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BMW 2019 i8 review: Driving yesterday’s car of tomorrow, today

By Matt Burns

The BMW i8 is a lovely vehicle to drive even though it’s lacking. It hugs the road and commands attention. It’s thrilling in a way that few cars can achieve without speed. Sure, it’s quick, but it won’t set track records or quarter-mile times. It just feels great to drive.

By the numbers, there’s little reason to buy a $164,000 BMW i8 Roadster. Want speed? Buy a Porsche 911 Turbo for $161K or Corvette ZR1 for $123K or Nissan GT-R for $112K. Supercar aesthetics? Get an Acura NSX for $157K. Want all-electric? Get a Tesla Model S. All are faster and cheaper than the BMW i8.

The BMW i8 is just a stepping stone in BMW’s history. An oddball. It’s a limited-edition vehicle to try out new technology. From what I can tell, BMW never positioned the i8 as a top seller or market leader. It was an engineer’s playground. I love it.

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Review

BMW released the first i8 in 2014 when the automotive scene looked different. Tesla was still a fledgling startup with only the Model S in its lineup. GM was working on the second-generation Chevy Volt. Hybrid powertrains seemed to be the answer, and BMW followed suit with the dual-power in the i8.

In 2015 I took the just-launched i8 from Vegas to LA in an epic, one-day adventure that took me through the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. It was a great way to appreciate the i8, and now that the model is on its way out, I wanted another go in the car.

This time, I had an i8 tester for a week. I took my kids to school in it, I got groceries with it and, in between rain storms, I lived my best life with the top down on in this $164,000 droptop.

It’s a lovely car and garners attention like nothing else in its price range. I noted this several years back when driving the i8 down the Vegas strip. The i8 is stunning and always draws a crowd. For my money, there isn’t a car that gets more attention.

The sheet metal flows as if a master glassmaker made it. It’s beautiful. The front end is aggressive and direct. The sides flow with precision to a back-end with some of the most unique tail lights available. The exhaust — remember, this is a hybrid — exits behind the rear window through a metal grate.

Don’t let its go-fast exterior oversell the capabilities though. The i8 is not as fast as it looks.

The i8 isn’t a quarter-mile racer. This is a hybrid sports car with the heart of a grand tourer. This isn’t a car you want to take to a drag strip, but it could be fun at a track day. It’s a carver. Its low center of gravity lets it embrace the road. It’s silky through flowing corners.

Behind the wheel, the i8 is easy to love. The hybrid powertrain is smooth and free of drama. Hit the gas and go. Click the transmission to sport mode and it’s quick, but not fast. And that’s okay with me.

BMW got the inside of the i8 right. For a two-seat exotic, the i8 is comfortable and functional as long as the driver doesn’t need to transport golf clubs. The scissor doors open with little effort and offer enough room to enter and exit the car. The seats are supportive and comfortable. This 2019 version is equipped with BMW’s latest infotainment system, which is among the best offered in the industry. There is very little storage available in the Roadster variant that ditches the back seats for the droptop storage. The trunk can hold four six-packs and nothing else.

When I drove the i8 in 2015, I stated that this was a car someone should buy only after they have their Porsche 911. That’s still true. While the i8 is easy to love, there are other vehicles available that offer more thrills and functionality.

The i8 is easy. Drivers shouldn’t be afraid to push the powertrain. It won’t bite, but it will provide plenty of excitement in sport mode. The i8 doesn’t require the skill of other vehicles in its price range. If a Porsche 911 Turbo or Corvette ZR-1 is too much car, look at the i8. Or the Audi R8 — another sports car I found easy to boss around.

After a week of living with the i8, its performance was secondary to the experience. I’m convinced that the i8 doesn’t need raw speed to be enjoyable.

In 2014 BMW proclaimed the i8 to be the car of tomorrow, available today. And in some regards it was. The i8 was one of the first mass-production vehicles to pair an electric powertrain to a gas engine in the name of performance. Since then, nearly every exotic automaker is doing the same in various formats.

The i8 still feels like it’s a different type of vehicle than anything else available. It feels green. It feels healthy. But in the end, the i8 still relies on a dirty internal combustion engine while there are faster, better-equipped vehicles available that run on just electric motors.

Rumor is BMW is not making a direct successor to the i8, but the automaker will likely make an all-electric sports car. Eventually. And that would change everything. With just electric motors, a BMW coupe could offer serious speed while being more friendly to the environment. A pure electric i8 could be a game changer and a legitimate speed demon.

