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Where is the automobile headed in our gradually warming world? Fully electric like the Chevy Spark, Nissan Leaf, or Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Drive? Plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, Ford Energi models, or Porsche 918? Flying cars like the Terrafugia Transition? Something else entirely? One thing’s for sure: Wherever it’s headed, folks buying at the pointy end of the price pyramid will get there first and help field-test the tech for the rest of us. If you have both the means and the inclination to live your automotive life on the green-tech bleeding edge — or if you need the world to think that’s how you roll—allow us to present the two most compelling options available today.
The reigning green-car champ is the surprisingly high-performance, fully electric Tesla Model S P85+. The car world’s lone successful Silicon Valley startup earned Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year calipers on the strength of its M5-like driving dynamics, giant iPad-esque user interface, innovative optional 5+2 seating, front and rear trunks, and epic 265-mile EPA-rated battery range. And during the year we’ve spent driving a long-term Model S, the expanding network of Superchargers has made long-distance electric travel (at least in our bottom half of California) a surprising reality. But the Tesla just looks like a car, so maybe you fear your less auto-inclined peers won’t fully appreciate your cutting edginess. To wow them, perhaps the racy/spacey new BMW i8 is just the thing. It boasts abundant visual excitement, from its wide, low stance and A-pillar-hinged scarab beetle-wing doors to jarring surface details such as those carved-out rear side channels exiting above the taillights and the mix of piano black, anodized blue, and the body color of your choice covering various parts of the car. Open those nifty doors and the carbon fiber that constitutes the “Life Module” body structure is prominently displayed. A plug-in port allows you to pump in enough electrons to drive a gingerly 23 miles in near silence before the impressively powerful gas-fueled three-banger turbo kicks in.
We’ll grant you that comparing an upright 5-7-seater with a low-slung 2+2 is unconventional, but then so are the cars. And with as-tested prices that fall within 10 percent of each other, these green-tech marvels are aimed at customers with similar demographic and psychographic profiles. Mind you, the base prices are further separated — ,570 for the Tesla, 6,650 for the i8. But by the time a Motor Trend-grade car enthusiast runs through the Tesla options list speccing must-haves such as the 50 performance-tuned air suspension, the 00 21-inch gray performance-plus wheels shod in Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires, 00 worth of performance seats, and a few more sybaritic options, the price can escalate quickly, as ours did, to 6,520. The i8 comes pretty fully loaded with only three option packages — Giga World (00 — our test sample), Terra World (00), and Pure Impulse World (,800). Each package upgrades the width of the staggered-fitment 20-inch wheels and ups the interior opulence.
he i8 is BMW’s affordable alternative to the Porsche 918, McLaren P1, or Ferrari LaDitto, returning a considerably higher percentage of those cars’ performance than the purchase-price ratio predicts.
Senior editor Lieberman gushed, “I love the effect that super-rigid carbon-fiber tubs have on a car’s steering. Think McLaren 650S, Alfa Romeo 4C, and even the super high-miler Volkswagen XL1. Yes, yes, Cadillac’s ELR is at heart a luxurious, two-door version of the Chevrolet Volt. the ELR is severely cab-forward, though much more like the glory days of Tom Gale’s stewardship of Chrysler design than, say, the current Toyota Corolla.
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