By David Thacke
The BMW i8 is a work of art – a sports supercar that builds from silence to a turbo-charged growl
BMW can be relied upon to be innovative when it comes to the design and manufacture of new products, but on paper this brief must have looked very daunting indeed. A hybrid eco-friendly sports car with a near quarter ton battery pack and potential for 130+ mpg would require extreme lateral thinking. So when the opportunity arose to experience the finished article I was more than a little interested in how well this all came together.
First impression is of a pure stunning beauty in terms of the flowing aerodynamic lines that would seem to cheat the wind out of any form of resistance to its inevitable forward progress; a mythical black beast sitting on its rear haunches ready to pounce, the Transformeresque dihedral doors taking door opening to a new level (literally) completing the image.
The quality interior is roomy and thoughtful ergonomics are apparent. Once you’ve slid down into the seat, it fits to your body like pulling on socks. With smaller seats in the rear, it is in practical terms a two seater. The briefing on all the equipment seems totally overwhelming and to be honest, a little frightening. hat if I turn that knob that way and press this button, might I find myself fired up through the roof and stuck on the showroom ceiling?
With the door closed and ready to go it all becomes very intuitive – press that button, move a lever and like any other automatic car you’re off, only in stealth mode! No vibration, no noise, only the most relaxing sensation of progress; you really do feel like you’re wearing it, not sitting in it.
Driving through town silently in the i8 is about as stress free as it comes in this day and age. Press the throttle a little more and imperceptibly the petrol engine comes to life like a well-trained functionary just taking care of business. Comfort mode is relaxing, smooth, almost silent with just the occasional chirp from the three-cylinder petrol engine to give assurance it’s still on duty. Looking around at the hand-stitched leather interior you get a sense of well being.
Then upon reaching the motorway and moving the gear lever to sports mode, all the instrumentation turns from relaxing pale blue to dark red and those rear haunches are ready to bound you forward. The engine barks out a synthetic growl. A turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine teams with two electric motors for a combined 362 hp and will deliver 0-62 in just 4.4 seconds, and with a restricted top speed of 155mph, it’s now a 911 beater, a Ferrari chaser. With precise handling it feels a lot lighter than its one and half tons might suggest and explains its arrowstraight stability at speed.
The chassis is truly superb with 50/50 weight distribution, low centre of gravity and no chassis flex, giving an abundance of mechanical grip, making the most of its weight for true downforce. On deceleration the kinetic energy is harvesting power to the batteries ready to meter out for extra power when needed, instead of producing wasted heat in the braking system through friction. The seamless synergy is truly breathtaking.
The BMW i8 is justly in the supercar division using Formula One technology, the pinnacle of engineering, to produce a stunning automotive work of art. The i8 would compare favourably with a 911 Porsche on most levels, but with a saving at the thick end of £46,000 and certainly more exclusive, it has to be on your shopping list.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
PRICE: On the road price (including Plug in Car Grant) £99540.00
SYSTEM OUTPUT in kW (hp) 266 (362)
ELECTRIC MOTOR: Output in kW 96
ELECTRIC MOTOR: Max. torque in Nm 250
INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE: Cylinders/valves 3/4
INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE: Capacity in ccm 1,499
INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE: max. output in kW (hp) at 1/min 170 (231)/5,800
COMBINED CO, EMISSIONS: 49/km
COMBINED FUEL CONSUMPTION: 134.5 mpg
TOP SPEED: 155 mph