The last time BMW built a dedicated sports car positioned above the Z4 (and before that, the Z3), it built the Z8. With power from the E39 M5’s V8 and styling heavily inspired by the classic 507 of the 1950s, the limited production Z8 was – and is, if the way they’ve held their value is any indication – highly coveted. Of course, that’s the whole idea behind a “halo car.”
However, the world has changed since production of the Z8 (and the automatic-transmission-equipped Alpina V8 Roadster that was based on it) ended about a decade ago. Retro styling and throaty naturally-aspirated engines are out; forward-looking design and smaller forced-induction engines and/or hybrid drive are in. So BMW, never one to like appearing to be behind the times, has incorporated all of those en vogue features in its new technological (if not performance and price) flagship, the 2015 i8.
Yes, we’ve been seeing the i8 making the rounds on the auto show circuit for a few years now, but that was just in concept form. Surely there was no way the production version would look as radical…was there? Well it turns out that’s pretty much exactly the case. The snout, with the brand’s iconic twin-nostril grille, is unmistakably BMW, but with some twists, like bright blue accents and a black band atop the hood that extends over the roof and onto the rear fascia. The black and blue extends onto the rocker panels, which each lie below a crypto-gullwing door. The flanks feature “floating” C-pillars, U-shaped taillights and, again, black and light blue trim. The basic shape doesn’t break much new ground, but the details are a significant departure from the norm.
The interior, on the other hand, is slightly more conventional. The dash looks similar to that of most late model BMWs, though the electronic instruments are eminently reconfigurable, and the four seats (two in front and two in back) are upholstered in a leather that is tanned using a natural olive extract rather than synthetic chemicals. Other areas of the interior are covered in a material made with recycled polyester. Even the key fob is made partly from castor beans! Long story short, the i8’s cockpit is as sustainable as it is stylish.
But what powers this classy contraption? That would be a team effort with a mid-mounted gas engine (a 1.5L twin-turbo inline-three producing 231 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft of torque) powering the rear wheels and an electric motor (generating 96 kilowatts and 184 lb.-ft) turning the front wheels. Combined system output is 362 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft, but even with those lofty figures, BMW says the i8 will return 94 MPGe (U.S. gallons) when driven sensibly and setting off with the 5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack fully charged. Yes, when it’s operating in EV mode (which it can do for up to 22 miles at a max speed of 75 mph), this is a front-drive BMW, dogs living with cats, mass hysteria, etc.
Yet we can partly forgive this Bimmer for being a part-time pull-alonger, because it should be pretty damn quick. BMW says it will hit 62 mph from a stop in 4.4 seconds, while top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. A Chevy Volt or a Toyota Prius Plug-In can both probably match those numbers…but you’d have to toss ‘em out of a plane to do so.
So how much green will you have to shell out for this green machine? The i8’s MSRP in the United States will be $135,700 before destination charge and other taxes and fees when it goes on sale this coming spring. That’s a lot of dough, but you can bet there will be at least a few green car tax incentives up for grabs. And speaking of grab, you should get your order in ASAP if you want to be the first in your gated community to rock an i8, as they will be produced in rather small numbers (though hopefully not so small that there won’t be a press demo available for us to putter around in when the time comes).