Latest Industry News

2016 BMW i8 – Fuel Economy/MPG



The 2016 BMW i8 attracts attention for its exterior looks, but the technical wizardry in the plug-in hybrid powertrain should turn heads just the same. It could be powered by coal and ground-up baby seals and it’d still be viewed with awe and admiration by the crowds that gather to watch the striking “bird wing” doors pivot up and away, rising well above the roof.

The running gear is very unique. When’s the last time such a stunning coupe came with a charging cord to plug it into the wall? AND a three-cylinder engine? The classic design cues are merely there to point out that it’s possible to blend energy efficiency with both style and performance. And that makes the i8 a car unlike any other.

Its mission is to respond to the need for “a new era of sustainable performance,” BMW says. And its highest-tech features may be its construction, with a body shell made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic that attaches to an aluminum chassis that absorbs crash energy and carries the powertrain. Then there’s the battery pack, the electric motor, and the three-cylinder engine too.

As a design, the i8 includes a number of elements of traditional BMWs, including twin-kidney grilles at the front. But much of its style is owed to elements that are unique to the BMW “i” sub-brand. These include startling wing-like fins at the rear, blue trim accents, and a groove between the upper and lower rear bodywork. Like the i3, its smaller city-car counterpart in the “i” lineup, the i8 has unusually tall wheels and tires (20-inch wheels are standard) to reduce aerodynamic drag.

The interior is a blend of ultra-modern lines with some recognizable BMW bits from other cars. But they’re executed in unusual materials that include reclaimed wood veneer and fabrics with recycled fiber content. Both front occupants sit low, with a floating instrument pod in front of the driver; the tall tunnel for the battery pack forms a large divider. We found the i8’s highly contoured lightweight seats comfortable for most occupants, though we’ve not yet taken an i8 on an extended drive to see if that holds true over longer distances.

Then there’s the powertrain, really two separate power sources, one per axle. At the rear, a high-output turbocharged three-cylinder drives the rear wheels, while an electric motor powers the front wheels, fed by the liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack with a usable energy capacity of about 5 kilowatt-hours. Because it’s located between the seats, the entire car maintains a low, sleek profile.

The combination of engine and motor gives the i8 the ability to run solely on electricity, as a sporty hybrid, or with both operating together for maximum performance. It’s known as a “through-the-road” hybrid, with each mode of propulsion coordinated via control software but not mechanically connected, even when they are used together for maximum performance or to provide all-wheel drive.

The i8 was the first BMW to use the company’s new 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine, rated at 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, powering the rear wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. The same engine is now found in a lower state of tune in the latest MINI Cooper line. The electric motor up front is rated at 96 kilowatts (131 hp) and 184 lb-ft of torque; it’s used for all-electric running at speeds up to 75 mph.

The electric range of the i8 is rated at 15 miles by the EPA, though BMW says the Max E-Mode setting can give up to 22 miles. The motor also offers a sort of power boost to complement the engine torque, when the car is running in its highest-performance “Sport” mode. In addition to three driving modes—Max E-Mode, Comfort, and Sport—the first two can be driven using the EcoPro function, which increase efficiency and range by capping acceleration and other energy uses. The default Comfort mode uses each powertrain or both in a more efficient manner, running essentially as a hybrid once the battery is depleted.

The EPA rates the i8’s total combined range between the gas tank and a fully charged battery at 330 miles. And it gives the coupe a rating of 76 MPGe when running electrically. (MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent, measures the distance a car can travel on the amount of energy contained in one gallon of gasoline.) When running as a gasoline hybrid, the BMW i8 gets a fuel efficiency rating of 28 mpg—decent for a high-performance sport coupe.

The BMW i8 starts at more than $140,000, putting it into a rarefied sector of pricey two-seat performance cars. Options can add another $10,000 or more, depending on how heavy-handed the buyer is on the specifications sheet. For 2016, BMW has received Federal approval to offer the world’s first laser headlights as an optional replacement for the standard LED headlights. They’re stunningly good, giving as close to a daylight spread of distance vision as we’ve ever seen in a car.

It’s entirely unclear whether more than a handful of six-figures sport coupe buyers care about fuel efficiency and sustainability. The innovative materials, advanced technology, and light weight of the BMW i8 have already made it a high-tech icon. It’s more of a sports car that’s comfortable as a touring car than an all-out track racer. Which is not to say that BMW doesn’t have plans up its sleeve for even higher-performance models. Meanwhile, we suspect the company will sell every one of them it can make.

