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BMW Hands You the Keys to an i8 for an Hour—What Do You Do With It?

There are a handful of thumbs propped up, heads turning, hands peeking out of rolled down car windows to snap a shot with a smartphone. “What is that?” “Nice car!” “Mind if I take a few photos?”— these are common, too. Traffic seems to open up as well, kind of like that scene in “Bruce Almighty” when Jim Carrey parts a pileup of cars like the Red Sea, almost as if I’m a single-car, presidential barricade…or I’m the one being chased in a police pursuit. For that moment, I may as well have been Brad Pitt riding by on a motorcycle in slow motion because all eyes were staring at me. Well, not me, really—the car. It’s the damn car, man.

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It’s hard to ignore the star quality of the BMW i8. This hybrid sports coupe is both the company’s flagship car and literally two cars in one. In one mode, it’s as peaceful as can be, smooth and silent. On the other hand, and at the small flick of a button, it’s an absolute animal, one that can only be tamed by your manner of steering and throttle inputs. The i8 makes glorious sounds; it’s almost too hard to believe it saves the gas the way it growls in sport mode. Besides, when you only have an hour with the car, you need to drive it as if it were your last hour on Earth. I made it a fast one.

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An hour is very tricky, especially when you live in SoCal, like I do. You need to pre-plan a destination. Pick the wrong route and you wind up in dead stopped in traffic. The most logical thing I could think of was the closest canyon road—15 minutes going and coming, assuming it’s free flowing on the highway. That gives barely 30 minutes to do any real driving and take photos. And so it went: get on the gas, zip safely through traffic, let the people point and give the ‘thumbs up’. Let the i8’s wings stretch: power on, easy through turns and back on the gas exiting out. There’s the photo spot. Park. Get out. Shoot—and do it quickly!

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Before long, I’d well exceeded my time allotment—it’d quickly become 30 minutes overdue before making the return trip to the BMW staff. The traffic had doubled, but sport mode was still exciting as it ever was. The person greeting me back at home base didn’t even flinch: “Enjoy the ride?” Did I ever. It wasn’t just the best hour of my life; it was the best two hours. And I made them fast ones…

(Special thanks to Jai Huang at BMW USA. This article first appeared in Driving Line print Volume 1: Issue 5) bmw i8 test drive dl 0515 bmw 13

From an Owner's Point of View

As car enthusiasts, we have a more unique perspective when it comes to the driving experience - but an hour only gives us a small taste of how a car actually is. Luckily we know someone who owns an i8. Here's a perspective from someone who gets to enjoy the car every day:

"The BMW i8 checks a lot of boxes and covers a wide range of what people would want out of a car. It's very comfortable when you want it to be, sporty with great stability and provides confidence in turns, gets great mileage and looks really, really cool. The tricky part - figuring out the best strategy for 'plopping into' the car because of the high door sill. 

I love it as a car you can enjoy and drive every day, if you wanted. People smile when they see an i8. It looks like it's from the future, and the cool lights inside make you feel like you're in a special place as you're driving. You don't need to drive it fast to enjoy it; I actually prefer to drive it in comfort mode most of the time. 

Compared to a pure electric Tesla, the drivetrain and controls aren't as high performing, but the i8 is still peppy and fun, which is the best way to describe its sports car credentials. But to have a sporty, comfortable, fun and beautiful car that also happens to get 35 mpg (and more, based on my average)... that's pretty darn cool."

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