These two cars prove that hybrids aren't always the left-lane hogs that the Prius has made them out to be.
Whether you like it or not, electrification is the future of the automobile.
If you love sports cars, though, don't think this means we will all be quietly whirring around town in soul-sucking EVs. Many automakers have realized that adding some sort of electrification can boost performance, while still offering environmental benefits.
The BMW i8 and the all-new Lexus LC 500h are perfect examples of this 21st Century sports car strategy, and they just happen to be two of the sexiest hybrids on the market right now.
We recently got to spend a week with each for a performance hybrid head-to-head comparison looking at the technology, style and, of course, sportiness.
Both of these performance hybrid coupes are absolutely stunning illustrations of what happens when automakers let designers design. Looking more like concept cars than production hybrids, each has its own unique way of wowing passers-by.
The BMW i8 looks like a racecar with a body that was obviously sculpted in the wind tunnel. The low slung front end gives the i8 a mean look, while the rear end incorporates air channels through the rear fender area. If this car didn't attract enough attention as it is, the butterfly doors definitely get you noticed when you're getting in or out of the BMW.
Where the i8 has a futuristic look, the Lexus LC exhibits more of an elegant, modern design, but make no mistake, this car is equally eye catching. Every line of the body was well thought out allowing this grand touring coupe to look as sporty as it is stylish.
The best part of the design are the lights where the front LED lights are separated into three components - headlights, running lights and turn signals are separate - but the taillights are the most dynamic with numerous swoop-shaped element that illuminate spectacularly at night.
The exterior design might be the one area that was impossible to make a decision between the LC and i8.
Aside from low-volume, boutique marques, Lexus and BMW are currently the best automakers when it comes to crafting interiors, and these two coupes are proof of that. Whereas the i8 is a traditional sports car that requires some sacrifices (climbing in and out of this low-slung car over those massive door sills can be a workout), the LC is a typical grand tourer combining elements that are both sporty and luxurious. Lexus even made sure to give the LC a cabin that is as stylish and elegant as the exterior as shown by this tester's Rioja Red leather seats, Alcantara seat inserts and headliner and the glass roof. Hands down, the LC is the clear winner when it comes to the overall cabin experience.
Under the hood - or the entire body, in the BMW's case - each car takes a different approach at defining a performance hybrid.
Lexus uses a new version of its Multi Stage Hybrid technology pairing an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter direct-injected V-6 and four-speed automatic transmission with two electric motors and a lithium-ion battery. The result is 354 net horsepower available at the rear wheels. Lexus says that the new hybrid system delivers more electric power assist at lower speeds and has the ability to operate at speeds of up to 87 mph without the engine, although this is more of a coasting mode than full EV propulsion. Lexus even managed to give the LC 500h a decent exhaust note, which can't be said for the i8.
The i8 is a plug-in hybrid with an all-wheel-drive power configuration using electric motors to power the front wheels and a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder gas engine to power the rear wheels. Total power output is 357 horsepower, which gives the i8 impressive acceleration.
If you're shopping these cars for performance capabilities, both are extremely fun but the i8 is the clear winner here. Weighing in at just 3,455 pounds, the i8 can sprint from 0-60 in just 4.2 seconds, and the combination of all-wheel-drive and its central battery location makes the BMW nimble and responsive. The i8 can even drive up to 75 mph using just electric power! The LC 500h might be bigger and almost 1,000 pounds heavier, but it is no slouch when it comes to performance. Accelerating to 60 mph takes 4.7 seconds to hit 60 mph and cornering is still very impressive and fun in this sporty hybrid. Both cars have an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
Although both are performance cars, many people still asked about fuel economy... they are hybrids after all. Being a plug-in, the i8 is able to drive longer distances in EV mode than the Lexus - and at much higher speeds - but on average, you're probably going to get better efficiency from the Lexus. With a fully charged battery, the i8 is carries an EPA rating of 76 MPGe, and while BMW says the EV range is officially 15 miles, it isn't hard to stretch that number to more than 20 in city driving thanks to brake regeneration. Once the battery is depleted, though, the i8 returns 28 mpg in combined driving, which compared to 30 mpg combined (26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway) for the Lexus. Total driving range for the BMW is rated at 330 miles, while the Lexus is a true road warrior with a range of 666 miles.
The technology and luxury available from a performance hybrid like either of these doesn't come cheap. The lavish 2018 Lexus LC 500h has a starting price of $96,510, and the car we used from this comparison added plenty of options raising the as-tested price to $103,845. Being constructed of almost all carbon fiber and aluminum, the sporty 2017 BMW i8 starts a big higher at $143,400, and fully loaded, this car had an as-tested price of $152,695.
So which performance hybrid would we park in our driveway? You really can't go wrong with either car, and these cars are fun to drive and get noticed wherever they go. At the end of our week with these cars, though, the 2018 Lexus LC 500h is the best option primarily because of the fact that it's more of an everyday car.
2018 Lexus LC 500h
Enjoy reading about the open road?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.