For the tech CEO who thinks Teslas look boring.
– Cleveland, Ohio
Back to the Future II gave us a sneak peek at how far cars would come in thirty years, and I can't tell you how disappointed I am that reality hasn't lived up to the imagination of Robert Zemeckis. Cars still can't hover, and none today look as cool as the ones in the movie did when I first saw it back in 1989. Except the 2016 BMW i8. Its design would make Biff Tannen’s grandson do a double-take, and while it can't hover, the i8’s sophisticated plug-in hybrid powertrain that gives gasoline and electrons their own axles to power is impressive enough to earn it free parking on Hill Valley’s town square.
- The i8 is a BMW, which endows it with the brand’s impressive trait of offering a wide range of driving personalities in one car. In Comfort mode, the i8 rides smoothly, runs quietly, and feels just like a luxury coupe. In Eco Pro, it’s Prius-like in its stinginess (I saw fuel economy in the 40+ mpg range after its 13-mile-or-so electric range was depleted). And in Sport mode when the tiny, turbocharged three-cylinder engine is always on, everything gets tighter, faster, and louder. Just not enough to be called a supercar. Plus, driving in Sport mode works to recharge the battery, so even in its most dynamic setting, an ulterior motive of efficiency is still present.
- Supercar credentials or no, I had so much fun driving the i8 in Sport mode. It’s athletic enough to be great fun on public roads without breaking the law (too much), and certain qualities of the car amplify its talents. The super-low seating position and short hood, for instance, and the amplified and artificial engine noise (no three-cylinder naturally makes that much bass) create a very convincing theater for speed. Despite the numbers saying it’s not supercar-fast, the i8 is still super fun.
- This is the Kim Kardashian of cars; it cannot leave the house without getting its picture taken by strangers. The design is so otherworldly, so far out, so… simply futuristic that people can’t help but stare. And then they point. And then they walk over and ask what it is. If the i8 were nothing else, it would be a piece of modern art. Art with doors that flip up.
- The i8 does everything like a supercar except go like one. Its top speed is limited to 155 miles per hour, reaching 60 mph takes more than four seconds, and its handling is limited by its narrow, low-rolling-resistance tires. It’s also very high-tech and sometimes acts like its software needs a patch. Catch the complex plug-in hybrid powertrain off guard and there’s a delay, like it’s calculating a warp route through space, before it goes.
- Getting in and out of the i8 is awful because of the wide sills you have to climb over and the low seat you either fall into backwards or need a grappling hook to get up from. I also couldn’t find an easy entry/exit mode that automatically moved the seat back and the steering wheel forward when the door was opened. It takes too much cardio to get in and out of the i8, and for that reason it would never be my daily driver.
- There’s a litany of minor gripes I feel compelled to mention, so forgive the lack of prose in exchange for a more complete list of this car’s faults to consider. Its trunk can barely fit a carryon. The view through the side and rearview mirrors is extremely limited. The back seats aren’t suitable for humans. There’s no handle for the rear hatch; you have to pop it, wedge your fingers under the edge of the glass, and lift. And lastly, for an introvert like me, it attracts too much attention.
Photos: John Neff / Motor1.com