BMW i8 review
The BMW i8 could be the perfect supercar for the petrolhead with one eye on the environment, but its high-tech hybrid-drive system makes it expensive
What's not so good
Find out more about the BMW i8
The BMW i8 is a futuristic supercar that proves environmentally friendly hybrids needn’t be boring. A powerful turbocharged petrol engine and high-tech electric motor work together to deliver serious performance while some look-at-me styling makes sure you’ll get noticed everywhere from Kensington High Street to a Green Party conference.
The i8 first went on sale in 2014, but received a more powerful electric motor and a boosted electric range in 2018. The BMW’s bonkers styling remains unchanged, but it still looks more dramatic than the likes of the Honda NSX and Audi R8 – especially with the upwards-hinging doors spread wide open.
Things are a little less theatrical inside, but you still get a smart minimalist interior with loads of plush materials and a digital driver’s display instead of conventional dials as standard.
Unlike most supercars, the BMW i8 comes with four seats which help make it surprisingly easy to live with. Sure, there isn’t space in the 154-litre boot for a set of golf clubs, but it’s bigger than the loadbay you get in the Audi and there’s plenty of space in the BMW’s front seats for you to get comfy if you’re more than six-foot tall.
The i8 is one of the quietest and most environmentally friendly supercars around, but it’s certainly not a car for shrinking violets – just check out those ludicrous doors!
The i8 is more relaxing to drive than most conventional supercars, too – thanks, in part, to its eerily quiet electric motor and fairly comfortable suspension. Visibility is reasonably good, too, so it isn’t particularly difficult to drive around town and you don’t hear much annoying wind or tyre noise at motorway speeds.
Stick it in sport mode, however, and things get a little rowdier. The three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine whirrs into life and the i8’s speakers pipe synthesised engine sounds into the cabin. It’s not quite as exhilarating as hearing a 5.2-litre V10 screaming away behind you like in an R8, but the instant shove from its electric motor means the BMW i8 will sprint from 0-62mph in a still-pretty-blooming-exciting 4.4 seconds. That’s faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera 4.
Extensive use of lightweight carbon fibre helps make the i8 as agile as possible on a twisty country road, too, as well as maximising its electric-only range. A three-hour charge from a dedicated wall charger lets you cruise around almost silently for around 30 miles and at up to 75mph. Once you’ve run out of electrical juice, the petrol engine chimes in automatically to push you along and recharge the batteries at the same time.
This means that – unlike in many electric cars – you’ll never have to worry about range-anxiety in the BMW i8. Also helping put your mind at rest are the numerous safety features you get as standard, including automatic emergency braking that’ll hit the brakes if the car senses an obstacle in the road ahead.
It’s not the most exciting supercar to drive, but the i8 is an extremely accomplished sports hybrid and a worthy alternative to the likes of the more conventional Porsche 911 and the more expensive Honda NSX.
The BMW i8 is surprisingly practical for a supercar – it has two (albeit small) back seats after all – but there’s only space for one suitcase in the boot
If you find yourself disappointed by the lack of door pockets in the i8, just imagine swinging the door open and being biffed in the head by your bottle of water...
Even for a supercar, the BMW i8 isn’t particularly easy to get into. The doors open both outwards and upwards and there’s a wide carbon fibre sill you have to step over before you can slide down into the extremely low-mounted leather seats.
Closing the doors takes quite a bit of effort – especially if you’re not the tallest – because you have to reach forwards and give the door a good hard yank before it’ll swing down and click into position.
Thankfully, once you’ve faffed about with the doors, you’ll find there’s plenty of space in the i8’s front seats. There’s enough headroom for you to get comfy if you’re over six-feet tall and loads of seat adjustment to give you a good view out if you’re not. The driver’s seat comes with a memory function, too – useful if you regularly lend your car to someone dramatically taller or shorter than you are.
