The i8 is what BMW are calling the future of motoring, which is all well and good. But from the standpoint of any octane fueled petrol head, the word hybrid scares us. It’s not that we want to stand in front of advancement and tell the manufacturer, NO, just stay with what you had, it was fine and we like it. What we are really afraid about, is that these advancements do not have the soul and passion that comes with so many high performance cars on the market. Yes petrol is not the only way forward, and we do need to change our thinking to alternative power sources. Could BMW’s new i8 be what we have been waiting for, the sign of an exciting new range of eco friendly cars with a side order of joie de vivre that we all been craving? Let’s find out.
I was pretty anxious about testing the i8, as I had a pretty decent benchmark to compare it to, being that I owned an Audi R8 for a year. I was anxious, because I wanted the i8 to be good, I wanted to like it. However it almost seemed impossible to think that an electric hybrid system with a 1.5L 3 cylinder was going to give me the thrills and sound that a 4.2 L naturally aspirated V8 gave me in the Audi R8. I just couldn’t see this car winning me over.
After arriving at BMW’s headquarters in Auckland to road test the new BMW i8, and while I was unpacking all my camera equipment, the car almost silently drove up behind me. It gave me a little shudder. That “Oh no not a Prius” sound kind of shudder. But when I turned around, WOW, the i8 was no Prius. There before me stood an aggressive white, black and blue eco spaceship, and as the driver jumped out, the only thing really missing from those cool gullwing doors was some sci-fi high pressure hissing sound as they opened. Even though it had some signature BMW flourishes, this was very obviously a very different car for BMW, sweeping curves, fins, air gaps and vents for the most efficient aerodynamics possible. It was easy to say that the i8 was stunning, even better in the flesh than in the many photos I had seen online.
At this point my anticipation had peaked, this was the point at which I would find out if this was going to be the car I had hoped it would be, it was time to jump in and see where this emotional rollercoaster would take me.
Getting into the i8 was not as straight forward as you may think, which is due to the built-in synaptic reactions of getting in and out of cars with regular doors for many years. You realise that the door is where your head would normally be. After one or two attempts you soon learn that its depends on your height, and if you aim to get your bum on the seat before your feet are in the car you are well on your way to mastering it. What’s more is that a car like this, with such a price tag, needs doors like this. It needs to stand out, take for example the Lamborghini Aventador compared to the Gallardo. Just on the doors alone one is more special than the other, more drama, and whether it’s practical or not, it’s just cool.
The interior was just as interesting as the exterior. There was a definite BMW legacy feel to the sweeping dash, but overall it felt very new and very space age. The driver’s position was almost immediately comfortable, everything you need just in the right place. The wheel felt great, and was perfectly set up with the non intrusive dash display. This was smaller than usual, but packed with all the info you needed. Visibility out of the cabin was great, all around it was easy to see what was there, even a decent rear view window for those of us who don’t want to put all our faith in rear view cameras. I did have a few quibbles, considering this was a $300,000 car. There was quite a bit of plastic about, it would have been nice to see the gear stick surround and some other areas in another material, or leather wrapped. I did really like the electric blue seat belts, a very nice and well complemented touch. Regardless it was a very nice place to be, and I could quite easily see myself doing some big road trips in this car.
As I briefly mentioned I owned an Audi R8, which had prepared me for the amount of luggage / storage space available for my camera gear. No sane person buys a car like this because they need the storage space, it’s there more as a kind gesture from the manufacturer. The i8 had a bit more space to use than my R8, partly due to the 2+2 configuration. Once the driver’s seat was set for my height, 6 ft 7 inch, the rear seats become a leather clad shelf, which was ideal for the extra camera gear I had with me. Why they even bother to do a 2+2 must be for overseas insurance brackets or something like that, as the rear seats were of no use to anyone taller than 3 ft, which I guess could be seen as kid friendly.
The first part of our test was some around town / motorway driving. I left it in its standard mode which feels like it’s just a quiet electric car. I have to say that it was one of the first high performance supercars that I not had to test the throttle to gauge how sensitive it was, it just felt like many of the other BMW’s I have tested. And this is a good thing, as there is nothing worse then trying to potter around town in a car like this and having to work the throttle in a way that gets the car moving forward, while not accelerating and smashing through the car in front of you, something a lot of supercars can suffer from.
The i8 is easy to drive around town, very light steering and throttle control, and it doesn’t feel as wide as some other high performance two door sports cars. This leaves you with a more relaxed drive in busy built up areas. I was also quite surprised how little I noticed the lack of any engine noise when in standard mode. Another benefit to the day-to-day life of a high performance car. I vividly remember having to leave my house quite a few times at 5 am in my R8, something the neighbors were probably not too pleased with. Although there are worse sounds to wake up to. The ride is as to be expected from a car like this, it’s not like a 7 series, but it’s not uncomfortable either. The suspension is firm, and soaks up the impacts on the road, while feeding back to you the information you need to know about the surface you’re on. Compared to the Audi R8, I would say its setup in normal modes was a bit more comfortable than the R8. The other strange thing I noticed was the difference in road noise, as the i8 is not running the standard supercar 12 inch wide rear tyres, but standard car tyres. 195/50 R20 at the front and 215/45 R20 at the rear.
