2017 BMW i8 is a real head-turner

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The 2017 BMW i8.

Exhibit A: The woman driving the U.S. Postal Service truck stopped abruptly in the shopping center parking lot as I was about to get in the BMW i8. There was a big, perhaps adoring, smile on her face as she stuck her head out the window.

“That’s a really pretty car,” she said.

Exhibit B: I parked the i8 near the entrance to my health club, and opened the door by pushing up, not out. (The i8 has dihedral doors, like the iconic “gullwing” coupé Mercedes-Benz built back in the ’50s.) As I was closing the door, I noticed a man standing nearby. He was smiling and scratching the back of his head.

“That’s a helluva car,” he allowed.

Exhibit C: I stopped for directions from a man working in his front yard. After cluing me in, he stepped back and smiled. “N-i-i-i-ce car,” he observed.

Suffice it to say that during the week I drove it, the i8 struck me as the unquestioned current king of the double take, a real head-jerker. In my experience, only the Lamborghini Countach I once played with served up as many neck calisthenics.

The i8 is invested with very original, arresting body styling that I find exciting. It is probably somewhat polarizing as well. I’m guessing that there are car buyers out there who would rather not take a walk on the wild side, who would prefer remaining anonymous to making a statement.

And the i8 does make a statement — for BMW’s engineering corps as well as its design studios and the customer. It is a tour de force, both structurally and mechanically.

So, what is the i8 really? It is a luxurious, high-performance 2+2 coupé that rides comfortably yet corners with considerable agility. And it darts from a standing start to 60 mph in a blinding four seconds flat.

Oh, and did I mention this speed-of-light sports car is a plug-in hybrid that earns EPA mileage ratings of 28 city and 29 highway?

I realize, of course, that hybrids have gotten livelier since the eerie boredom of the nascent Prius. But I had never driven a hybrid with this kind of energy.

There are reasons this all-wheel-driver gets from 0 to 100 in 9.8 seconds. The i8 is powered by a three-cylinder turbo and an electric motor that combine to deliver 357 horsepower and a substantial 420 lb./ft of torque. The turbo, a mere 1.5 liters, manages a not-so-mere 228 horses, while the electric motor contributes 129. Since the motor affords instant torque, it largely negates the engine’s turbo lag.

Performance is further enhanced by the i8’s relatively light weight. A copious use of weight-shaving carbon fiber and aluminum in the structure and drivetrain has kept the car’s weight under 3,500 pounds.

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The 2017 BMW i8 features gullwing doors.

Getting in and out of the i8 is work. The high door sills and low seats make this chore No Country for Old Men. But, if you take the seat adjustment all the way back, the misery is significantly diminished.

Once seated, the experience is all upside, that is unless you’re trying to sit in the back. Like most 2+2s, the i8 has barely enough rear seat leg room for a malnourished microbe. The only thing smaller than the backseat is the trunk (five cubic feet).

Meanwhile, up front, things are going splendidly. The interior is beautiful and sumptuous, while nifty handling coexists with surprising ride comfort and civility. Unlike any other hybrid I’ve been in, it has a terrific engine note.

We’ve come to that part of the service where the Rev. Bimmer asks for an offering: a minimum of $143,400 is suggested. (The convertible version of the i8 arriving next year will be more.)

 

2017 BMW i8

Base price: $143,400.
As tested: $152,695.
Standard equipment: A mid-mounted 1.5- liter turbo engine coupled with a six -speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels and a front-mounted electric motor powering the front wheels through a two-speed automatic producing an all-wheel-drive layout. Also, enough electronics and luxury features to furnish Mar-a-Lago.
Options: Another $8,300 worth of software, hardware and hedonism including an industry first: laser headlights.
Fuel economy: 28 mpg city and 29 highway.
Engine (and electric motor) performance: Wow!
Handling: Top shelf.
Ride comfort: Very good.
Styling: Other-galactical.
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper (eight years/100,000 miles on hybrid battery).
Four bens: Excellent.