Pleasant electric car
As a pure electric car, the i8 is pleasant enough over a limited range. While the EPA hasn't released range or efficiency ratings yet, we're guessing it'll be rated at 12 to 16 miles of range. BMW says "up to 30 kilometers," or 19 miles, but that's based on optimistic European test-cycle range results.
In electric "Max e-Mode," which is switched on using a button on the console, the i8 accelerates certainly well enough to keep up with traffic.
There's a firm detent at the bottom of the accelerator travel, though mashing the pedal to the floor pushes through that limit and calls up every power source available to the car.
That means the BMW i8 will switch on the rear-mounted turbo engine as well, even if the driver specified all-electric driving; BMW says this is for emergency situations.
The electric drive is smooth and quiet, with a small amount of whine from the electrics. But it's an appropriate level of noise for a sports coupe, and around town, the i8 shares its calmness with other all-electric cars.
2015 BMW i8, test drive in greater Los Angeles area, Apr 2014Enlarge Photo
After hanging at 1 mile and then 0 miles of electric range for what seemed like a long time--longer than a mile--the i8 reverts to being a hybrid when its battery depletes to about 25 percent of capacity.
The turbocharged three-cylinder engine switches on, and it runs as a gasoline hybrid car would. It starts out from rest under electric power, and then switches on the engine as the speed goes above 20 mph or so.
We noticed that under strong acceleration, the electric motor was limited in power. While continuing to accelerate switched on the engine behind us, the power took more than a second to kick in after that--presumably the time needed not to switch it on but to spool up the turbo to get significant power delivery.
That meant that the sequence under fast acceleration from a stoplight started with full electric acceleration, followed by a slowing rate of speed increase as the engine switched on, then a burst of acceleration propelled by the rear wheels after a second or two.
We learned to drive around that, but it wasn't as smooth as we'd have liked--and it indicates the huge challenges of getting disparate powertrains to work together smoothly.