BMW i8 Plug-in Hybrid: Best-looking Disappointment EV Fans Have Ever Seen

By · August 02, 2011

I was enthusiastic when BMW unveiled its Vision EfficientDynamics concept two years ago. It had it all. A breathtaking design, and a promising plug-in hybrid drive train with two electric motors—one per axle—making the car a powerful all-wheel-drive electric car. More than that, it had a small super efficient three-cylinder diesel in the back, to add range and power for high speed autobahn driving. Treehuggers and sports car fans alike were reunited. The car was so highly acclaimed that BMW had no other choice but to green-light it for production. That's what it did. But what we saw two years ago is not this car. This i8 Concept is an "in-between" car—between the 2009 concept and the regular production model that will arrive in 2014.

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

The design remains absolutely fabulous, but there were many changes in the powertrain. There's only one electric motor left, over the front wheels. There is a small motor in the rear, but it cannot power the car. It's powered by the gas engine back there, with the only purpose of recharging the battery if needed.

The i8's engine is no longer a diesel, but a gasoline engine: a small three-cylinder with 1.5-liter displacement, highly turbocharged, and capable of 220 horsepower (164 kW). The electric motor adds 131 horsepower (96 kW). Altogether, the power available to the driver is 353 horsepower (260 kW). The layout is perfect with an ideal 50/50 weight distribution, and a low center of gravity—,thanks to the battery located in a center tunnel, between driver and passenger.

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

If only that i8 would have been launched before the Chevrolet Volt! It's too late now, and it will be even worse in 2014. I'm sorry for BMW but the Volt is the only car that qualifies as a true plug-in hybrid in my book. That's because when you drive it, the engine can do whatever it likes without the driver's noticing. The engine may be running or it may be stopped, but the Volt drives the same. The i8 won't be like this. Far from it. It will have an EV mode that the driver could select, but that electric mode will change the all wheel drive car into a front drive car. In EV mode, the power is significantly reduced from 260 kW to 96 kW. It's like going to a restaurant and getting a kid's menu when you wanted a king-sized feast.

Switching the i8 to electric mode means reducing its power by two-thirds. Who wants this? Less traction, much less power and you won't go far. The concept from 2009 had a 50 kilometer (31 mile) range on its battery. Now, it's down to 35 kilometers or 21-miles.

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid

I'm confident yet that the i8 will be a great car, and that it will be superbly efficient. But I suggest BMW should drop the plug-in hybrid part of it, and make the i8 a standard hybrid, like the Prius. The i8 will be BMW's flagship, probably more expensive than a V12 7-series. I doubt that the people who will be able to afford it will bother plugging it every 20 miles to save a little money, and greatly reduce what it can do when it's so cheap and easy to buy gas. The i8 is a fantastic hybrid sports car that drives at 155 miles per hour on the autobahn, and goes from 0 to 62-mph in less than 5-seconds. That's what it is, and it's incredibly efficient, getting an 87 mpg rating on the European test cycle. But I view its electric mode as a marketing gimmick.

Come on. Does anyone think this i8 looks like a car for commuting at low speed?

Comments

· · 3 years ago

Laurent, I think you are right on about this. If's pretty disappointing that putting the car in its crippled EV mode, turns it into a front wheel drive car.

· Knows why (not verified) · 3 years ago

If you read the press briefing information you'll see that a pure BEV mode is necessary to travel into cities (in Europe) with restrictions allowing zero tailpipe vehicles only (BEV and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle). Lots of HP in a city is unnecessary and FWD has no drawbacks.
Your headline should be changed to "Best Looking Multi-Purpose Vehicle EV Fans Have Ever Seen."

· · 3 years ago

@Knows why,
"FWD has no drawbacks"
Since when? I must have missed this memo.

· · 3 years ago

Just a toy for the rich. It is so expensive - who really cares ? I don't ...

· SVL (not verified) · 3 years ago

I don't know what the price tag on this one would be, but I guess if you can afford this, you can probably afford a Tesla Roadster, which looks like a better option!

