We’ve already evaluated BMW’s i8 pretty closely, and our review has been published. It looks like a proper supercar, with doors that open upwards; it’s incredibly difficult to get in and out of, and very complex overall. Rather than a V12, V8, or even a V10, a three-cylinder MINI engine mated to an electric motor powers the i8. This is a preview into the future of the BMW brand, and we’re honoured to be a part of it. There’s a unique edition available for the 2017 model year, and we were sent an example for testing. Adding an even more exclusive touch to the Bavarian spaceship is this edition, the 2017 BMW i8 Protonic Red Edition has just arrived to Canadian dealerships in limited quantities.
Only fifteen Protonic Red Edition vehicles will be available to Canadians, and very few more for the global market. This model adds $13,700 to the $149,800 base sticker on the regular i8. For this, it adds an anthracite headliner, LED headlights, leather engine cover, a BMW Display Key (reviewed here), and some Protonic Red Edition badging strategically placed around the car. Oh yes, it’s also red. Our test vehicle was also equipped with LaserLight laser headlights, for an extra $8,500. The new Audi R8 V10 Plus (reviewed here) is also equipped with a similar setup, and it provides unmatched crispness and projection for night driving.
Weighing in at just under 3,400 lbs., the Protonic Red i8 isn’t much more than the standard model. It also packs the same powertrain, based on the turbo 1.5L three-cylinder MINI engine, sending power to the rear wheels. The front wheels are pulled along by an electric motor good for 129 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque. Combined system output is 357 horsepower and 420 lb-ft., which is a good amount. It’s deceptively fast, and the motor makes a nice rumble as it kicks on (“Sport” mode is engaged by moving the shifter to the left, as in other BMW models). Power delivery is very smooth, and the transition between hybrid and full electric modes is pretty seamless.
The only available transmission is still the six-speed automatic shared with the regular Mini Cooper (reviewed here), but it shifts quickly and makes glorious noises on both upshifts and downshifts in the “Sport” setting. Downshifts are made crisper with a rev-matching system. There are paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which, given the supercar effect this thing gives off, really should be fixed and mounted to the steering column rather than the wheel itself. Even still, the paddles are responsive, and gear changes can also be made with the shift lever itself.
The 215-section rear tires may be deceptive, because the i8 does corner very well. The light overall weight and carbon-fiber tub work together to the car’s benefit, and it always feels planted firmly to the ground. Steering is responsive and has quick turn-in, as well as great on-center feel. It is of course, electrically assisted, which is par for the course for modern BMW models, but this isn’t a bad thing. The i8 is a scalpel when it comes to traffic situations, because the driving manners coupled to the real-time traffic reports from the ConnectedDrive system allow the car to whisk through almost anything.
Our test vehicle was equipped with winter tires considering the time of the year, and this is one of the few “supercars” that can actually be driven year round, should you choose to. The low ride height will cause a bit of “snowplow effect”, but if your climate has more ice/slush rather than actual deep snow, a good set of winter tires and the i8 is set. Interior noise is actually pretty well isolated, with minimal tire and road noise making its way to the cabin. When kept out of the Sport setting, the i8 provides the serenity of the likes of the 7-series (reviewed here).
The plug-in hybrid nature of the i8 means it’s geared for efficiency rather than strict performance, as the car’s aesthetics would have you believe. The body is sculpted for maximum aerodynamics without compromising any of the supercar looks. BMW claims the i8 can travel distances of up to 38km on solely electric power – we actually beat this claim and saw 42km without the gasoline engine needing to step in. Using Sport mode also regenerates battery power, which, at the expense of some additional fuel consumption, can fully recharge the battery in approximately 100km.
Actual fuel economy will vary, but without actually plugging in the i8 at all over the course of our test, and just using the Sport setting to regenerate power, we saw a combined 7.2L/100km on 91-octane premium fuel. The small tank will only hold 42L of fuel total, and of course, it requires premium. BMW rates the i8 for 8.4L/100km city, 8.1L/100km highway, and a combined rating of 8.3L/100km in ideal conditions. When comparing it to actual supercars, the i8 immediately looks like the frugal, practical choice.
Considering its supercar appeal, the i8 is remarkably easy to get in and drive. Those familiar with BMW products as affordable as the 2-series (reviewed here) will instantly feel at home in the i8. Save for the fully digital and configurable instrument gauge cluster and minor details, the flagship of the “i” brand has a cockpit virtually identical to every other BMW. Ergonomics are excellent, and the Harman/Kardon sound system mated to BMW’s iDrive is a pleasure, fully eliminating the need for a more showy Bowers & Wilkins system as seen in the 750i (reviewed here).
Perhaps the least practical aspect of the car is the doors, which make getting in and out a chore. They require a good amount of space on either side of the car, and the high sills mean it’s particularly difficult to get out of the car without wrinkling your suit. Women in dresses will find it even more complicated to get in or out in a classy manner, which means date nights may involve taking the other car. Something the i8 offers that few other supercars do though, is the inclusion of rear seats. They’re virtually unusable for actual adults, but in a pinch, they’ll do.
At about $175,000, the 2017 BMW i8 Protonic Red Edition does not come cheap. However, the price becomes justifiable when you consider the sheer supercar appeal for the price, without the insane fuel bills and overall ownership costs that come with cars like the Audi R8 V10 Plus (reviewed here). The i8 can theoretically be used year-round and will get the attention of literally everyone it comes across. It’s by no means a low-key environmental choice, though it most certainly is a statement. With only 15 examples of the Protonic Red Edition making their way to Canada, exclusivity is the name of the game here.