A sports car should combine looks, power, performance and an unquantifiable fizz. When BMW set about building their flagship i8 they started from the ground up with fresh ideas. Bringing lightweight materials, with a tiny petrol engine and a heavy kick from an electric motor you have a four wheel drive sports car sent straight from the future.
With thanks to Stratstone BMW, Doncaster
What is the BMW i8?
Back in September 2009, BMW revealed the Vision Efficient Dynamics concept. A car with aerodynamic lines, super efficient petrol engine and a powerful electric motor heralding the start of BMW’s look to the future with what was later to become the I-brand.
Fast forward to 2014 and the German brand reveals a car with a striking similarity to the Vision. Now called the i8 with concept car looks and supercar performance combined with the fuel efficiency expected of a compact car. This was achieved by examining everything you learnt before and starting again, just like BMW did with the i3.
In the looks department the BMW is a head turner where ever she goes, especially in the pearl white of our test car. New ‘individual‘ colours have now been added to make yours stand-out even more. The i8 ranks as the only car I have ever been photographed getting out of, yet the design isn’t pure aesthetics. Plenty of aerodynamic wizardry is at play.
The i8 is lightweight compared to rivals due to its carbon fibre construction and the inclusion of a tiny mid-mounted 1.5 litre petrol engine usually found in the modern MINI. Strap on two turbos and the motor kicks outs 231hp, throw an electric motor upfront, powering the front wheels, and the combined power figure climbs to 362hp.
These figures provide impressive performance taking the car to 60mph in just 4.4seconds with an equally impressive soundtrack courtesy of some exhaust trickery.
The i8 can be driven in various modes using the combination of power plants to its best advantage for either the most efficient relaxing driving or the most sporty. Pure electric mode is (available upto 75mph) for silent, zero emissions city driving where the i8 is currently Congestion Charge exempt, expect 20miles motoring from the 5.7kwh battery pack.
The battery pack can be recharged in 3 hours at home via a domestic 3-pin plug. Install a faster home charging point and a full charge will achieved in 90 minutes.
The default driving mode, Comfort, enables starting and pulling away electrically activating the combustion engine over 37 mph.
ECO PRO isn’t a mode you would expect in sports car, fully optimising the efficiency of the i8, adjusting the accelerator and transmission to ensure you get as many miles out of as little fuel as possible. In reality this mode is best suited to motorway cruising where the BMW becomes a serene GT car.
Flick the slick gear selector to the left and you engage Sport mode. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the digital instrument cluster, where all the dials are glowing red. Acceleration is now spontaneous with the two motors working in tandem and the petrol motor sounding glorious and the electric motor upfront adding a sweet whine.
To add that extra bit of fizz the engine’s sound track is turned up by funnelling an authentic engine note, including downshift blips into the cabin via the cars stereo. Whatever driving mode you choose, power is available whenever needed and delivered in the most efficient manner working the two power plants in perfect harmony.
The all-wheel drive system provides total confidence when pushing the car on, with millimetre precise steering through a chucky steering wheel. Cornering totally flat with no hint of loss of grip or body roll with handling of a much smaller car with plentiful steering feedback making you feel connected to the road.
The i8 is technology-led and this theme continues inside with a wide screen to the centre of the leather clad dashboard, with integrated ambient lighting and a wide transmission between two comfortable, yet hugging seats. A quick look over your shoulder you notice another pair of very usable seats, something of a surprise. I certainly can’t describe the BMW as a family car, but I can confirm there is enough space for two 12 year kids, one of which was celebrating his birthday when I picked him up from school.
As expected the seating is low slung and entering the car over the high sill via the spectacular dihedral doors takes a little practice to do so elegantly. Once inside you find the steering wheel adjusts for both height and reach to help you achieve the best driving positon and digital instruments are backed up by a head-up display with speed and sat-nav directions just where you need them.
When the rear seats are not in use they are ideal for storing luggage for European tour you have been planning, as at 154litres the boot is not huge and is tucked behind the engine accessed through a glass lid. The engine itself isn’t visible, hidden away under bland cover. The front of the car, where usually extra storage can be found, is filled with electric motor and fans leaving you with just a good sized glove box and an small space in the armrest for your ‘phone.
Lets face it, storage isn’t a priority in a sports car, yet the days I spent with the beautiful i8 I concluded this is a car you can use everyday. Not at all intimidating, just get in drive. Behind the wheel visibility is fantastic with a wide windscreen and you can actually see where you have been with a good sized rear window, unusual for a car of this class. When you have arrived at your destination, unflustered, as parking is easy, just remember to leave enough space to open those dramatic doors.
This is a car that is genuinely worthy of the over-used phrase “Game changer”. The i8 has made other manufacturers sit up and consider hybrid technology, not just to improve efficiency, but to add to the overall driving experience.
The future of sports cars is very bright with BMW leading the way with the next i8 rumoured to be all-electric.
0 to 60mph to 4.4seconds
Top Speed 155mph (75mph in pure electric mode)
UK Base list price:
UK Test car price:
Test car included the following options: Crystal White pearl effect paint with Frozen Grey accents, Turbine 625 alloys wheels, Halo Interior World, Harman/Kardon speakers and Comfort Access.
The i8 comes with an eight-year and 100,000-mile warranty for the lithium-ion battery pack, while the rest of the car is covered by a standard three-year guarantee.
All details as at August 2016