· sara fleming (not verified) · 3 years ago

I was enthusiastic when BMW unveiled its Vision EfficientDynamics concept two years ago. It had it all.

· Dave K. (not verified) · 3 years ago

I think Knows why has it right, blasting down the autobahn and cruising around a crowded european city are very different things, and this car will do both really well! And of course it's not cheap yet, but Tesla showed that it works better that way, you introduce new technology at the high end where those that can afford it pay whatever it costs, and it trickles down to the lower price points as it develops. I disagree that the 21 mile range is irrelevant, it probably covers the commute of a large percentage of the population and why haul extra battery around if performance is your goal? In contrast a commuter EV like the Leaf is car for a different perpose, performance is less important than range...

· Knows why (not verified) · 3 years ago

@ Michael
Kindly re-read my comment. FWD has no drawbacks in a city environment.

BTW the Tesla Roadster uses 1980's technology...ask an EV engineer.

· · 3 years ago

@Knows all,
Actually, Nikola Tesla invented the induction motor used in the Roadster back in the 1880's but there have been improvements happening ever since.
It also uses the wheel which was invented a few years before that.
It still Rocks! It is the best performing production EV and one of the best performing production cars on the road.
Even more important: It is forcing the rest of the automobile industry to come out of their comfort zones and do what is necessary to end our society's oil dependance for transportation.

· theflew (not verified) · 3 years ago

I think what this shows is what GM did with the Volt is harder than it looks on paper.

· Jim (not verified) · 3 years ago

What a surprise Laurent would find fault in this vehicle. It's not like he always criticizes anything that isn't from France. Reading his posts you would have the false impression that French cars aren't of very poor design and build quality, and most of all are only desired and bought by the French. There's nothing wrong with being a homer Laurent, but please try to give the relevant auto manufacturers of the world just a little credit once in a while. It may give your narrow thoughts a but more credibility.

· · 3 years ago

I don't think I have narrow thoughts and I dislike most French cars. What I regret here is that BMW won't compete with Audi and Mercedes who will both launch electric supercars. It will build the best hybrid instead, and I think it's good, but BMW shouldn't introduce it as "born electric" as they do.

@Knows why

No European city currently restricts traffic to zero emission cars. Maybe in 10 years from now...

· · 3 years ago

@Knows why
"Kindly re-read my comment. FWD has no drawbacks in a city environment."

I did several times, because I couldn't believe someone wrote this.. City environment or not, it doesn't make it true.

· · 3 years ago

@Michael,
Will you please enlighten me to the drawbacks of FWD in a city environment?
I don't know of any that come anywhere near being serious.

· George Parrott (not verified) · 3 years ago

I might have been tempted to find the $$$ to actually afford this IF, repeat IF it had something like at least 50km EV range. Anything less than that makes the EV function just too little to actually allow our daily driving to be emission free. Even our Volt would be "more loved" if it had 50 mile EV range, and we are actually getting around 40 to 43 miles of clean driving with it around town.

· · 3 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver,
"@Michael,
Will you please enlighten me to the drawbacks of FWD in a city environment?
I don't know of any that come anywhere near being serious."

If you don't know of any serious drawbacks, it is probably fine for you, as it is for most people. "Knows why" said there were NO dreawbacks. Well, people who don't know the drawbacks are not driving enthusiasts, and they can stop speaking for those who are. The drawbacks are the same as they are in any environment, poor weight distribution, unloading of the drive wheels during brisk acceleration, poor weight bias for braking, torque steer, poor tracking, no limited slip diff, etc.