Even in its third model year, the 2016 BMW i8 can stop traffic and make random onlookers assume you’re a celebrity. It has a classic coupe shape—a low, fastback profile with short overhangs—that’s turned up to 11 by the swing-up doors, which hinge from the windshield pillar and pivot upwards. They’re known in German asflugeltur, or “wing doors.” And with the doors, front hood, and rear decklid open, the i8 does take on something of a raptor shape—as if it’s about to swoop from the sky and grab a mammal or two for lunch.

Its design is largely based on the styling language developed for BMW’s “i” sub-brand. The i8 wraps tightly around its 20-inch wheels, and the sculpting of its shape emphasizes its horizontal lines—despite a relatively tall tail with a slab-sided panel behind the rear wheel arch. It’s all in the service of lowering aerodynamic drag, which consumes more energy above 30 mph than propelling the car does. BMW quotes a drag coefficient of 0.26, within a couple of points of the low end of the scale, but not quite as low as that of the longer Tesla Model S.

Approaching the i8, you first see its colors: the bright blue accents that highlight the twin-kidney grille openings. Areas of the i8’s front, rear, and door sills that aren’t body color are shiny piano black. While that may sound visually cacophonous with those blue accents, it all hangs together remarkably well—and ensures you’ll never mistake the i8 for any other vehicle.

On the shape itself, you’ll notice the groove between upper and lower bodywork becomes apparent, as the waistline of the car sweeps back across the tops of the rear fenders. A unique pair of narrow fins trail all the way from the roof rail to the back edges of the decklid, which wraps over them to form an open tunnel on each side, as the car’s glass-house narrows toward the rear. Finally, the arched aero element of the door sill and the rear bumper shape make their own contribution to the taut shape.

The i8’s interior is considerably less avant-garde than that of the i3, its smaller sibling. It offers a more predictable dash layout, sans the i3’s raw fiber-impregnated plastic. Despite distinctive touches—the cowl over the instrument cluster behind the wheel has an open top, for instance—it’s much more recognizable as a BMW interior than the almost Scandinavian austerity of the little i3’s cabin.

But the i8 extends its blue accents to the LED ambient lighting and a delightful (optional) set of bright-blue seat belts. Its floating center display screen and a layered dashboard design nod to the i3, but won’t startle buyers of the more expensive conventional BMWs either. Our test car’s upholstery was a nice mix of black and ivory leather, with  judicious matte-silver accents highlighting some of the character lines sweeping through the dash to give it visual flair. The black soft-touch plastics on the dash and other touch surfaces give the expected premium feel.

All in all, the shape of the BMW i8 is coherent, distinctive, and fresh, especially its unusual but successful blue-accent treatment. Note that the design themes come off quite differently depending on whether the exterior color is silver, charcoal, or black—since the latter two cause the piano-black elements to disappear into the general shape.

The 2016 BMW i8 sports a type of powertrain that’s only used by one other vehicle: the now-discontinued Porsche 918 Spyder (at eight times the BMW’s cost). But the i8 is more of a touring coupe than an a track car designed for all-out speed. It’s meant to strike a balance between sporty performance and high efficiency. Although its price aligns it with more traditional competitors—the Audi R8 and Porsche 911, say—it’s a very different kind of car.

From the rear, it uses a 228-horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, putting out 236 lb-ft of torque through a 6-speed automatic gearbox, to power the rear wheels. Then, separately up front, a large 96-kilowatt (129-hp) electric motor sits between the wheels, powering them through a two-speed transmission. Its energy is supplied by a lithium-ion battery pack with around 5 kwh of usable capacity that’s mounted in the tunnel between the front passengers.

Drivers of the i8 are faced with a few more choices than in more conventional sports coupes. The car can be powered by electricity alone through its front wheels. Or it can run as a hybrid, using both powertrains alternating as necessary. Or, its Sport mode provides high-performance all-wheel-drive—with each of the three methods using software to keep all the pieces operating harmoniously. BMW quotes a total power rating of 357 hp when both powertrains are running at maximum output, giving a 0-to-60-mph time of just 4.2 seconds.

To start off only on electric power, the “Max e-Mode” setting keeps the i8 running on its battery alone up to freeways speeds of 75 mph—although hard acceleration past a stiff pedal detent switches on the engine to provide extra power in emergency situations. If that happens, the driver must select “Max E-Mode” again to resume all-electric running. Regenerative braking is stronger in E-Mode than in hybrid mode, but drivers quickly learn to coast down to a stop using the brakes only at the very end.

