Kids love cars with gullwing doors. Exclaimed one tousle-haired student arriving on the campus basketball court for recess and finding a 2019 BMW i8 parked on the pavement, doors wide open: “Oh man, that’s a BMW? I thought it was a Lambo!”
By way of explanation, my daughter is in fifth grade. Earlier this year, her teacher asked parents if they would be willing to visit the classroom to talk about their jobs, and my wife suggested that I volunteer. Hesitant, thinking nobody would know what the heck an automotive journalist is, I put my name down along with my profession. Her teacher called not long after, eager to have me visit to talk all things cars, and I agreed.
I needed something exciting to inspire the students. You know, something cool. Something technologically sophisticated. Something that dovetailed with the nation’s 2018 National Climate Assessment report, which the Trump administration attempted to bury by releasing it on the day after Thanksgiving.
And something with gullwing doors.
The updated 2019 BMW i8 sports car would be perfect, I thought, a plug-in hybrid that looked like an exotic.
BMW was eager to participate, and not just because its Designworks USA studio is located just a few miles from my kids’ school, or because BMW’s North American headquarters is in Woodcliff Lake, NJ.
Oleg Satanovsky, product communications coordinator for BMW, has kids of his own, and once packed 21 students from his child’s school into a Rolls-Royce Phantom. He understands how such experiences can have a lasting impact on the next generation of designers, engineers, marketers, sales people, service technicians…and luxury car buyers.
And so it was that I found myself behind the wheel of the updated 2019 BMW i8, 24 hours before a major storm dumped several inches of rain on Southern California.
A talk without the chalk
The BMW i8 Coupe has 2+2 seating, and there’s enough room in back for younger children to come along for the ride.
Due to the approaching storm, we moved the auto industry presentation up by 24 hours. I arrived at the school, and after administrators unlocked the 8-foot-high chain-link fencing that surrounds all schools in this ‘modern’ age, I drove the i8 onto the basketball court.
Shortly thereafter, both fifth grade classrooms streamed out for my presentation. I expected some jaded indifference to the BMW, thinking the kids would be more excited about a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or McLaren, but this wasn’t the case. No doubt, it helped that both of the i8’s doors were wide open.
Over the course of 45 minutes, I covered the following topics:
My career trajectory to date, from editor of Edmunds.com to editor of the New York Daily News Autos section.
An overview of the BMW i8, a plug-in hybrid sports car offering about 20 miles of electric driving range, acceleration to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, and combined-driving fuel economy of around 30 mpg.
Emphasis on successful women in the automotive realm, from NASCAR racer Danica Patrick to Nadya Arnaout, who designed the interior of the BMW Z4. Can’t let boys tell girls that they can’t play with cars, now can we?
Career opportunities in the automotive industry, from sales and service to design and engineering.
Throughout, the students asked questions. Some were basic, such as whether or not the “i” in “i8” was capitalized or not. Others were more complex, related to how the BMW i8’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain worked.
One child, whose father is the general manager of a local dealership, actually enquired about a “frunk” (a front trunk, which the i8 does not have). Another child, a Tesla fanatic and clearly a big fan of massaging front seats, wanted to know all of the vehicles I’ve driven that had them. Not gonna lie: that was odd.
Afterwards, I heard from the teachers and parents that my presentation resonated with several students who couldn’t stop talking about how they might want to work in the auto industry when they grow up.
20 miles of electric range, 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds, all-wheel drive
Marrying a carbon fiber reinforced body to an aluminum frame, and featuring an electric engine driving the front wheels with a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine powering the rear wheels, the BMW i8 is a plug-in hybrid sports car that makes a combined 369 horsepower.
Among exotics, that’s not a substantial number. Neither is the measured time to 60 mph, which BMW says is 4.2 seconds. What is substantial, however, is the estimated 20 miles of electric driving range combined with my as-tested fuel economy average of 30.7 mpg.
Given the recent release of the 2018 National Climate Assessment report, I’m willing to give up some outright speed in exchange for reduced consumption of fossil fuels. What about you?
Sliding into the BMW i8’s 2+2 interior is not easy. You duck under the gullwing doors, poke your butt into the car, drop in, and then swing your legs over the high sill and down into the cabin. If you’re wearing a skirt, especially a short one, demure entry and exit is impossible. Wear skivvies.
Once you’re in, the i8 is much like other BMWs, and driving the car is easy. Best of all, if you’re a parent like me, having the two rear jump seats is especially helpful because you never know when you might be called to school drop-off or pick-up duty.
A fun plug-in hybrid to run
After the presentation at the school, and with two days of predicted rain scheduled to arrive in mere hours, I took the BMW i8 for a run on our local mountain roads.
My usual testing loop, recently ravaged by a major brush fire, remained partially closed. The incoming storm added to the road closures due to legitimate concerns about rock fall and mudslides. Still, I found a section of twisty two-lane suitable for exploring the BMW i8’s acceleration, braking, and handling.
Silent upon start-up and when used in eDrive mode, the i8 delivers a manufactured engine and exhaust note to the cabin when the gasoline engine is on and running. It’s not as sexy as what you might enough from a typical exotic, but it nevertheless sounds throaty and aggressive. Activate manual shifting, and it even belches and pops a bit as you upshift and downshift through the gears.
Running hard up the side of a mountain, the i8 is just as thrilling to drive as other sports cars. From the driver’s seat, it feels remarkably ‘normal,’ in part due to excellent outward visibility and in part due to its fairly conventional interior design. It’s easy to see around sweeping curves and tight corners, helping the driver to best place the car and maintain maximum velocity.
I didn’t get a chance to test braking performance under extended duress, but I did spend enough time in Los Angeles traffic to find that they are a little grabby under certain situations. Dynamically, though, that’s the only aspect of the car that serves as a source for complaint.
A memory-maker in multiple ways
As evening and storm clouds approached, I asked my fifth- and second-graders if they’d like to go for a ride in BMW’s plug-in hybrid exotic.
The three of us headed off down a canyon and onto an undulating country road, where I opened the i8 up just enough to make this whooping and dipping stretch of blacktop feel like a roller coaster. My careful older daughter wore a furrowed brow and look of concern, as she always has in such situations. My carefree younger one just threw her arms and hands up and yelled: “Whoo-hoo!”
While the kids at school that day might enjoy indelible memories of BMW’s gullwing sports car for years to come, thanks to those two jump seats in the back, this short but rousing romp with my girls will be my favorite i8 memory.