Park it on the street, and you'll be swarmed by pedestrians with cellphones, taking pictures in reverent silence.
Tell them that it's a range-extended electric car--capable of traveling 10 to 15 miles on electricity alone, then supplementing its small three-cylinder engine with electric "boost"--and they're even more impressed.
That's the case in Los Angeles, anyhow, where plug-in electric cars enjoy a variety of financial incentives as well as carpool-lane access.
It can be a quiet all-electric car on short trips, with decent if not exceptional acceleration and the calm lack of vibration that sets electric cars apart from their gasoline-engined counterparts.
Then there's the performance coupe with a small but powerful turbocharged engine supplemented by substantial electric torque under full acceleration.
And the driver can choose which mode to use for any given trip--something other cars in the BMW i8's price range can't offer.
Between the rear wheels sits the 231-horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, producing 236 lb-ft of torque and powering the rear wheels through a six-speed direct-shift gearbox.
The front wheels are separately powered by a large 96-kilowatt (131-hp) electric motor. The i8 can be driven electrically by its front wheels, in gasoline-hybrid mode by its rear wheels, or in all-wheel drive by using both powertrains at once--controlled by a very great deal of software to keep all the pieces operating harmoniously.
Using both parts of the powertrain together, maximum output is 362 hp and BMW quotes a 0-to-62-mph time of just 4.4 seconds.
The i8 offers three different driving modes. The "Max e-Mode" setting keeps it in all-electric mode up to freeways speeds of 75 mph, giving somewhere between 12 and 20 miles from the 7.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack fitted in the tunnel between the two front seats.
Switch over to "Sport" mode by pulling the shift lever toward you, however, and the BMW i8's whole personality changes. The instruments turn red, replacing the power meter with a tachometer, and an entirely different version of the powertrain management software takes over.
In Sport mode, flooring the accelerator will activate the front electric motor--illuminating a "Boost" notice in the tach--and give the car that 4.4-second acceleration to more than 60 mph.
On the twisting canyon roads above Los Angeles, the BMW i8 pulls aggressively and delivers a pleasant howl from the engine mounted transversely behind the passengers.
We did experience a couple of discontinuities somewhere in the mix among power delivered to the front wheels and the rear wheels, low-speed regenerative braking, and traction control software that tried to manage all of it.
In one case, for instance, slow deceleration toward a stoplight in electric mode followed by a quick power-on/power-off transition produced an unexpected lurch forward. But these instances were rare, and we suspect BMW will refine the control software to tune it for those "edge case" situations.
Then there's the sound produced by the powertrains, both inside and outside the car.