We got out of the city and off the motorway, far enough out that we were now the only car on the road. And it was time to see what the other half of this car was really like. Once you flicked the i8 over into its sports+ mode, you were very aware that the car had changed. Several things indicate this: the entire dash switches from an eco friendly blue to a powerful red, the car stiffens up and the steering becomes sharper, but no one of these are as noticeable as the 1.5L three cylinder engine coming to life. This in itself sounds daft, as we all know what tiny engine sounds like. Even though this engine was being used in the normal drive mode, it would switch on and off when required, but when in sport it’s on and it’s suddenly quite loud. Not only is it loud, but it sounded amazing. I thought for quite some time that this must be coming in via the speakers, but when I stuck my head out the window like some overly excited dog, I can assure you that the sound was coming from the rear of the car. Forget the eco tech thats in this car, forget how it looks, forget even how it drives, how they have managed to get that sound from such a small engine is just mind blowing. The great thing about the i8 is that it has all of the things I just told you to forget about in one great package.
The i8 easily carved up the roads, so much grip due to the downforce of the aerodynamics, instead of large wide tyres, and the handling felt very similar to that of a go kart. You felt like you were the heaviest thing in the car, and that the entire structure was perfectly balanced around you. And did it go, with a car that has a combined fuel efficiency of 3.1L per 100km, I was able to do 0-100km in 4.4 seconds. Which I might add is exactly the same as my v8 Audi R8. At this point my mind was at ease, I wanted to like this car and I do, lost in the roar of that crazy small engine and the sheer driving pleasure BMW strive for. Numbers and figures are not always what makes a car right feel right, no stats can capture the character and soul when you drive it. And this hybrid car had buckets of both, I was in my happy place.
What it’s up against.
With a price tag of $300,000, it’s probably easier to say what it’s not up against. If you’re able to afford it, the selection on the market today for high performance cars is endless. But if you’re after something that is fun to drive, looks amazing and is eco friendly, you will find that you really have one option in this price bracket.
The i8 does have a few other advantages to consider when comparing it to other sports or supercars. It’s light weight and does not have a big heavy engine, which makes it quite a bit easier to stop than other supercars. The consumables, for instance, tyres, pads and rotors, are all using parts that are smaller and more readily available. No special sizes that one company had to make and engineer especially for the i8. Which means that you can pick and choose from a wide range of third party suppliers too. Why you ask would this be a factor, well if you buy this car and plan to drive it, and I mean really drive it, and or even track it. Then you will need a steady stream of tyres, pads and rotors and the more readily available they are, the cheaper they will be.
As we only had the i8 for a short time we did not have the opportunity to do the number crunching on some of the charging figures, and what exactly based on the cost of electric in New Zealand will this car cost on average to run. Maybe this is something we can convince BMW to allow us to do down the road, we can call it something like an ecological study. Yup, pretty sure we could sell that, as it does not sound like it has anything to do with hooning.
The good and the bad.
Well, If this is how the future sounds, I am very OK with that. The i8, is a tad on the pricey side, but new tech always is. BMW are going in the very right direction, and in a sense it’s their own direction, not following in the footsteps of others, trying to make a car just because their competitors offer one. They have taken a brave leap of faith and stepped outside their own comfort zone, employing new materials and engine combinations on a mass production level. And if half the cars BMW end up with in their i line are as interesting and exciting to drive as this one, it’s a very good sign of things to come.
Oh and one last thing, if i had to chose, I would pick BMW’s i8 over an Audi R8, as it just has more of that joie de vivre we all crave.
Rating – Chevron rating 4.5 out of 5
2014 BMW i8
|Vehicle Type||Rear Engine, AWD Hybrid Sports Car|
|Starting Price||$ 278,000 NZD|
|Tested Price||$ 278,000 NZD|
|Engine||Electro-synchronous eDrive – 96 Kw, 250 NmTwinPower Turbo I3 1.5L, 170 Kw , 320 Nm|
|Transmission||Front axle – 2-Speed transmission with electric switching actuatorRear axle – 6-Speed automatic with electric switching actuator|
|0 – 100 kph||4.4 seconds|
|Kerb Weight||1485 kg|
|Length x Width x Height||4689 x 2039 x 1298 mm|
|Cargo Capacity||154 Litres|
|Fuel Tank||42 litres|
|Fuel Efficiency||Hybrid Combined
Combined – 3.1 L/100km, 134 g/km CO2
Urban – 8.4 L/100kmMotorway – 8.1 L/100kmCombined – 8.4 L/100km, 134 g/km CO2
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||Yet to be tested|