BMW's incredible i8 hybrid sports car: quick drive review
Now this looks rather special, is it from the future?
Not at all, it's BMW's i8 plug-in hybrid and it's very much here in Australia. Has been since late 2014 actually.
Really? I've not seen many cruising our local roads.
That's what a $300,000 price tag will do. BMW shifted 61 of these here last year, so it's a niche one for those with a bit of spare coin.
Hmmm, not cheap. Is it worth me saving up for one though?
If you've a thing for cutting-edge hybrid performance, stonking acceleration, the ability to travel on electric power only and ultra fuel efficiency all in the same package, it may just be your bag. And just look at this thing: can you think of anything else on the market to challenge it for visual impact?
No, not one for the shy and retiring. So it's fast then?
Depends what you think fast is these days. It has sports car rather than supercar performance, hitting 100kmh in 4.4 seconds and on to a limited 250kmh top speed. That makes it a second slower to the ton than, say, an Audi R8 or Lamborghini Huracan, but is on a par with a Porsche 911 Carrera. Plenty enough to frighten your passengers really.
Quick enough. What's its secret?
A combination of petrol and electric power. Up front you've got a 170kW/320Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder twin-turbo motor driving the rear wheels: it's the same engine as you'll find in BMW's current 318i and some Minis. While that's not too sexy in isolation, there's also a 96kW/250Nm BMW eDrive electric motor driving the front wheels. Combined, they're a pretty strong team capable of getting the i8 up to speed with some gusto.
It's not like a Tesla then?
Nope. Teslas are fully electric cars and despite their impressive range, if you run out of battery charge you'll be stopping. The BMW i8 has the conventional internal combustion engine too, so there's no need for range anxiety as long as you can find a fuel station.
So why the electric? Why didn't they just sling a V12 in this baby?
Stop it. In these green times, "V12" is practically a swear word. The BMW i8 with its hybridness has an EU test fuel consumption figure of just 2.1L/100km. Not that you'll achieve such a figure in the real world - especially if you use the car's performance properly - but the test seems to suggest this Toyota Prius-smashing figure is attainable.
You can drive the i8 purely on electric power too, without that three-cylinder firing up at all. With your 355-volt lithium-ion batteries, BMW says you can cruise for up to 37km of electric driving only. Considering the average Australian one-way commute is 15.6km, in theory you could electrically drive yourself to and from work in an i8 on a single charge.
This charging, batteries and electricity is still a bit scary to us brought up on just squirting unleaded in our cars to make them go.
Better get used to it. Car companies are increasingly moving towards hybrids, and plugging your car in won't seem foreign at all in coming years. The 240-volt socket in your home can be used to charge the i8, and its batteries will be fully charged in two hours and 30 minutes. Buy a BMW i Wallbox Pure accessory and the task is cut by 45 minutes. And as mentioned before, if you haven't charged your car, no worries, that petrol engine has your back.
All right, I'm ready to embrace the future. And speaking of which, the car's design isn't exactly conventional either.
Stunning, isn't it? What you have here is a design that blessedly stayed true to BMW's concept for the car and in the metal it is breathtaking: gorgeous and striking. I say "in the metal" but really it's "in the carbon fibre". The car's architecture combines a separate aluminium "Drive" module and a carbon fibre-reinforced plastic passenger cell. Open the doors and you can see the carbon weave everywhere... it's very cool.
Ah, the doors. A bit Lamborghini, no?
Scissor wing doors they're called, opening forwards and upwards. They give a real supercar flavour, but I tell you what, getting in isn't the easiest. A wide sill means you'll need some yoga skills to elegantly get into the seat and then reach over to close the doors again.
Did you drive it then? How'd it go?
That electric motor means instant torque as soon as you squeeze the throttle, and then it truly flies. It's not brutally quick like your supercars, but certainly hits licence-losing territory in rapid time. The three-cylinder's note is a gem too when redlining. And it actually rides very BMW-like. Well balanced, nicely grippy and comfortable enough when cruising along. An everyday car? Sure, if you don't need the two titchy rear seats.
Should I buy one?
If you want raw old-school supercar performance you should look elsewhere, but aren't Ferraris terribly passe when parked beside this i8? It is a bit of a marvel with all the theatre of a supercar, but just done a bit differently. You can even convince yourself you're saving the planet with that fuel economy figure.
The i8 is a groundbreaking effort by BMW which brings quite unique driving joy... if you can afford it.
Model: BMW i8.
Details: Four-seat all-wheel drive plug-in hybrid sports car.
Engine: 1.5-litre three-cylinder twin-turbocharged engine generating maximum power of 170kW and peak torque of 320Nm, and an electric motor producing 96kW and 250Nm. Combined they generate 266kW and 570Nm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic (rear wheels), two-speed automatic (front wheels).
Consumption: 2.1 litres/100km.
Electric only range: Up to 37km.
Performance 0-100kmh: 4.4 seconds.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $299,000.