In 1968, the acclaimed (though wacky) sci-fi scribe Philip K. Dick posed the eternal question Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? His novel was the basis for the Harrison Ford cult movie Blade Runner.
Had Dick been around 45 years later to experience the unwrapping of BMW’s phantasmagoric lithium-ion-juiced i8, he might have rephrased the question and inquired Do Androids Dream of Electric Supercars?
Dick would have gotten a serious kick out of climbing behind the wheel of this new i8. He dreamed of a world of futuristic flying cars zooming between skyscrapers, of sleek two-seaters with the kind of styling not dissimilar to the look of this radical new BMW.
But this i8 isn’t some wild blue-sky concept designed for the baby-boomer Android set. It lands here in the United States this spring with a $135,925 sticker—that’s before any state cash-backs—begging the question: What’s so special about that Ferrari 458?
In addition to its jaw-descending styling, the i8 offers zero-to-60 mph acceleration in a mere 4.3 seconds yet the ability to whirr in zero-emission, electric-only mode for as many as 22 miles. Flat out, it’ll do 155, yet it can average an astonishing 94 to the gallon.
There’s so much technology and advanced thinking in this new BMW it could have been funded by NASA. Case in point is its lightweight and super-strong carbon-fiber body structure, made of cloths and fibers that came out of a joint venture with Boeing.
Then there’s the glass. As part of BMW’s laser-like focus on shaving weight, the i8 features so-called “thin glass” for the window between the cabin and the engine compartment. It’s the same chemically hardened stuff—wafer-thin Corning Gorilla Glass—used for the iPhone screen.
As expected, most of the chassis and suspension components are made from featherlight aluminum. Yet to shave every little ounce, most of the aluminum parts have been drilled, race car-style. The end result? A supercar that tips the scales at just 3,258 pounds—or roughly 140 pounds fewer than a compact BMW 3-series.
Then there’s the plug-in hybrid powertrain. Mounted at the back of the car driving the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic is a turbocharged 1.5-liter triple-cylinder gas engine.
This remarkable piece of technology cranks out no fewer than 231 horses and a muscley 236 pound-feet of torque. The honking 129-hp electric motor is juiced by a 6.0kWh lithium-ion battery mounted close to the ground in a central tunnel.
As to how it all works, it’s a bit like a hopped-up Chevy Volt. Climb in, press the “start” button and, if the battery has lots of watts, you’ll start running under electric power for 22 miles at speeds up to 75 mph if you’re easy on the right pedal. It’s perfect for the stop-start commute to the office.
But feel the need for speed and the little three-pot motor will join the party and offer up a combined 362 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. In addition to its terrific performance, the i8 should be a fun drive thanks to its perfect 50-50 weight balance, all-wheel drive, adaptive dampers and super-stiff body structure.
Even if this new i8 had a John Deere motor under the hood, it would still turn heads like Beyoncé at a talent show. From every angle, it looks sensational. Edgy. Flamboyant. Just way cool.
It’s not just those high-lifting scissor doors that add to its supercar credentials. Feast your eyes on the aero-optimized twists and turns of the body, the floating winglets over the rear lights, the almost sinister look of the headlights.
No doubt about it, any Android would dream of this electric BMW.
Price: From $135,925
Engine: 1.5-liter turbo 3-cyl
Electric Motor: 129 hp
Combined Power: 362 hp
Combined Torque: 420 pound-feet
Transmission: 6-speed auto
0-60 mph: 4.3 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
Length/Width: 184.6/76.5 inches
Weight: 3,258 pounds
Why we love it: It could be a model for the sports car of tomorrow.