- Stunningly futuristic
- Small rear seats
A sports car by definition is an indulgent, selfish purchase that’s very single-minded in its goals. Performance, prestige and be damned with pretty much anything else. If you can afford to buy it the costs of fuelling it matter little. BMW’s i8 re-writes that sports car paradigm. Here’s a future-looking machine that’s got performance and poise to worry Porsche’s omnipresent 911 Carrera and Audi’s R8, but emissions and economy that match a plug-in Toyota Prius.
If this is the future of high performance, indulgent, selfish motoring then bring it on. So long as you’ve got £100,000 to hand.
The BMW i8’s shape defines its role as a game-changing sports car. It could have driven straight out of Area 51, the many surfaced, complex but achingly pretty and beautifully proportioned lines are the stuff of sci-fi fantasy. Yet it’s here.
BMW showcased how the i8 could look in 2009 with its Vision EfficientDynamics concept, but nobody thought it would ever re-create it so faithfully for production. It’s functional too, light, and honed to cleave through the air as efficiently as possible.
Unashamedly futuristic, from its shape to its construction, the lacquered roof gives a glimpse of its carbon composite construction, as does opening its theatrical butterfly-hinged doors. This thing could drive like a shed and it wouldn’t matter to most, it’s just so pretty.
We said selfish right? BMW calls the i8 a two-plus-two, but you’d be indescribably cruel to put anyone in the back seats for more than a mile or two. It’s tight back there – even for kids – with no leg and very limited headroom. Still, that’s true of Porsche’s 911, arguably the i8’s most accomplished foe.
Unlike its rear-engined German rival, the i8 doesn’t offer much in the way of bootspace. There’s a tiny luggage compartment behind the engine, which is both tight on access and gets hot, so forget putting the shopping back there. Fling your golf clubs across the back seats then, or just give it up.
Performance & handling
If the BMW I8 is a bit tight on passenger and luggage space that’s because it has three motors, two gearboxes, a battery pack and a fuel tank where most sports cars have just one of each. Being a plug-in hybrid there’s an electric motor driving the front wheels, and a turbocharged three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine driving the back. To that there’s a generator/starter that can spike the petrol engine with torque to effectively fill in for any lag in its response, giving instantaneous response every time.
There are four driving modes, of which only one relates to the above headline; Sport. Knocking the gearlever over into Sport mode stiffens the suspension, changes the steering and throttle calibration and reconfigures the drivetrain to give everything in the pursuit of performance. That means a combined 362hp and 570Nm of torque, enough to allow the i8 to reach 62mph in 4.4 secs and an electronically limited 155mph top speed.
It feels every bit as quick as that too, the sound resonating around the cabin – via a pair of speakers inside and one outside – is an amplification of the triple’s timbre, gearshifts punctuated with gasps on upshifts and delightful blips on downshifts. It feels stiff thanks to its carbon structure, though the suspension’s sophisticated control means all but the harshest surfaces remain isolated from the cabin. The steering is nicely weighted, its response immediate, though the i8 will push on into understeer.
It’s best enjoyed with its electronic stability and traction systems off, their nannying not helping with smooth progress. Do that, and change slightly the way you approach corners – slower in and use the mighty traction and immediacy and elastic punch of the drivetrain to power out – and the i8 is more than an equal for its conventionally-powered sports car rivals.
Economy & Environment
Drive the i8 in Sport mode exclusively and you’ll enjoy it, and still return better than average economy than its rivals. But the game-changing element of the i8 is its plug-in hybrid powertrain. It can be driven in electric-only mode for as much as 22 miles at speeds up to 75mph, that accounting for its incredible 134.5mpg and 49g/km CO2 official combined figures – the same as a Toyota Prius plug-in.
Every element of the i8, including its manufacturing processes and supply chain, has been designed to make as little impact on the environment as possible.
Equipment & value
A few quid shy of £100,000 might put it at the higher end of the sports car marketplace, but then specify a 911 to i8 levels of specification and it’s likely you’ll pay as much for the Porsche.
Along with its innovative, tax-cheating and fuel pump-avoiding plug-in powertrain the i8 comes with a comprehensive specification. So there’s DAB, a 20GB hard drive, Bluetooth connection, sat-nav, a head-up display, ConnectedDrive with BMW Apps, Online services, Real Time Traffic Information. There’s an app for your smartphone to manage charging, which is both useful and pretty cool.
The options list is relatively short, and based largely around styling, BMW offering a Design Package for £12,200 that includes pretty much everything extra you might want. In time, and underlining its futuristic spec, the i8 will be the first car ever to be offered with laser headlights and carbon fibre wheels. £100k is ordinary sports car money today, and the i8 is anything but.
A carbon composite cockpit with aluminium frames not only mean the i8 is light, but incredibly stiff and strong. Stability and traction systems come as standard, as does ABS, LED headlights and park distance control as well as the usual suite of airbags. Choose that £12,200 Design Package and you also gain BMW’s Driving Assistant pack, which contains City Collision Mitigation, Forward Collision Warning, Pedestrian Protection, Surround View, Speed Limit Display and High-beam Assistant.
The BMW i8 is by no means the only performance-orientated hybrid car at the moment, McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari all offering hypercars with million pound prices pursuing ultimate performance. What BMW’s achieved with the i8 is arguably more impressive, as it’s a credible sports car that mixes hugely entertaining performance and dynamics with genuine, useable eco credentials in a stunningly designed package. It’s difficult not to see it as a game changer as a result, and at £99,845 something of a bargain, too. The future is here, and it’s brilliant; the i8 a sports car you can buy, and drive with a clear conscience.