When the battery is depleted—the EPA rates it at 15 miles of range—the i8 segues seamlessly out of “Max e-Mode” and into “Comfort” mode. Here, it is fundamentally a hybrid, starting off under electric power then firing the engine when more power is required. It will do up to as much as 40 mph before that happens, depending on load. But this hybrid mode only recharges the battery to about 1.3 kwh (enough for hybrid use) that is only a fraction of its full capacity when it’s been plugged in to fully recharge.

Then there’s “Sport” mode. If the driver selects that at any time, flooring the accelerator switches on the i8’s electric motor—accompanied by a “Boost” notice in the tach—to give the car that 4.2-second acceleration to 60 mph. Among other differences, the car recharges the battery pack using engines overrun well above the minimal hybrid levels used in “Normal” mode, meaning that when the pack is fully recharged, the car will deliver sustained full electric power far beyond that provided under normal use.

Sport mode is engaged by pulling the shift lever to the left. Immediately, and it changes the car’s personality enormously. A tachometer replaces the power meter, the instrument faces take on a red glow, and the powertrain control software is immediately much more aggressive. And it lets the i8 approach the performance that the racy looks promise, but especially at higher speeds, it’s far from your high-end Audi R8 or Porsche 911. Above 75 mph in this mode, the two-speed transmission connected to electric motor shifts into the higher of its gears to provide torque right up to the car’s top speed—around 135 mph, possibly higher.

It’s a brutally complicated programming task to manage all the potential combinations of driving conditions, power demand, braking, sensor inputs, and the rest. But despite all the power being shuffled around the chassis, the BMW i8 provides pleasantly neutral handling. Its electric power steering is precise, and offers decent (simulated) feedback through the wheel.

Driven aggressively, the i8 held its own on the twisting canyon roads above Los Angeles—though a skillfully driven Lamborghini, McLaren, or high-end Porsche would still quickly leave it in the dust. In Sport mode, the ride remained compliant enough that there was just a trace of bobbling if pavement irregularities appeared on hard corners.

The BMW i8 really blends three different vehicles into one, all of them providing its striking looks. On shorter trips around town, it’s a clam, quiet, smooth electric car that effortlessly keeps up with most traffic. On more varied or longer trips, it’s a seamless hybrid that should deliver good fuel efficiency. And when good roads with little traffic avail themselves, the i8 can become a much faster sports car.

A driver who understands the car’s different personalities can effectively use them to balance off sportiness and energy efficiency—which is exactly the point. The BMW i8 isn’t straight-across competition for most of the cars in its price range. Whether or not its green credentials really matter is open to debate; looks may sell every one of the few thousand i8s BMW will build each year, regardless of powertrain.

The 2016 BMW i8 sports coupe may have four nominal seats, but the rear two are all but useless. They’ll hold a coat, or maybe the custom-designed Louis Vuitton bags intended specifically to fit into their limited dimensions (you’ll have to prove you own an i8 before LV will sell them to you, however). Just don’t plan on using them for live humans.

Since the i8 looks like a two-seat car, however, there’s no harm done. Even for those front seats, though, entering the car will take a bit of training. The bottom cushion of the seat is easily 6 or 8 inches below the level of the door sill, and the driver also has to negotiate around the steering wheel, meaning the passenger actually has the easier task. Entering and exiting gets smoother with practice, but scuffs on the outer edge of the dashboard pointed out the learning process. Drivers or passengers wearing dresses or short skirts will require even more planning to preserve their modesty.

Both front occupants sit low, in heavily contoured seats, separated by the tall center tunnel containing the battery pack. We found the seats comfortable over a few hours of travel, though we can’t comment on their enduring comfort over a full day’s driving.

The interior offers relatively little storage room, and the “wing doors” have no bins in them, for obvious reasons, and the pair of bins on top of the console is shallow. That leaves the rear seats for backpacks or attaché cases. There’s cargo space in two small compartments front and rear, but as with many cars of this class, soft luggage is strongly advised.

With the engine mounted behind the seats, mechanical noises from beyond the bulkhead aren’t as prominent as in front-engine cars. The BMW i8’s three-cylinder engine has a distinctive, uneven gurgling idle that reminded us of a motorboat engine. Under acceleration, that rises to a pleasant howl. But it’s not the car’s natural sound: BMW builds in a sound-generating chip to “tune” the engine sound by adding frequencies to its natural note, based on engine revs and road speed.

