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When I first rolled out in the 2015 BMW i8, I didn’t see the point. I drove this low-slung concept-looking plug-in hybrid under electric power until its limited battery range ran out, then watched as the fuel economy dipped well below 30 mpg in hybrid mode. But when I put it in Sport mode the truth dawned. The engine roared and blipped when I shifted gears and it handled the corners better than any BMW I had driven before.

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The i8 is a sort of hyper-hybrid, what might have happened if Ferrari had developed the Prius. It exhibits two very distinct personalities: energy-obsessed engineer and troubled youth. Driving it in its Comfort and Eco Pro modes, I could have parked and forgotten all about it, but after moving the shifter to Sport mode nothing short of violence was going to get me out of the i8.

Hitting production in conjunction with the more affordable and mundane i3, the i8 represents BMW’s radical rethinking of personal transportation in light of climate change issues and shrinking fossil fuel supplies. The i8 seems like a first effort by BMW to bring in new century efficiency yet maintain its performance legacy, and it will cost you dearly.

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Base price in the US comes to $135,700 before adding any of the available “World” trim levels. UK buyers are looking at £99,845, although the i8’s electric-only mode should avoid congestion charges and preserve the village green. Below the equator, Australians are looking at $299,000 for the i8, but just think how many more mutants Mad Max could evade on a precious gallon of gasoline.

The i8 is certainly an extraordinary-looking vehicle, as if BMW built a concept car then forgot to get rid of all the interesting bits before putting it into production. While driving it, I got more attention than I had in even the bright orange McLaren 650S Spider.

Power front and back

Beyond its concept-car looks, the i8 uses a completely unique drivetrain, bearing no resemblance to even BMW’s own hybrid vehicles. Tucked away somewhere in the car is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine using BMW’s valve timing and throttle control technologies to produce 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, driving the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. That engine, a variant of that found in the 2015 Mini Cooper, gets a little help from the 11-horsepower starter motor, smoothing over turbo lag.

Driving the front wheels, the i8 uses a 129-horsepower electric motor, powerful enough to move the car all by itself when the 5 kilowatt-hour battery pack has enough charge. Oddly, a two-speed transmission sits between that motor and the front wheels. Filling the battery pack takes just 1.5 hours from a 240-volt source, and gives the i8 22 miles of zero-emission range.

BMW sets the total power output for the i8 at 357 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, with a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.2 seconds. EPA figures show 76 miles per gallon equivalent, 28 mpg average on the gasoline engine alone. However, as is typical with plug-in hybrids, mileage will vary drastically depending on how frequently the car gets charged up.

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