Though the i8 has made headlines as a roadgoing concept car straight off of a TRON set, little praise has been given to its performance. It has had some attention given to its hybrid drivetrain, but, to my eyes, most assessments fall short of describing the multi-faceted character of this car. Conversely, BMW’s M4 – which is really just an elongated version of the M3 – needs little introduction. Besides the newest generation of M cars all having turbocharged motors, the trademark playfulness is still there. How does a hybrid, mid-engined wundercar like the i8 stack up against the tried-and-true M4?
The potent three-cylinder hybrid motor in the i8 puts out 357 bhp and 420 lb/ft of torque with the assistance of a turbocharger, and an electric motor which powers the front axle. The M4 uses a more conventional inline-six turbo that makes more power but slightly less torque: 425 bhp and 405 lb/ft. Whichever way you look at it, these motors deliver whopping performance for having such respectable levels of emissions.
Thankfully, for all the tech the i8 offers, it isn’t soulless or dull. It benefits from a great mid-engine layout but is hampered slightly by the narrow track and skinny front tires – a mere 215-section tire on the front axle – which ultimately limit the overall level of cornering grip. Nonetheless, it still shows great poise and the powertrain gives it a wide powerband that helps it keep up with more potent machinery.
The M4 is, even by today’s standards, a heavy car which manages to perform despite its heft. With real firepower and that long-appreciated handling balance seen in all M cars, the M4 is an exciting, competent car to drive. Crucially, it hasn’t been declawed (much) in an attempt to make it more environmentally friendly, yet its overall performance isn’t radically better than the more compromised, softer i8. While the i8 was never designed exclusively with performance in mind, it still manages to remain in the frame with the established contenders. What does that hold for the future of high-end hybrids? Only time will tell.