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First Drive: 2015 BMW i8 Review by Henny Hemmes +VIDEO

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2015 BMW i8
SEE ALSO: Hundreds of BMW i8 Stories and Video

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

   • SEE ALSO: BMW Buyers Guide

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2015 BMW i8

SANTA MONICA, CA - April 26, 2014: The 2015 BMW i8 made its debut on the public roads this week during the first media drives in California. Other drivers sharing the road may have thought they were in the next Mission Impossible movie (recalling Tom Cruise’s mad driving of the Concept car in Ghost Protocol). But not so, what they were treated to was the stunning i8 that will be received by the first customer this coming August at Pebble Beach.

Even though the Germans are anxious to get good reports about the drive with their first plug-in vehicle, they are in a luxury position of having already sold all i8’s that will be available in the U.S. this year. Production at the plant in Leipzig, Germany, started earlier this month, but Carsten Breitfeld, head of the i8 project, said during the first day of the media drives from Santa Monica, CA, that production will be geared up.

Do not expect, though, that the i8 will be built in large numbers. I expect between 2,500 and 3,500 units will be sold this year. When I spoke to a large dealer in the LA area, this week, he said that he will probably get 10 to 15 cars: “Not enough, I can sell many more, especially to early adapters. It’s a pity, as they are not prepared to wait a year. They will simply buy something else.”

Watch the BMW i8 Launch Video

As usual BMW does not want to mention figures about sales, nor production. What he said though, is that 25 per cent of the i8 production will be sold in the US, while Germany will sell 20 per cent and the UK 12.5 per cent. The remaining cars will go to the Middle East and other markets. The Middle East is expected to grow, especially since Dubai, in the UAE, will host the Expo 2020. The allocation is based on sustainability and will not only have a positive influence on the economy and the real estate business, but may also attract more people who buy sustainable cars in the premium segments.

That does not mean that the Germans are not anxious to get the feed back of the automotive media based on the first drive with the plug-in hybrid sports car in the LA area, along the Pacific Coast Highway and in the Santa Monica Mountains. For me, the drive was not the first time at the helm of the i8. Last summer I drove a prototype on BMW’s test track in the south of France. Back then, three units of the i8 in disguise were not road-ready; much fine-tuning still had to be done. But the experience was great and offered enough of a drive to know what to expect on the public roads. And I was not disappointed at all!

   • SEE ALSO: BMW i8 Plug-in Prototype First Drive By Henny Hemmes

Together with my colleague and World Car Award co-juror Jens Meiners, we left the hotel in Santa Monica with a 90 per cent charged battery. Why not 100 percent? The technician who handed over the car admitted it should have been.

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2015 BMW i8

The i8 has the electric motor up front driving the front wheels and the gas engine in the back driving the rear wheels. The car starts in Comfort Mode, but you then can force it into e-Drive to go into electric mode. Kick down and the system uses the internal combustion engine. Thanks to special software there is optimal interaction between both motors.

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2015 BMW i8

When you want to go for a really sporty drive, you can also choose Sport. That way both drivelines are active, delivering a total of 362 hp with 420 pound feet of torque. In electric drive we hear a soft hum and when you go into Comfort the 1.5-liter gasoline 3-cylinder engine produces its own specific sound. Not bad though. According to Mr. Breitfeld, it is the 3-cylinder engine’s own sound that is amplified the deeper you kick-down the throttle via the audio system to an exterior speaker located next to the exhaust.

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2015 BMW i8

Surprisingly, when there is no electric charge left, the transition from e-mode to the 3-cylinder is not butter soft. For a split second there is a feeling that you can compare with turbo lag. When we later talked about this with Mr. Breitfeld, he said we drove the preproduction models and this issue will be addressed in the final version.

In electric mode as well as in Comfort mode the i8 is pretty fast. It offers a confident feel and lots of fun. The car turns corners eagerly, but in short bends we have the feeling it does not bite enough. When we drive in Sport mode, we notice a tendency to under-steer, but switching off the ESP changes this. Then we have a more direct turn in and get through fast corners with true sports car behavior. Later on we also spoke to the project leader about this, and he said that the ESP application in the i8 is a bit stricter than usual, as there is a lot of torque.

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2015 BMW i8

Well, I can live without the ESP, because you never get feeling of loosing control, of the car being unstable. With no-roll, thanks to its very low center of gravity and the low weight, the i8 feels like it’s glued to the road.

The stiff chassis gives a lot of feedback and steering is light and precise. Thanks to its aluminum construction and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body, the weight of the i8 is ‘restricted’ to 3,273 pounds.

The brakes do their work as expected, with a firm pedal feel that remains constant during our super dynamic drive on Mulholland, the famous winding road in the Santa Monica Mountains that is seen in so many movies.

Under all circumstances, the i8 offers sports car worthy performance. With an acceleration from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 75 mph (electric) and 155 mph (electronically limited) it offers also a good range: 22 miles pure electric and 310 miles combined in everyday conditions.

At the end of the day, the information in the display told us we drove 126 miles with an electricity consumption of 7.1 mi/kWh and 20.9 mpg. That, of course, is absolutely not representative for normal day – fun – driving, as we were over active in the mountains and did go from Ocean Drive in Santa Monica right onto the PCH1… Forgive us!

However, I will be able to provide more realistic figures in June, when the i8 will be available for test drives in my own city for more than one day.

The consumption in the European Cycle is 2.1 liter per 100 km, which translates into 112 mpg with 49 grams of CO2 emission. Electric power in addition to fuel consumption is stated as 11.9 kWh/100 km(62 miles). The EPA figures are due early May.

Next week, we will publish more background on the technology and practical use of the BMW i8, so please come back!

Watch the BMW i8 driving and interior scenes video

Technical details BMW i8
Engine: 1.5-liter 3-cylinder, direct injection, turbocharger
Output: 170 kw/231 hp (228 bhp)
Torque: 320 Nm/236 lb-ft
Electric motor: hybrid synchronous with power electronics, integrated charging module and generator for recuperation
Output: 96 kW/131 hp (129 bhp)
Torque: 250 Nm.184 lb-ft
System output: 266 kW/362 hp (357 bhp)
Torque: 570 Nm/420 ft-lb
Energy storage: lithium ion battery
Drive: hybrid-specific AWD
Transmission IC engine: 6 speed automatic
Transmission - electric motor: 2-stage automatic
Fuel capacity: 42 liter/11 gallons
Tires - front 195/50 R20, rear 215/45 R20
optional front 215/45 R20, rear 245/40 R20

Acceleration: 0-62 mph: 4.4 seconds - 50-75 mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 155 mph / 250 km/h
Range: approx 310 miles/500 km
Range electric: approx. 22 miles/36 km
Fuel consumption: 2.5 liter /100 km / 94
mpg (EU cycle) CO2: 49 g/km

Conventional household power socket: < 3 hours (full recharge)
BMW I Wallbox: 2 hours
Charging time for 80 % charge: < 2 hours at 3.7 kW (16A/230V)

From $ 135,000