£106,310 - £116,305 Price range
Stunning to behold and filled with technical intrigue, BMW’s i8 plug-in hybrid sports car is one of the most futuristic vehicles around.
It’s an incredible car to drive, even if it doesn’t handle as well as traditional sports cars. That’s a sign of how good the i8’s more traditional competition is – cars like Porsche’s 911– but for those wanting to mix performance with economy and, to those whom such a thing is relevant, exemption from London’s congestion charge, it’s unmatched.
That’s because it’s powered by a tiny three-cylinder engine borrowed from Mini but heavily turbocharged and helped by a duo of electric motors to produce more than 300hp and accelerate the i8 from 0 to 62mph in less than 4.5 seconds.
It’s very futuristic inside and definitely a lot more stylish than the usual BMW interior. Two digital displays and loads of leather go some way of compensating for the asking price of the i8. It’s also a bit more spacious than a Porsche 911.
As with the striking exterior, the interior looks wonderfully futuristic, yet still unmistakably like a BMW. The bum-first manoeuvre required to get inside is worth mentioning since the i8′s carbon-fibre sills are quite high – but once in there, it’s luxurious and largely comfortable. Like all BMWs, there’s a driver-focused layout to the dash, and like the smaller i3 most driver information is relayed via two large display screens.
Along with a few unique touches, it lifts the ambiance way above BMW’s usual conservative norm, something enhanced by the car’s Lamborghini-style scissor doors. Unlike a Lamborghini (and more like a Porsche 911) you get a pair of rear seats, though they’re more suitable for luggage than even children.
This is where opinions are mixed. There’s little doubt it’s a good driver’s car, but a few feel BMW could have done better given the car’s setup and its hefty price tag. General consensus is that those who really value the finer points of driving may prefer that Porsche, but the i8 delivers enough of everything to captivate the more casual performance car fan.
The steering is well-weighted, and it offers decent feedback in the turns. It’s also responsive, and excellent body control keeps the modest 1.5-tonne kerb weight in check – it’s a pretty nimble car even by the standards of the class, despite the extra weight of the hybrid powertrain. For most, the ride quality is okay too.
It’s only those last few degrees of interaction where the i8 falls short – many would prefer a little more adjustability mid-corner, and others will want a bit more front-end grip, since the economical compromises limit it here. Very good indeed, but not truly great.
At the heart of the BMW i8 you’ll find a 1.5-litre, turbocharged, three-cylinder petrol engine. It’s similar to the unit used in the new Mini, developing 228 horses and 236lb-ft of torque. Alongside is a small 13hp, 74lb-ft electric motor used to start the engine, fill in gaps in the turbo’s delivery, and act as a generator for topping up the batteries.
Still doesn’t sound powerful enough for a sports car? That’s where the front-mounted 129hp, 184lb-ft electric motor comes in. This can power the front wheels alone for all-electric drive, but brings the BMW’s total output to 357 horses and 420lb-ft. 0-62mph takes 4.4 seconds, and you’ll hit the limiter at 155mph.
The engine goes down well – it sounds great, aided by some electronic enhancement inside the cabin, it’s responsive, powerful and has a duality that few cars can match thanks to the all-electric ability. The engine growls when you want it, but settles down at speed – when it’s even on at all…
Together they produce 357 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, enough for a 4.4-second 0-62 mph time and limited 155 mph top speed. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the car's 22 miles of all-electric range (before the engine kicks in) drags combined economy to 135 mpg.
You'll not get anything like that in the real world unless you hardly ever fire up the engine, but one reviewer does note cruising economy of over 50 mpg - far above that of a Porsche 911. Reviewers love the sound of the 3-pot, and say it's "fast enough to be exciting" and even brisk in all-electric mode.
The headline figure here is the car’s economy – 135mpg on the combined European cycle. No, you probably won’t hit that day-to-day unless you have a short commute and charge regularly, but the real benefit of that number is the 49g/km CO2 figure. That means free VED (road tax), and exemption from London’s congestion charge. Try that in a normal sports car!
If you’re gentle on a motorway cruise, 50mpg should be possible – we managed 52mpg in such conditions. That’s a long way ahead of cars with equivalent performance.
Pity then that the i8 will cost you more than £100,000. Saying that, residuals are predicted to be strong, and due to the current waiting list for a new model, used cars are selling for nearly 50 per cent over list price…
If technology is as important to you as speed and that final five percent of driving feedback and involvement, you’ll absolutely love the i8. In fact, the i8 could sell on its looks alone.
The i8 will drive up to 22-23 miles on all-electric power alone, and at speeds of up to 75 mph. Real-world electric range is likely to be a bit lower though, but unlike purely electric cars it’s not really a problem – there’s still that 3-cylinder engine to push you along.
If you’re a lifelong fan of the Porsche 911 though and looking for a change, just be aware that BMW’s plug-in offering isn’t quite as finely tuned when it comes to the pleasures of driving. It’s not quite the game-changer some were expecting – but it’s still a very good sports car with some truly unique attributes.