Back to the Future


EXG NOV !$ MOTORING - Credit: Archant

It’s lean, mean and very green — BMW’s i8 is the supercar of the future, says motoring editor Andy Russell

If there is a remake of Back to the Future, the bold new i8 will be the star car. Every curve and contour of the carbon composite body of this revolutionary low-slung sports car have been designed to make it as slippery as possible to cut drag, while the aluminium drive structure and carbon fibre reinforced plastic passenger cell are all about being lightweight yet rigid. Even with the heavy drive batteries, the i8 weighs in at 1,490kg and even the slim 20in forged aluminium wheels, with comparatively skinny tyres, are designed to reduce turbulence.

You would expect a supercar to boast a huge V8, V10 or V12 lump of engine but here the i8 makes a further break with convention for this is BMW’s first plug-in hybrid performance car with a 231hpr 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine driving the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox and a 131hp electric motor on the front axle to give a combined 362hp and 570 Newton metres of torque — nearly half of it available from standstill on the electric motor.

The figures are impressive — 0 to 62mph in a searing 4.4 seconds and top speed limited to 155mph. But the i8 is as much about environmental performance — and, in such a prestigious package, awareness — with the potential for combined fuel consumption of 134.5mpg and CO2 emissions of just 49g/km so no annual road tax or London congestion charge, not that it should be a problem given the i8’s near £100,000 price tag.

With the combination of petrol and electric power the i8 has a combined potential range of more than 310 miles in eco-friendly Comfort mode which switches seamlessly between battery and engine.

The electric motor gives a power boost to assist the petrol engine during acceleration but in eDrive model it gives a range of up to 22 miles with a top speed of 75mph on battery alone. Recharging to 80% capacity takes a couple of hours at a BMW i Wallbox or public charging point or under three hours with a domestic three-pin socket and it also recharges via the electric motor on the overrun.

Just getting in is exciting with the dihedral doors opening forwards and upwards and once inside the hi-tech Life module, as BMW calls it, you are greeted by the fully digital cockpit.

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The low centre of gravity means the i8 corners flatly and feels agile yet is endowed with a surprisingly supple, and most unsupercar-like, ride quality — partly down to the light weight and those comparatively thin tyres which mean road noise is also kept in check.

You don’t expect a supercar to be spacious and practical and while this 2+2 is OK for children in the back, you could also squeeze a couple of small adults in for a short hop.

The BMW i8 is a halo model, not only for BMW technology and its purpose-built i3 electric supermini, but the plug-in electric hybrid market in general. Despite the price tag, BMW is expecting to sell around 750 in the UK alone next year, which will inject some excitement into the whole environmental issue.

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