Unlike most supercars, the BMW i8 comes with two seats in the back. Don’t go thinking they’ll let you carry two adults to and from the golf club, however – they’re strictly for kids only. There’s very little headroom in the back and legroom is pretty much non-existent.
It does come with two pairs of Isofix anchor points as standard, however, but squeezing a bulky child seat through the gap behind the front seats takes a great deal of patience.
There aren’t many handy storage spaces in the i8’s cabin. There’s just about enough space in the glovebox for a 500ml bottle of water and you can fit a few phones in the storage bin under the centre armrest, but that’s about it. You don’t even get any door pockets, but then again, considering the way the i8’s doors swing upwards as you open them, that’s probably a good thing.
There’s only one cupholder in the centre console, but you’ll find two more between the front seats for passengers in the back.
In the world of slinky supercars, the i8’s 154-litre load bay is actually pretty generous. Unfortunately, outright capacity doesn’t tell the whole story. While it might appear more practical on paper than a Porsche 911 or an Audi R8, the i8’s loadbay is split between a square boot at the rear and a shallow loadbay under the bonnet. Thankfully, there’s still enough space for one large suitcase in the back and a few soft bags up front.
The i8’s fast and fun, but this high-tech hybrid isn’t quite as exhilarating as some more old-school petrol-powered alternatives
From buzzing electric motors to growling three-cylinder engines and whizzing turbochargers, the i8 serves up a comprehensive A to Z of interesting automotive noises
All BMW i8s come with the same hybrid drive system which comprises a powerful electric motor that drives the front wheels, and a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine driving the rear wheels. Together, they produce 374hp and help the i8 sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph.
This clever hybrid system means the i8 Coupe isn’t just great at storming down empty country roads – it’s quite happy to cruise along using just the electric motor, too. On a full charge (which takes three hours using a dedicated wall charger) you can slink along almost silently in electric-only mode for up to 30 miles – perfect for driving around town.
If you put your foot down, or if the battery is almost empty – the petrol engine automatically starts to drive the rear wheels and simultaneously recharge the batteries. BMW claims the i8 will return more than 140mpg, but even if you resist the urge to put your foot down, you’ll be very lucky to see a figure close to triple digits.
Despite its challenging looks, the i8 is not challenging to drive. There aren’t any gears to worry about when you’re travelling in electric-only mode and you get a reasonably good view out (for a supercar, at least). Parking sensors and a surround-view camera system come as standard, too, so it’s pretty easy to manoeuvre around town and the standard adaptive suspension softens the thud from large bumps and potholes reasonably well.
Put it in sport mode (or put your foot down) and the BMW switches seamlessly from electric to hybrid power. There’s no lurching sensation or unpleasant mechanical thud as the 1.5-litre petrol engine fires up; only a slight burbling noise coming from over your left shoulder.
With both the electric motor and the petrol engine engaged, the BMW i8 feels seriously sporty. The instant shove delivered to the front wheels by the electric motor pulls you through corners with a sometimes disconcerting enthusiasm while the firm but supple suspension does a good job of stopping the BMW’s body leaning in tight bends.
Sadly, the petrol engine’s characterful pops and turbocharged whistles aren’t quite as apparent in the Coupe as in the drop-top Roadster model, but it’s still loud enough to turn a few heads.
Once you’ve finished having fun on an empty back road, the i8 does a decent job of eating up motorway miles. You won’t hear much wind or tyre noise at speed and, with the batteries brimmed, it can cruise along at up to 75mph using just the electric motor. If you need to use the petrol engine, the standard six-speed automatic gearbox changes gear quickly and smoothly and doesn’t jerk at slow speeds.
All i8s come with cruise control as standard to give your right leg a rest on long journeys and automatic emergency braking to help prevent low-speed collisions. Euro NCAP hasn’t crash-tested the i8 yet, but these features should help make it one of the safest supercars on sale.
The i8’s interior comes with all the plush materials you’d expect from a futuristic supercar, but it’s let down by knobs and switches borrowed from much cheaper BMW cars