Review: BMW’s i8

BMW i8

BMW i8 - Credit: Archant

Get to 60mph in just over four seconds while marvelling at the eco-friendliness of this ultimate driving machine

Eco cars still have an image problem. Laudable though their low or zero CO2 emissions are, the cars rarely look exciting.

Cue the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid: Batmobile looks and 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds say it’s a supercar to be bracketed with the Porsche 911 and Audi A8.

Yet it’s also partly powered by electricity, so it’s more a blend of Green Lantern and The Flash, rather than Batman.

The other half of its hybrid partnership is the advanced UK-built three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine, from the latest MINI.

The combination allows various modes for this futuristic car, one delivering a range of up to 15 miles on auto-electric power alone at up to 75mph, although the batteries won’t tolerate that maximum for long.

At the other extreme is manual selection Sport mode, delivering a responsive all-wheel drive supercar: the front wheels being driven by the 178bhp turbocharged petrol engine, the rear by the 141bhp electric motor.

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And while the latter might seem the poor relation in horsepower, its ability to deliver virtually instantaneous thrust is the key to the i8’s appeal, even if it’s the throaty sound of the petrol unit that completes the sensory picture of driving a supercar.

It’s an impressive technical and investment feat from BMW; the German premium marque doesn’t habitually create supercars and is not even a giant carmaker; ranked 14th globally, it produces a fifth of the vehicles that world No1 Toyota does.

But BMW didn’t get where it is by simply playing the numbers game. It has stuck instead to its maxim ‘the ultimate driving machine’ and could claim that, in a world of eco angst and global warming, the i8 is another milestone on that road.

If you are well off, yet burdened by the guilt of desiring a gorgeous yet gas-guzzling supercar, the i8 could be the answer.

I particularly like the rear wheel housings and their scalloped, wind-cheating channels. The car’s relatively skinny eco car tyres are also cleverly concealed within big wheel arches and by a deep front apron, and are worn by ultra-dramatic alloys.

The 2+2-seat cabin is like a spaceship: lots of techno bling that works well too, comfy seats that you access via the most practical gull-wing doors yet seen, though the high sills make access to the tiny rear seats challenging.

The 154-litre boot is not the worst in the supercar class either, even if it falls short of the average city car.

Testing the car on the road, courtesy Broad Oak BMW of Canterbury and Ashford, shows surprisingly good ride and handling: the battery pack could have made it feel sluggish and wallow-y like most other hybrids, but ruthless weight shedding and hi-tech aluminium and carbon fibre construction means a flat cornering stance and composed ride to match serene progress, unless you mess with the throttle pedal and harness the awesome combined power of both motors.

Power corrupts? Indeed, but you needn’t feel so guilty about it in this eco supercar, and if you’re worried about the durability of those batteries, then BMW has an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on them. n

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