Review: BMW i8

The i8 is superbly refined and simply oozes craftsmanship

The i8 is superbly refined and simply oozes craftsmanship

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When you’re handed the keys to a brand-new £100,000 supercar brimming with the latest technology, you have a duty to look after it. But, as we know, things don’t always go according to plan. Accidents can happen and they often have nothing to do with the driver. It’s just one of those things. Unfortunate, but no-one’s fault. A bit of bad luck etc, etc…

These were just some of the things I found myself saying – along with a heartfelt “sorry” –as I handed back the fabulous BMW i8 which I’d been driving round the West Coast of Scotland on one of our recent glorious July days.

BMW had come to Scotland to let a few of us drive the first rare models to reach this country. I’d had a brilliant couple of hours’ drive west from Inverness along the side of Loch Maree taking in the big views from Gairloch and Loch Ewe, but just before the lunch stop at 
Dundonnell I fell foul of some road repair work. Rounding a bend, I came up behind a truck and, with perfect timing, it threw up a gravel chip from the fresh surface, which bounced off the lower nearside of the windscreen with a nasty smack.

I thought I’d got away with it, but two miles later as I pulled into the uneven hotel car park, the body must have flexed slightly and a serious crack shot across half the windscreen. Not an unusual situation and one handled regularly by windscreen replacement companies. But the cars we were driving were a handful of only a few in the UK, and not only would the repair people not have any replacements in stock, BMW itself would have to order them from Germany.

The nice people from BMW were very good about it. “These things happen – don’t worry about it,” they said through gritted teeth as they handed me the keys to one of the other i8s…and thankfully I made it back to the Highland capital without further incident while enjoying an equally superb drive.

The i8 is without doubt a stunning car with several surprising personalities. It’s the second in the “i” brand, following on from the smaller i3 electric city car which has already sold 750 in the UK and has expressions of interest from 10,000 more.

The i8 takes the concept a stage further by throwing sensational performance into the environmental/electric mix. With four distinct characteristics it can be an amazingly
efficient machine, with around 135mpg from its 
British-built three-cylinder petrol engine in the rear or around 23 miles at speeds of up to 75mph from its emission-free small electric unit under the bonnet.

In “comfort” setting it combines both units for greatest efficiency while in “eco-pro” it scales down some of the functions like aircon and throttle response for maximum range. But all of that goes out the window when you hit the “sport” button. That calls up the full power of the petrol engine and a second electric motor alongside, which gives added boost.

At that point the car’s dials not only turn red, it also grows horns and a forked tail and becomes an amazingly well-balanced and agile performance car which will take you from a standing start to 62mph in less than five seconds and up to a potential, electronically limited, 155mph, while charging the high voltage battery. But the figures are only part of the story. It is superbly refined and oozes automotive craftsmanship from the low, lightweight leather sports seats to the floating dashboard and fluid lines of all the cockpit fittings. It’s extremely luxurious but, BMW says, sustainable. The structure of the car, the “Drive Module”, is made of aluminium while the body, or the “Life Module” as BMW refers to it, is of carbon fibre.

The most stunning part of this 2+2 seater is its road presence. It’s long, low and wide and is the most dramatic thing to arrive from Germany since the Audi R8 a few years ago. It looks good on the move but when you stop, the twin dihedral doors open forwards and upwards to add drama to the overall sense of theatre.

The front end is clearly BMW and the back flows from the sculpted rear wheel arches above the 20in aerodynamic alloys with either blue or grey coloured accents around the tail. The rear air ducts are a masterpiece of design, also playing a key role in keeping this machine on the road. LED lighting is standard, but later this year the i8 will be the world’s first production car to offer a laser boost option which will give a bright white high beam range of 600 metres.

The lithium-ion battery is recharged up to 80 per cent capacity in only two hours through BMW’s own 16A Wallbox which you can have installed at home. A standard domestic 13A socket can charge in three hours.

This car is clearly aimed at the wealthy 
motorist who already has several upmarket performance cars, like a Porsche 911, but wants the latest technology and to be seen to be 
caring about the environment too.

BMW expects to sell around 750 in a full year and there’s likely to be quite a queue. It’ll be in the showrooms tomorrow, but if you order one now you won’t get it before next spring at the earliest.

VITAL STATS

PRICE £99,845-£104,920 as tested (before £5,000 government Plug-In grant)

ENGINE Petrol: 3 cyl TwinPower Turbo; 1499cc; 231hp; 320 Nm. Electric: 96 Kw 360V DC; 131hp; 250Nm; 23 miles range

PERFORMANCE Max speed 155 mph (limited). 0-62 mph 4.4 secs

ECONOMY 135 mpg combined

CO2 EMISSIONS 49g/km

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