Editorial note: Last week, Business Insider named its 2015 Car of the Year, the Volvo XC90. We also revisited our reviews of the five runners-up. As a bonus, the transportation team is recalling the cars that they enjoyed, individually, the most in the year that’s almost past.
Of all the cars I’ve driven this year — ranging from large SUVs to exotic supercars, the one car that left me wanting more seat time was the BMW i8.
The i8 is an impressive and yet confusing car for many. People struggle to put the BMW into context.
It’s a fuel efficient hybrid, but will it be fun to drive? Is it like a Tesla? It’s got bedroom-poster-worthy looks. Is it a supercar?
The reality is that, in a cookie-cutter world, BMW has built something unique.
I was able to experience this firsthand when I took an i8 on a 750-mile road trip through New England.
During my journey, I subjected the i8 to everything from gridlock city traffic and highway cruising to spirited jaunts through twisty country roads. The BMW tackled every situation with poise and more than a little flair.
Although the car was its most efficient cruising down the highway, the i8 was at its very best when the roads got bendy.
But don’t worry if you haven’t spent much of your life putting in hot laps at the Nurburgring. The i8 is designed for regulars drivers like you and me.
As you approach a corner on a winding stretchy of tarmac, brake with confidence, blip the throttle and hear the tiny-3-cylinder engine wail as you work your way down the gears. Turn into the corner and you’ll quickly realise the i8 will pretty much comply with every command. It will go wherever you want it go with few complaints. As you exit the corner, stomp on the gas pedal and the electric motor comes to life. Along with it, instant torque which results in immediate acceleration.
Repeat as many times as you’d like. Doing this over and over again never gets old. Trust me.
In case you’re wondering, BMW claims the i8 will do 0-60 mph in about 4 seconds and achieve an artificially limited top speed of 155 mph along with total range of 330 miles and 76 MPGe. Our test car burned through just 16 gallons of premium on our 750-mile trip.
With those eco-credentials, people often try to compare the i8 with Tesla’s Model S. Such a comparison would be foolish. The Tesla is a family sedan with room for seven. Although it’s capable of incredible straight-line acceleration, the Model S was never designed to be a sports car. The i8 on the other hand is — at its core — a no-nonsense Teutonic sporting machine bred to obliterate corners. It’s more of a competitor for Porsche’s 911 or even Audi’s R8 supercar.
Finally, there are the looks. Not just the futuristic, show-car aesthetics of the i8’s bodywork, but also the looks from the public as you drive by. Motoring the down the street, you feel as if you’re in a rolling photo shoot. Everywhere you go, people want to take photos and ask you what the i8 is.
It’s certainly got the bedroom-poster cred. And while it may give the legendary Lamborghini Countach a run for its money in that regard, the i8 has neither the speed nor the lunacy required to be supercar. At a starting price of “just” $140,000, the i8 is also a little too affordable for entry into that club.
The BMW i8 isn’t just an eco-friend hybrid, and it isn’t just a world-class sports car. It most definitely is not a fire breathing supercar. It’s an i8. It inhabits a space in the market that it has all to itself. But you know what — that’s fine by me.
Now I’ve just got to find an excuse to drive it for another 750 miles.
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