Debuted in 2014, the magnificent BMW i8 may just redefine what a modern supercar truly is. It’s got all the visual appeal of a Lamborghini, the performance of a Maserati and, incredibly, the fuel economy of the best hybrids out there.
We hired a BMW I8 1.5 litre hybrid from our friends at Nationwide Hire this week and took it out for a spin to see what the fuss is all about …
They say appearances can be deceptive. In the case of the i8, it seems almost unfeasible that the driving experience could beat the stunning looks of BMW’s latest performance car – if ever a car was built to satisfy a visceral need, this is it. Stylish curves and futuristic lights dominate the visual impact of this two door coupe, with optional laser headlights and electric paint choices adding to the look. With a drag coefficient of just 0.26, this is among the sleekest cars out there, and sits on a carbon fibre reinforced plastic chassis, specially developed for the BMW hybrid range. The butterfly doors are stunning, and provide a gateway to the no-less-impressive interior.
Sitting at the wheel is a sublime experience, with twin 8.8 inch high-definition screens offering all the entertainment and driving aid functionality you’ll need. A wraparound dashboard is finished with leather touches, though – slightly disappointingly – the iDrive system is similar to that in other models offered by the BMW family; it does however include a heads up display as standard, a huge 20Gb hard drive to load music onto, Internet connectivity and BMW’s patented Concierge service, offering real-time personal assistance at your fingertips – magic.
But enough of the looks, how does it perform?
Considering the i8 is a hybrid and has a surprisingly small 1.5 litre engine, even the slightest touch on the throttle provokes an instant response – whatever driving style you’ve selected. There are 3 defined modes available, from the aggressive Sport mode, which uses both the petrol engine and electric motor to deliver blistering performance, to the gentler Comfort and Eco modes, which aim to maximise fuel consumption through full use of electric power at low speeds. Naturally, we tried the Sport mode first, and found that the i8 pulls like an Audi R8, with official 0-60 mph figures of 4.4 seconds seemingly undercooked! It delivers fearsome acceleration, and the automatic six speed transmission is incredibly responsive and slick. We didn’t test in track conditions, but those fortunate enough to open the i8 up fully can attain a claimed top speed close to 155 mph (more specs here).
Handling is a dream thanks to excellent dampers and superior road grip; the power steering is firm and accurate, and control is great in all conditions. It is light to steer, while never feeling underpowered. We ran the car on a range of routes, from spells on the motorway to country roads and even city traffic – whatever the circumstances, the car handles effortlessly thanks to great four wheel drive traction; the great surprise of the i8 is its fuel consumption – in city conditions at low speeds, the electric power can be used exclusively to produce amazing numbers; while we got nowhere near the much-touted 130+ mpg figures, we managed more than half that in urban conditions, figures usually only attained by smart cars and small family hatchbacks! Keeping the lithium ion battery charged certainly helps, though driving it flat out can drain the battery very quickly.
Range is good, with 32 litres of fuel affording close to 300 miles with sensible motoring. There is an increasing range of plug-in charge points, at service stations, BMW dealerships and elsewhere, and owners can also buy their own custom BMW charging dock, which provides a full charge in a matter of a few hours.
Out on the open roads the economy figures naturally suffer, but that’s to be expected – opening up the throttle to experience the 357bhp available is an absolute delight, and anyone who can afford to take this out for a spin is probably not seeking to minimise fuel costs! Speaking of costs, the hybrid i8 offers incredibly low emissions figures of just 49g/km – zero VED doesn’t really make an impact on a car that costs circa £110,000 of course, but it is impressive nonetheless.
As a drive experience, the i8 naturally doesn’t quite match that of the true top end supercars, but it’s not far off, with a cheaper overall cost to boot. It’s also a good option for the rental market, whether for those wishing to hire a car for a once in a lifetime experience, to arrive at a party in style, or for a longer period. One downside is the loud road noise, but that’s partly the thrill of driving such a car – it’s as loud as a 911 at cruising speeds, but with the impressive sound system kicking in, it’s easy to ignore the background noise. The car is great on the motorway, with impressive visibility for a car of this sort, very little wind noise thanks to its aerodynamic styling, and excellent handling. It’s extremely comfortable for the driver and front passenger, with a low driving position and moulded seats. We found motorway driving a pleasure – and not only for the admiring glances of fellow motorists. The heads up display ensures concentration on the road, and we were pleased to note the wide array of safety features, including multiple airbags, traction control, and a blind spot detector which was an add-on already fitted in our test car.
While we weren’t overly concerned about storage space in our short tie with the i8, it’s worth noting that the two rear seats are of little use for passengers, except younger children; if you’re intending to turn heads on the school run then this is certainly a car for you, but space is very limited for adult passengers – there was oodles of room in the front, however, as the car is really optimised for a driver plus one. Boot storage is tight, probably no more than half the size of the author’s usual runabout hatchback; you’ll struggle to get a family set of suitcases or a large shopping load in, but it’s fine for smaller bags and day to day bits.
Our overall view of the i8 is that it falls somewhere close to the true supercar league but doesn’t quite match the best the market has to offer. It’s an undoubted head-turner and a thrilling drive, but there are better, albeit more expensive, options available for anyone who can afford a car of this sort. However, the i8 is a bold statement from BMW and a car that delivers a great mix of hybrid benefits alongside supercar performance. Time will tell if the ingenious mix of hybrid technology and supercar performance is a trend that will spread across the sector.