posted on January 10, 2020

BMW i8, the first proper eco-friendly sports car

From their inception until very recently, hybrid cars were strictly considered to be boring commuter cars, fuel-efficient blobs to get you from point A to point B. The idea of a fun, sporty, performance-minded hybrid was kicked around between car companies but only ever teased as a concept.

In 2009 BMW teased a hybrid sports car called the Vision EfficientDynamics Concept Car (just rolls off the tongue) at the International Motor Show in Germany. It featured a 1.5L turbo diesel engine and plug-in hybrid options. This evolved into the first concept for the i8, which was shown at the same show in 2011, with multiple versions of the same model popping up at shows over the next couple of years.

Sumit’s 2017 BMW i8 (Cambridge, MA)

Finally, after what was probably a considerable amount of R&D effort, the BMW i8 went into production in 2014, boasting some impressive acceleration numbers and an outrageously futuristic and sleek design.

The i8 quickly became a fan favorite for its novelty as a fuel-efficient performance car; at 112 mpg, it is one of the most economical sports cars you could get (though it only achieves around 27 mpg when adjusted for the real world), that is if you could afford the $140,000 price tag. The i8 has sold over 6,000 units in the United States as of 2020 and raked in multiple awards including Top Gear Magazine’s car of the year award in 2014.

Plus, even six years after its production debut, the i8 still looks like a spaceship. From the aggressive nose to the giant air-channeling rear buttresses to the butterfly doors, the i8 looks every bit a cutting-edge supercar, even if the performance numbers don’t quite reach the stratosphere in the minds of enthusiasts. Instead, the i8 offers an exotic image and exciting experience in a tech-forward package that’s more accessible, practical, and easy to drive for the regular joe. It’s no wonder that the i8 continues to be one of the most popular sports cars here on Turo.

Leading the sports-hybrid charge

After the i8, the market really exploded for performance hybrid and electric vehicles. Car companies have been moving more towards electric drivetrains in general due to the increasing demand for EVs. Tesla has certainly been making a huge impact with its lineup and companies like Porsche have introduced models like the Panamera hybrid and Taycan. Even the likes of Ferrari are teasing an electric supercar after 2025 — the future of the car industry is without a doubt electric.

Now that manufacturers are starting to harness the performance capabilities of hybrid and electric drivetrains (there’s a fast-growing number of EV sports cars being teased at every auto convention), it’s easy to forget how big of an impact the i8 had. Sure it suffered from some issues in its first couple years, but that doesn’t take away from the vast improvements the model made in later years.

Even with relatively low sales by BMW’s standards, the i8 has played a huge role in popularizing the hybrid sports car. It showed that performance cars could be fun while combining a small engine with a battery pack, and with production of the i8 wrapping in April of 2020, that’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.

Danny Benson is a car fanatic and writer from rural Northern California (aka Bigfoot country). His friends are hoping that his being able to write about cars for a living will get him to stop talking their ears off with useless car trivia.