✔ Concept-like styling, great performance, startling running costs. ✖ Superfluous rear seats, driving dynamic could be better, pricey.
☀ ☀ ☀
The BMW i8 is a plug-in petrol hybrid sports coupé with white-knuckle performance and incredible economy. It follows the first of BMW’s ‘i-Series’ launched earlier this year – the remarkable BMW i3 – and both employ a carbon fibre-reinforced plastic body atop an all-aluminium chassis.
The BMW i8 was first shown to the public at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, followed by its release this June with the first customers taking delivery in August. The £100,000 i8 is a very different proposition to the i3, with styling you would normally find on optimistically-conceptual halo cars.
On the rival front, the BMW i8 stares ‘conventional’ sports cars, like the Audi R8 and the Porsche 911, dead to centre. With an incy-wincy (not a technical term) 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine driving an incomprehensible 228hp to the rear wheels and an electric motor sending 129hp to the front wheels, it collectively makes for a 327hp / 570Nm powertrain, the configuration of which has never before been experienced in this class. Efficiency figures of 135mpg and 49g/km CO2 are unprecedented and give the i8 the sort of running costs that no city car currently available could hope to achieve.
Featuring futuristic looks, hi-tech composite construction and a plug-in hybrid powertrain, the new i8 is a sports car like no other.
Whichever colour and wheel combination appeals, the BMW i8 is a hugely attractive car. The narrow headlights, elegant curves, spaceship-style rear lights and distinctive flying buttresses atop those child-bearing hips, all make for a low-slung car pulling more gravitas than almost anything else on the road.
The drama continues unabated when lifting one of the i8’s dihedral gull wing doors, which reveals an equally stylish interior. The dashboard is dominated by two 8.8-inch HD screens – the unit in front of the driver displays the speedo, rev-counter and energy use dials, while the centrally-mounted display offers sat-nav and infotainment functions.
As befitting a car costing around £100,000, interior quality is truly exceptional, with excellent fit and premium finishes. As with the smaller i3, recycled and sustainable materials are deployed throughout. It’s very well equipped, too. Sat-nav, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and heated seats all feature, while the high-backed front seats are finished in leather.
Seating in the BMW i8 purports to be of 2+2 configuration. Believe me when I tell you it isn’t. The rear comprises a pair of upright, legroom-limited seats for which NO ONE will thank you for squeezing them in there for any journey, regardless of its duration. Their purpose should at best be regarded as extra storage space. There is a boot in the rear, into which you can squeeze a couple of soft weekend bags – but little else.
On the road
On paper, a three-cylinder sports car doesn’t exactly make for riveting reading, but assisted by the electric motor, the i8 feels every bit as quick as a Porsche 911. Officially, 0-62mph will take 4.4 seconds, but because you have the instant and seamless torque of the electric motor, it feels a lot quicker off the line.
The i8 combines stonking performance (a widely-used technical term) with the eco-friendly traits you’d expect from a Toyota Prius. In Comfort or EcoPro mode, the BMW i8 will try and run on electric power alone, which it can do for about 22 miles and at speeds of up to 45mph. Using just the electric motor driving the front wheels, you’ll find acceleration comparable to a hot hatch. The eDrive setting gives you pure electric running for the same range, but raises the maximum speed to 75mph.
Pop the gear lever to the left into Sport mode and, in addition to the driver’s HD instrument panel adopting an angry red hue, you’ll get the petrol engine running all the time, the full output from the electric motor, plus firmer settings for the dampers and more aggressive power steering. Stomping on the throttle in this mode gives you a smooth and muscular surge of acceleration, accompanied by a futuristic whine from the electric motor and a throaty growl (genuine and not synthetically generated) from the three-cylinder engine, which sounds remarkably delicious. Adding to the sensation of speed is the six-speed automatic gearbox, which delivers barely-detectable changes to create the illusion of an uninterrupted wave of acceleration.
Through the twisty bits, the i8 feels well balanced, with quick responses from the fingertip-light steering and almost no discernible body roll. In direct contrast to the R8 and 911 – which pummel the road into submission with raw, naked aggression – the BMW feels more grown-up and composed and requires only small inputs from the driver.
That said, the steering is far too light and the drive dynamic appears to be over-engineered due to the skinny tyres and lightweight nature of its construction – to the point of clinical sterility. Still, it’s great fun though!
Thanks to the standard adaptive dampers, ride comfort is better than expected, while the BMW’s aerodynamic styling means there’s very little wind noise.
As a plug-in hybrid, the i8 erodes range anxiety that invariably accompanies mainstream electric cars. With its 32-litre fuel tank suitably brimmed, coupled with a full charge, it can theoretically travel over 300 miles. Plug into a domestic power socket and you’ll get an 80 percent charge in around three hours, while BMW’s 15-amp iWallbox (£315) reduces that by an hour. Once fully charged, the i8 can travel around 20 miles on electric power alone, while careful use of the regenerative braking system – which is much less ‘grippy’ during deceleration than the i3 – should increase the range.
As with all plug-in models, the running costs will depend very much on how you use the car. A short daily commute with access to a charging point will save thousands at the pumps. Company car buyers will also benefit, with the i8 currently sitting in a 5% BIK band, meaning company car tax could be as low as £998 per year. For 2015/16 and 2016/17, the i8 will shift up to a 9% and 11% bands respectively, which kicks sand in the face – and down the throat – of traditional sports car rivals.
As you’d expect, there’s a good value BMW servicing pack, with a one-off payment of £1,000 covering all routine maintenance for five years.
The BMW i8 is arguably one of the most gorgeous cars available today. Demand is such that, just two weeks after deliveries commenced, the i8 was sold out in the UK. Currently, there is an 11-month waiting list and second-hand i8’s are already selling for £50,000 more than the list price. It is a technical and evolutionary tour de force.
But is it worth £100k – and would I get one? The BMW i8 is a truly remarkable car, is a wonder to drive and its uniqueness is testament to the huge popularity it has enjoyed since its launch only two months ago. But no, the price tag is difficult to justify and the likelihood of ownership – regardless of my inability to afford it – remains remote.
I would garner little self-respect or integrity were I to be anything but totally honest; the week during which I tested the BMW i8, I also spent some considerable time piloting the new, all-electric Tesla Model S P85, which delivers better performance, greater efficiencies, superior drive quality and, as a handsome four-door five-seat family saloon, brings with it every-day practicality. For £100,000, I could garage a top-spec Tesla S P85 ‘Performance’ for £68,000 – AND still have change for a Morgan 4/4 to chuck around the UK’s B-roads.
Fast facts: BMW i8
Model base price: £99,895, which includes government’s £5k low-emissions discount.
* HYBRID SYNCHRONOUS ELECTRIC MOTOR * 129hp @ 0 rpm. Torque: 250Nm @ 0 rpm.
* COMBINED POWER OUTPUT * Power: 357hp. Torque: 570Nm.
* Rapidity: 0-62mph in 4.4 secs * Top speed: 155mph * Economy: 135 mpg combined * Fuel tank capacity: 32 litres * Electric-only range: 22 miles * Capacity of lithium-ion battery in kWh: 5.0 * Charging: With BMW’s £315 15-amp iWallbox (to 80% charge): 2 hours. Standard charging AC with 15A to 80% charge: 3 hours * CO2: 49g/km * Transmissions: 6-speed automatic paired with combustion engine and 2-speed automatic paired with the electric motor * BIK: 5% * Warranty: 3 years / unlimited miles. The high-voltage lithium-ion battery of the BMW i8 carries a warranty for a period of 8 years or a distance of 100,000 km, whichever comes sooner.