· · 3 years ago

@Michael,
Those limitations are the ones I know of and they really don't affect what I consider city driving (which I'll loosely define as less than 35 mph mundane transportation usage, stuck in traffic jams, and light-to-light plodding) either. They only affect highway, rural, and sports driving.
I'm also pretty sure one could put limited slip diff onto a FWD if there appeared to be a reason to.
I guess I'll still go along with Knows all that FWD has no SERIOUS drawbacks for city driving.
One thing a driving enthusiast such as yourself will like about plug-ins is that the weight distribution on any car can much more easily be optimized than with an ICE. This will mean that you'll be more likely to get RWD warm-weather performance while getting FWD snow performance. The amazing traction control that can be achieved with an EV also helps snow performance greatly.

· · 3 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver,
"Those limitations are the ones I know of and they really don't affect what I consider city driving (which I'll loosely define as less than 35 mph mundane transportation usage, stuck in traffic jams, and light-to-light plodding) either. They only affect highway, rural, and sports driving."
That's great for you. It opens up a lot more choice in cars. For me, the quirks of FWD drive me nuts, even in a city.

"One thing a driving enthusiast such as yourself will like about plug-ins is that the weight distribution on any car can much more easily be optimized than with an ICE. This will mean that you'll be more likely to get RWD warm-weather performance while getting FWD snow performance."

I definitely appreciate good weight distribution. Weight distribution isn't the only thing that defines the driving characteristics of a rear wheel drive car, though. Most rear wheel drive ICE cars already have pretty good weight distribution. If they make FWD BEVs with 50/50 weight distribution (which as you pointed out, could easily be done), then unfornately, the snow traction benefits of FWD go away (majority of weight on no longer on front driving wheels). It's always a tradeoff.

If would be very easy to build RWD BEVs. Just put the relatively small and lightweight motor(s) in the back. Mitsubishi did this with the MiEV. Many BEVs I see coming out now are based on FWD ICE chassis. The Leaf is built on the Versa chassis, for instance. It has a weight distribution F/R of 56/44. The Focus, of course, is just a Focus with an electric motor replacing the engine, so is FWD.

· · 3 years ago

@Michael,
Keep your eyes open for the Tesla Model S. I think you'll like what can be done if a manufacturer starts from a clean sheet of paper, unrestricted by ICE legacy. As you mention, the iMiEV does this a bit. Too bad it is such a minimal vehicle with insufficient range for most who would consider the price. Its actually a very nice car to drive.
The other benefit of the EV is that one can get 50/50 weight distribution without so much dumbell affect as one gets in all 50/50 ICE vehicles.
Have you driven the Tesla Roadster? It's 35/65 distribution provides incredible handling, partly because its mass is so concentrated.

· · 3 years ago

@Michael · "The Leaf is built on the Versa chassis, for instance."

No - Leaf is brand new. 6" longer & 3" wider than Versa. The chassis is such that the battery fits right in.

· · 3 years ago

@EVNow,
"No - Leaf is brand new. 6" longer & 3" wider than Versa. The chassis is such that the battery fits right in."

My bad. The test mules used the Versa chassis, but the production car was all new.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

@Michael,

I think like the Volt is Cruze based I think the Leaf is Versa based. Creating new platforms can take years and you only want to do it if you plan on using it. More than likely the Leaf is just on an extend Versa platform and modifications to accommodate the battery.

· · 3 years ago

@Anonymous "Creating new platforms can take years and you only want to do it if you plan on using it."

And why do you think Nissan didn't take years and are not planning to use it ?

When you spend $6 BILLION on a project like this - you will try to optimize as much as possible (while reusing as much as possible).

· · 3 years ago

I think that a plugin is always the best way to go. 21 miles is pretty good and it will get you to the highway, where the ICE will be at it's best. This is a parallel hybrid, though it also has a way to charge the battery while driving.

Having the electric traction drive in the front means it will have the most regenerative braking, with a simplified drivetrain. More complex isn't necessarily better.

So, let's wait to see how this car performs on the efficiency front and for driving enjoyment. I'll bet it is plenty fast. The Illuminati 7 has an 80kW motor (if I recall correctly) and it can accelerate 0-60 in ~6.3 seconds. Don't dismiss a 96kW electric motor so easily...

Neil

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