The BMW i8 has been a car I’ve been intrigued by for a long time thanks to its mixed reviews and its futuristic looks so I was very keen to seize the opportunity when the i8 was available at Rybrook Warwick BMW.
The i8 is BMW’s plug in hybrid Sportscar, or Supercar depending on who you are talking to. It combines an electric motor powering the front wheels with a 1.5litre turbocharged petrol engine from the Mini mounted centrally powering the rear wheels to produce a combined 368bhp and 570nm of torque. 0-60mph arrives in 4.3 seconds and it is limited to 155mph.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, that isn’t supercar performance. In fact, in an age where an M140i hatchback produces almost as much performance for a third of the price (the i8 is a not inconsiderable £115 000), it’s only of middling sportscar performance but that is somewhat missing the point. Where the M240i convertible I drove before Christmas on the same roads, in the same conditions driving in the same way managed a meagre and slightly eye watering 20mpg the i8 returned almost 37mpg. On the road it delivered all the performance you need to have fun without risk losing your license or life and thanks to the hybrid drivetrain it pulled smoothly from low revs and delivered brisk performance in an undramatic way. You’d never have guessed it was such a small engine pushing you along with its power delivery being so linear. Sport mode, which is activated not by the usual BMW drive mode button but by simply knocking the gear selector to the left unleashes a beautiful engine note which whilst not entirely authentic, sound great and it is hard to tell that it isn’t all coming straight from the motor sat behind you. Gear changes are quick using the paddle shifters or left in auto and it really does respond like a sportscar should when you want to push on and all the time you are having fun you are charging the hybrid systems battery for when you have had enough, or more likely, have to drive through a small village at 30mph.
There is something so satisfying knowing that in having your fun you have effectively ensured the boring bit is free as you continue in near silence with just the hint of a wine from the electric motors pushing you along. With a full charge which was achieved when not having been plugged in at all gave me over 15 miles are electric power even at motorway speeds when locked in electric mode, done at the touch of a button. In its standard and eco pro modes the car switches quickly and seamlessly between battery power and petrol to give you responsive performance and better economy than a car with 370hp ever should have. For someone who has a commute that combines great roads followed by a stop start city stint, not many cars would get close to offering the thrills without the compromised of big fuel consumption sat in traffic.
And you will have enjoyed those country roads because one of the absolute best bits about the i8 is the way it handles. It is extremely rigid and has an excellent ride with little body roll and undoubtedly feels like a sportscar in the bends. One of the best in fact! It may technically be four-wheel drive but it feels like a rear driven car that just so happens to have excellent traction and whilst grip may not be all encompassing thanks to skinny tyres, on the road you’d have to be behaving like a bit of a sausage to find them wanting. It’s a beautifully balanced car and very approachable.
The rigidity comes from a full carbon tub, like a Mclaren. Like a proper supercar! Other supercar traits are the futuristic looks which are dominated by the dihedral doors which really make driving it an event every time, particularly when trying to thread yourself through the narrow gap in the carbon tub underneath said doors to enter the car in a graceful manor. For a larger gentleman with limited flexibility I resembled a turtle stuck on its shell more so than a ballerina. The open aero around the outside of the car add to the supercar looks as do its squat stance. This car gets some looks on the road especially when you cruise past the community speed watch at 26 in a 30 in near silence.
The interior of the car is just as futuristic in design. A lot of the switchgear may be instantly recognisable as last generation BMW but the materials used feel of a much higher quality and it is implemented in more characterful way. It has four seats but be in no doubt the rears are for kids only and only if the front seats are moved forward but it does add an element of practicality that only a 911 could really match in this segment. It’s a comfortable place to spend time and at the same time makes you feel like you are in something special and expensive.
When you look at the price and compare it directly to cars which are performance oriented, on paper it struggles to stack up. Equally if you take the supercar looks and expect it to be a supercar you are going to be disappointed. What this car does is offer supercar looks with sportscar performance whilst offering low running costs and an alternative to compromised fully electric cars. You get the best of both worlds. You can have as much fun as you could wish for on the road and save the planet and your bank balance when you aren’t in the right situation to exploit its performance. Equally, its your electric commuter car during the week and your road trip sportscar at the weekend which are more typically qualities found in very differing packages and not in a well-rounded combination. I do wish it had a little more pace when you really go for it but maybe that’s just greedy especially when this is one of the first examples of a car of this type. Whilst it might not be your weekend weapon like some other cars at this price may be but as a one car fits all it is excellent. The price may be substantial but with 3-year-old cars being advertised at sub £50 000 they offer outstanding value at that point. The fear comes from the risk of that complex hybrid technology malfunctioning and the unknown costs of replacement batteries but if you are willing to take that chance and get a comprehensive warranty you are getting incredible value for a car so far ahead of its time.
Why it gets mixed reviews for me is just down to it being misunderstood and being compared to cars in a segment where really it demands a segment of its own. It wouldn’t be a car for everyone but I would undoubtedly recommend people try one if they are in the market for a dynamic car that they can use every day, particularly on a city/traffic laden commute, where running costs and environmental aspects are still a consideration. It even comes as a convertible as well if you want to sacrifice back seats for a suntan.
Huge thanks as always to Rybrook Warwick for supplying the car. Make sure you follow them at the links below and follow my Instagram for my latest photographs and this blog for my latest updates. Next up is the Aston Martin Vantage!