One nice feature is the audible honk through the exhaust on upshifts before the engine speed lowers to match the new, higher gear. When the i8 is operating in electric-only mode, a spaceship whine from the electronics was audible at higher speeds. Tire noise intruded when the engine remained off as well.

The ride is firm, even jiggly on some surfaces, but remains controlled, undoubtedly due to the low-rolling-resistance tires combined with the frequently broken surfaces of Los Angeles surface streets.

Neither federal regulators nor the IIHS has crash-tested the 2016 BMW i8. And given the high price and low sales volume, it may not ever be rated by either body. Nor can we draw assumptions from the test performance of the BMW i3 electric car—which uses similar construction to the i8. Both cars have a body shell of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic attached to a rolling aluminum platform that carries both the front and rear crash structures and the running gear.

BMW is confident that the battery’s central location between the axles and in the center tunnel of the car will give it the maximum protection in any circumstance. And it has tested the entire BMW i8 extensively in crash simulations and tests. Otherwise, the gull-wing coupe comes with the usual suite of safety equipment, including six airbags: a pair in the dash for front-seat occupants, side airbags in the backrests of the front seats, and side-curtain airbags to protect passenger heads.

For 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation finally certified BMW to offer the world’s first laser high-beam headlights. A night-time demonstration of these lights, which have auto-dimming that senses the light of oncoming cars, gave a remarkably clear, bright, almost daylight-quality pool of light for a longer distance in front of the car than any other high beam we’ve experienced. They’re an option to replace the standard LED headlights.

The 2016 BMW i8 continues largely unchanged from its two previous model years, with only the addition of laser headlights as an option to replace the standard LED headlamps. The laser lamps are stunning in operation, providing as close an approximation to clear white daylight in front of the car as anything we’ve seen. They come with auto-dimming that may be able to sense oncoming cars even before the driver; the i8 is the first car in the world to be sold with them.

The standard 20-inch alloy wheels are 7.8 inches wide in front and 8.5 inches at the rear, with tall 215/45 and 245/40 tires. There’s a full suite of infotainment options, including a navigation system, satellite radio, and of course the Smartphone app for checking the status of the i8 remotely. The color touch screen display is 8.8 inches, and the i8 has the usual BMW iDrive system with added functions for its unusual powertrain. The standard audio is an 11-speaker, 360-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound system.

Rather than trim levels, the i8 comes in three “Worlds” (like its sibling the i3). Mega World is the base car, using recycled and contrasting materials for parts of its interior. Giga World is meant to convey “elegant sportiness,” with white or black accents for a “modern” feel. And Tera World includes leather and those blue accents, including the bright blue seat belts we liked so much.

An unusual third-party option is a Louis Vuitton luggage set designed specifically to fit into the i8’s seats and luggage compartments. The collection includes two sleek travel bags, a briefcase, and a garment bag, all of them made from the same carbon fiber threads that are used in the car’s body shell. The luggage can be ordered only at LV stores, but you must present proof of BMW i8 ownership to buy it.

The base price of the BMW i8 is slightly over $140,000, including a mandatory delivery fee. A BMW-designed 7.2-kilowatt wall-mounted charging station is slightly more than $1,000, though the i8 is compatible with any 240-volt Level 2 charging station.

The 2016 BMW i8 is rated at 15 miles of electric range, 28 miles per gallon when running in hybrid mode, and 76 MPGe when running electrically. That rating, which stands for Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, refers to the distance the car can travel electrically on the amount of energy contained in one gallon of gasoline.

Its fuel economy is decent for a high-performance sport coupe, though it’s lower than comparable ratings for more pedestrian plug-in hybrid sedans and hatchbacks. The total range between the electric and gasoline powertrains is rated at 330 miles, and premium gasoline is recommended for its 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine.

In addition to the three driving modes—Max E-Mode, Comfort, and Sport—the first two can be driven using the EcoPro function, which increase efficiency and range by capping acceleration and other energy uses. On our test drive, we saw a range of 14 miles with the pack charged to more than 80 percent, so we’d expect that range figure to be about right.

It’s the looks that make the BMW i8, and onlookers’ reactions at charging stations range from disbelief to complete awe.

Written By:
John Voelcker

Published on



Back to top