- Two-door sports car with seating for two adults and two children
- 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder turbocharged engine
- 96 kilowatt/130bhp electric motor
- 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds
- 155mph (limited)
- 132mpg (claimed)
- Price: £99,845
BMW i8 Review:
The BMW i8 is a hybrid sports car intended to be as exciting as it is efficient. It combines a turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor to create a vehicle with the performance of a Porsche 911 and the economy of a Toyota Prius. Into that mix, it adds styling from a different planet, seating in the back for two children, zero road tax, an intoxicating soundtrack and top-notch handling.
Is this the perfect sports car for the 21st century? I drove 800 miles in one to find out.
BMW i8: Design and interior
Just look at it. The BMW i8 is truly unlike anything else on the road; never have I seen a mass-production road car look so much like a prototype. It is full of sharp edges, highlight colours and LED lights – and of course those totally unnecessary but utterly superb butterfly doors.
It certainly is not a beautiful car but there is no denying its road presence. The i8 received waves, thumbs-ups, horn beeps and general staring wherever it went; from young boys staring open-mouthed, to a middle-aged couple circling me on the motorway to get a better look, before giving an enthusiastic thumbs-up, the i8 is almost universally loved for the way it looks.
The wide, low stance is aggressive and purposeful without being intimidating, while the LED brake and daytime running lights look like they have been lifted straight from a spaceship – so too do the buttresses running down from the roof and floating above the rear flanks.
The i8's butterfly doors are pure theatre; they sure make dropping into and climbing out of the leather, heated and fully electric seats utterly impractical, but there's no denying the fun factor.
A computer screen replaces conventional dials behind the steering wheel; joining this is a second screen in the dashboard hooked up to BMW's iDrive entertainment and sat-nav system. Both are bright, sharp and clear, even in direct sunlight.
Parking sensors and four cameras make getting the i8 into a tight spot a doddle. Visibility is very good for such a low car (although the rear three-quarter view could be better) and a clever trick displays a top-down view of the car and its surroundings on the iDrive display for navigating a tricky car park.
I happily spent many hours driving the i8 before the firm suspension made things too uncomfortable, but the rear seats are another story. Intended for children, you can technically get small adults in the back, but it is a tight squeeze; instead of a 2+2, think of the i8 as a two-seater with plenty of storage in the back.
Actual storage is at a bare minimum; the boot is only large enough for two small bags of shopping and the interior is lacking in storage, too. There are no door pockets (for obvious reasons) and just a single cupholder for the driver and front passenger, although there are two for those in the back.
A tiny glovebox barely large enough to accommodate its own door, plus two very shallow bins in the centre console big enough only for your phone, keys and wallet complete the i8's Spartan interior.
BMW i8: Engine, electric motor and charging
A 96 kilowatt motor sends 130 horsepower to the front wheels – about the same as a small family car – while a petrol engine sends 231hp to the rear wheels, giving the i8 a total power output of 361hp and 406lb ft of torque.
The car can run entirely on electricity for around 15 miles and up to 75mph. The batteries can be charged in three hours by plugging in at home, or more quickly through regenerative braking, just as they are in the Tesla.
Lifting off the accelerator and braking feeds energy back into the cells, adding to the car's all-electric range. In Comfort mode, I found recharging to take a very long time. But in Sport, the battery was filled in around an hour of fairly brisk driving.
A third mode called Eco Pro is best for eking as many miles as possible from both the battery and petrol tank – but it shuts down the air conditioning to do this, and when it is 28C outside, I'm happy to burn more petrol. BMW claims the i8 can achieve over 130mpg but I found 40mpg to be a more accurate figure; well below the company's outlandish claims but still almost double what a Porsche 911 can manage.
BMW i8: Performance and handling
When you are done silently buzzing around town, push the gear selector over to Sport, drop a couple of gears with two pulls of the left steering wheel paddle, and brace yourself.
The petrol engine may only be the same 1.5-litre, three cylinder turbocharged unit found in the latest John Cooper Works Mini, but the extra shove from the electric motor gives the i8 genuine sports car performance. For the i8, 0-60mph is dealt with in 4.4 seconds and the rapid acceleration continues until an electronic limiter calls time at 155mph.
Half of the car's torque comes from the electric motor and is delivered from zero RPM, making the i8 surge off the line with the immediacy of a Tesla Model S. It sounds great too, with Sport mode cranking up the volume to deliver a note similar to the flat-six growl of a Porsche, complete with pops and bangs between lightning-fast upshifts and engine blips on the way back down the six-speed sequential gearbox.
Although Sport gives you manual control of the gears, the car will not let you reach the red line, nor will it let you be too aggressive on the down changes. Learning when it will let you pull the paddles takes a little while and until you havee mastered it (the accelerator blip from third to second at 55mph sounds just perfect), the car will interject and shift for you.
A great sound - but it comes from the speakers
The i8 sounds wonderful from the inside but to pedestrians and other road users it's a different story, because some of the sound you hear is actually coming from the car's high-end Harman Kardon stereo.
It is not obvious at first, but once you know the car's secret, it is very hard not to look at the front speakers in the doors and believe that is where the sound is coming from. BMW is not the first to pull this trick and it will not be the last. And while it will no doubt anger the purists, if it means more theatre and atmosphere for the driver and passengers, then that is fine by me.
Switch back to Comfort and the (now automatic) gear changes are much smoother and the exhaust note is toned down. Here, the i8 becomes a car you could easily use as a long-distance cruiser – providing there are plenty of petrol stations, because the tiny seven-gallon tank means you'll need to stop about every 250 miles.
At 1,500kg, the i8 is not light – the battery pack is to blame, but being mounted centrally and low down, between the driver and front passenger, means the car has perfect weight distribution and a low centre of gravity.
The steering is sharp, fast and surprisingly communicative for an electric setup; it is also nicely weighted and the entire car gives you way more confidence than you might expect from something costing six figures.
Understeer will eventually creep in when you ask too much of the narrow, eco-friendly tyres, but for a spirited drive along a B-road, the i8 is beautifully compliant and predictable.
The brakes are hugely powerful, provide good feel – something usually lacking from electric and hybrid cars – and do not let the ABS cut in until absolutely necessary. For comparison, I found the Tesla P85D all too keen to fire its ABS with the merest prod of the left pedal.
BMW i8: Verdict
The BMW i8 is, quite simply, spectacular. Not only for being a fast and striking sports car but for being one powered by electricity and a small, efficient engine. You will never, ever achieve the economy BMW claims the i8 is capable of, but 40mpg is still hugely impressive and takes no effort at all. Being a hybrid also means it requires no road tax and is exempt from the London congestion charge.
Hybrid power is not a long-term solution to the planet's finite supply of fossil fuels but as an intermediate step, the i8 proves how cars can be both huge fun and kinder to the environment. And would you just look at it.
BMW i8 Scores:
- Looks: 10/10 - Aggressive and purposeful, this car has serious road presence. And those doors
- Performance: 8/10 - Not supercar-quick and it won't out-drag a Tesla P85D, but superb handling more than makes up for it
- Comfort: 8/10 - Front seats are comfortable, cabin is light and airy. Back seats are really only for children
- Equipment: 8/10 - Good sat-nav, high-end stereo, parking cameras and iDrive all present as standard but lack of storage in cabin and boot can be an issue
- Overall: 9/10 - A sports car you could conceivably use every day, which looks incredible and is as economical as a hatchback
- Concept-car styling with vertical doors
- Full electric mode lasts nearly 20 miles
- As quick as it is economical
- Tiny boot and lack of cabin storage
- Small fuel tank means regular refills
- Engine notes can sound slightly synthetic