A car like no other: The BMW i8

Back in 2016, we reviewed a BMW i8. How does it compare now? Is it still future-proof?

It’s a car that has managed to avoid the spotlight in recent years, but still remains very much in production. It’s a car that’s never failed to perform, but has always about the future of the planet. It’s a car that’s excellent on fuel, but yet retains an aural sense of driving.

Introduced as a concept in 2011 under the name ‘BMW Concept Vision Efficient Dynamics’, it’s the BMW i8 – and no one actually believed BMW would actually put it into production. Come on, it just looked too quintesentially French. A whacky concept with fancy doors and electric motors. Yeah, we’ve seen a countless numbers of those, and they all follow the same ‘a vision of the future’ path, only to never be heard of ever again. Right?

Debuting in 2013, BMW’s new ‘i’ series was crowned as a vision of the future, and the lineup consisted of two models. The fully-electric city-sized i3, and the hybrid supercar-like i8 – both allocated a production line. We’ll leave the i3 for next time, so that brings us immediately to the i8. Long story short, it was like nothing BMW had ever made before – and although it continues to divide BMW fans, there’s no doubt the i8 was a haven of ingenuity.

With a miniscule 1.5 litre turbocharged 3-cylinder and a 7.1 kWh battery, the petrol engine produced a rather decent 170kW (228 hp) of power to the rear axle, and the electric motor increased total output up 96kW (129 hp), sending its power to the front, thus deeming it a hybrid all-wheel drive car. Add the numbers together and you end up with a combined output of 266kW (357 hp). That’s no spaceship specifications, but with a 0-100km/h time of 4.4 seconds, it was well fast enough to render its looks appropriate.

With an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h as per usual for non-‘M’ models, it reached that limiter quicker than you’d expect with the 100-160km/h taking less time than the 0-100, opening up the car to incredibly swift and easy overtakes on the highway.

Capable of driving 37 kilometres on just the electric motor (e-drive) at up to speeds of 120km/h, it made daily commutes quite practical and easy; and of course with the advantage of being a plug-in hybrid, it used very little fuel – managing just 2.1L per 100km which for the American readers is an incredible 112 mpg! Try getting that out of a car that makes engine sounds! (We’re getting to that part)

If you didn’t know about it, you’re probably assuming the car doesn’t make a sound because of it’s tiny engine and buzzy electric motor, but you would be wrong, kinda. It makes sound and its quite a nice engine sound, but there IS a process of collecting the sound and amplifying it. This comes in the form of speakers in the exhaust that blasts pure noise; you know, for that that ultimate driving experience.

If you didn’t want to listen to the sound of the car but instead would rather relax on a nice cruise up the coast, the Harman Kardon speakers are also there to keep you entertained. With the interior, it looks like a spaceship inside and out, and feels like a great place to be. There’s not much more to say about that – most new BMW’s have now adopted a similar interior design.

So it looks, sounds and performs like a supercar. What disadvantages could a car we’ve been talking up this whole time have?

Well, lets start with the brakes. One of our biggest gripes with the i8 isn’t the small engine. It’s the braking system. Regenerative braking isn’t the issue, its the average brakes and calipers themselves that just don’t feel like they grab well, which for a car that accelerates so quickly doesn’t give the driver the utmost confidence. Luckily, most owners are able replace the brakes without it affecting regenerative braking, as individual computers coordinate the two separate systems.

Another downside of the i8 is the rear seating capacity. Although it’s a meant to be a luxurious car, the back seats still suffer from the typical 4-seater sports car syndrome. However, unlike cars like the Porsche 911 or Maserati GranTurismo, the i8’s rear seats are almost completely useless unless you have kids or no legs. Getting into the front seats takes enough effort even with the help of the scissor doors, so if you had to take 4 people, be patient as you slowly slide the front seats forward, get the rear passenger seated, move the drivers seat back to your desired driving position, only to asphyxiate the rear passenger. Okay, well maybe not that far but well done, you just made it uncomfortable for everyone in the car, including yourself!

We think a better use for the rear seats would be for extra luggage space, as another downside is the lack of it. The electric motor is in the front and the petrol engine is in the back, leaving very little space for storage.

We’d like to think these are minor inconveniences compared to the big picture, and can be easily forgiven.

The conclusion is – if BMW had brought this car out yesterday, it would look newer than most cars yet to be released. The i8 has the looks, the technology and arguably the sound of a luxury car and sports car combined, and although it’s not as fast the average supercar, it still has the charm and charisma of a super sports car.

Lets not forget the future-proofing.

What BMW had done that not many other manufactures could replicate at the time was create a true performance car that could continue to operate if and when fuel were to become scarce, when governments around the globe were to realise that the environment meant something, and when keeping the carbon footprint down were to become more important than ever. Whether you like it or not, fate has decided that the electric age of cars needs to come faster than ever – so BMW had been a true pioneer by making the world’s first mass produced hybrid sports car, and they didn’t make it for the past or present.

They made it for the future.


AutoNews Australia

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