, but there were many changes in the powertrain. There's only one electric motor left, over the front wheels. There is a small motor in the rear, but it cannot power the car. It's powered by the gas engine back there, with the only purpose of recharging the battery if needed.

The i8's engine is no longer a diesel, but a gasoline engine: a small three-cylinder with 1.5-liter displacement, highly turbocharged, and capable of 220 horsepower (164 kW). The electric motor adds 131 horsepower (96 kW). Altogether, the power available to the driver is 353 horsepower (260 kW). The layout is perfect with an ideal 50/50 weight distribution, and a low center of gravity—,thanks to the battery located in a center tunnel, between driver and passenger.

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

If only that i8 would have been launched before the Chevrolet Volt! It's too late now, and it will be even worse in 2014. I'm sorry for BMW but the Volt is the only car that qualifies as a true plug-in hybrid in my book. That's because when you drive it, the engine can do whatever it likes without the driver's noticing. The engine may be running or it may be stopped, but the Volt drives the same. The i8 won't be like this. Far from it. It will have an EV mode that the driver could select, but that electric mode will change the all wheel drive car into a front drive car. In EV mode, the power is significantly reduced from 260 kW to 96 kW. It's like going to a restaurant and getting a kid's menu when you wanted a king-sized feast.

Switching the i8 to electric mode means reducing its power by two-thirds. Who wants this? Less traction, much less power and you won't go far. The concept from 2009 had a 50 kilometer (31 mile) range on its battery. Now, it's down to 35 kilometers or 21-miles.

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

I'm confident yet that the i8 will be a great car, and that it will be superbly efficient. But I suggest BMW should drop the plug-in hybrid part of it, and make the i8 a standard hybrid, like the Prius. The i8 will be BMW's flagship, probably more expensive than a V12 7-series. I doubt that the people who will be able to afford it will bother plugging it every 20 miles to save a little money, and greatly reduce what it can do when it's so cheap and easy to buy gas. The i8 is a fantastic hybrid sports car that drives at 155 miles per hour on the autobahn, and goes from 0 to 62-mph in less than 5-seconds. That's what it is, and it's incredibly efficient, getting an 87 mpg rating on the European test cycle. But I view its electric mode as a marketing gimmick.

Come on. Does anyone think this i8 looks like a car for commuting at low speed?

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.