The 2019 i8 is a lovely vehicle and could bring serious enjoyment to the right person with its easy powertrain and stunning looks.


Video Review of BMW i8 (filmed in 2015)

BMW says its running ahead of its electrification goals

By Frederic Lardinois

At its NEXTGen event in Munich, BMW today announced that it is running ahead of schedule in its efforts to offer at least 25 electrified vehicles. Previously, the German luxury car manufacturer was shooting for 2025, but it now says that it will offer these 25 vehicles by 2023.

As BMW’s Klaus Fröhlich stressed at a press event ahead of today’s announcement, BMW will continue to offer a full range of vehicles that span from fully-electric to hybrids and standard combustion-engine powered cars for the foreseeable future. More than half of the 25 vehicles the company is talking about today, though, will be fully electric.

“We are moving up a gear in the transformation towards sustainable mobility, thereby making our company fit for the future: Over the past two years, we have consistently taken numerous decisions that we are now bringing to the roads,” said BMW CEO Harald Krüger. “By 2021, we will have doubled our sales of electrified vehicles compared with 2019.”

The company expects that its electrified car sales will continue to grow by more than 30 percent per year up to 2025. Indeed, it expects to have sold more than half a billion fully-electric or plug-in hybrids by the end of 2019. That’s a tough goal to achieve, Krüger admitted. He also noted that BMW plans to power all of its plants with renewable energy from next year onward.

Right now, that number is definitely driven by sales of the somewhat quirky i3, with 150,000 on the roads today. Then, over the course of the next few years, the i3 will be joined by a fully-electric Mini, iX3 and then the i4 and iNext.

By 2020, all of these plug-in hybrids will also feature a new tool that will make driving them in cities that ban combustion engines from their city centers: BMW eDrive Zones. This feature will automatically detect when you enter a zone where only electric vehicles are allowed and then switch to running on batteries until you leave.

 

Here is BMW’s new electric motorcycle concept

By Frederic Lardinois

BMW has a long history of building motorcycles, but it hasn’t done all that well in the electric motorcycle department. Clearly, though, this is something the company is thinking hard about and today, at its inaugural NextGen event, the company showed its newest electric concept bike, the BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster.

As usual, there’s no guarantee that this concept will ever come to market. Indeed, it’s likely that it won’t, but it will provide the inspiration for what will eventually go into production.

Going electric is a hard move to make for a company and that has been associated with its 2-cylinder boxer engine for ages. If it wants to produce a successful electric motorcycle, then it needs to be able to offer buyers not just performance (something they get by default with an electric engine and the torque it produces), but also something that retains the brand image buyers associate with BMW motorcycles.

Edgar Heinrich, the Head of Design for BMW Motorrad, argues that the Vision DC Roadster does just that. “The boxer engine is the heart of BMW Motorrad – an absolute stalwart of its character,” he said. “But BMW Motorrad stands for visionary zero-emissions vehicle concepts, too. In view of this, one question that arises is: what would happen if we were to replace the boxer engine with an electric motor and the required battery? The Vision Bike shows how we’re able to retain the identity and iconic appearance of BMW Motorrad in distinctive form while at the same time presenting an exciting new type of riding pleasure.”

Where a typical BMW motorbike would usually have its engine, the Vision roadster has a battery pack with coolers. Throughout the concept, the company’s designers used familiar design elements fro previous generations of the brand’s motorcycles.

In addition to the motorcycle, BMW also today showed off a new concept vehicle, the BMW Vision M Next, a new electrified sports car. The idea here is to provide a counterpart to the existing iNEXT concept that focuses more on performance than ease of use.

“Where the BMW Vision iNEXT illustrated how autonomous driving is set to transform life on board our vehicles, the BMW Vision M NEXT demonstrates how state-of-the-art technology can also make the experience of driving yourself purer and more emotionally engaging,” said Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design. “In both models, the focus is firmly on the people inside. Design and technology make the ‘EASE’ and ‘BOOST’ experiences more natural and more intense.”

In line with this idea, the new concept vehicle promises to be able to go from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in three seconds and offer a range of about 62 miles (which isn’t all that much). To get access to more power, drivers can also hit a BOOST+ button.

With the M Next, BMW is also showing off some new user interface designs. The interface now adapts to the speed you are driving at, for example, and will automatically give you less information as you drive faster, in order to let you focus as you head down the autobahn at 120 mph.

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