BMW i8 set to shock and awe
Eco-friendly hybrid sports car takes on top competitor for power and pace
BMW Ireland has sold six of its all-new BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car, ahead of its official launch on July 19th. This high-tech eco-friendly rival to the Porsche 911 is priced from €136,430, a price tag that includes the €5,000 SEAI grant and €2,500 VRT relief. If nothing else symbolises the end of recession, perhaps sales of the new BMW is the long-awaited line in the sand.
As The Irish Times reported in April in our comprehensive first drive, the new i8 aims to redefine the future of sports cars. It’s an heroic task.
Despite sprinting to 100km/h in just 4.4 seconds, it’s combustion power comes from a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine – shared with the Mini Cooper – located at the rear and powering the rear wheels. Up front is an electric motor. Total output is 362bhp with 570Nm of torque. In short, it has better fuel economy than a Toyota Prius – 2.1 litres/100km (135mpg) – but the potency of a Porsche.
In our latest foray in the new BMW, in the Scottish highlands, we tested the i8’s various guises.
For starters, there is an electric mode, which allows you to plug it in at home or work, then drive it for 37km without paying for fuel. Then there’s a Comfort mode, which runs the car as a hybrid, with the petrol motor chiming in and out as the computers see fit.
Dramatic motoring Finally, it’s all hands on deck in Sport mode. You just move the gear lever across into the sequential gearshift plane and the engine gives its all with the electric motor also punching hard. Here delivers quicker shifts, more noise and also stiffens up the suspension.
It’s not too often that a car manufacturer will produce a car that closely resembles its concept precursor, frequently only minor details will appear on the road-going model. Thankfully BMW has defied convention. Its all-new i8 stays true to an earlier concept, first shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009.
BMW refers to its i8 as ‘the future of the supercar’ and while the future may be in question, it certainly ranks in the supercar category by looks alone.
Its lightweight design is made possible through the use of an aluminium chassis with a carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell mounted above. The striking i8 attracts attention wherever it travels, its dihedral doors add to the occasion when parked, although it’s a skilled art to climb in and out of the car graciously.
Once inside, front seat passengers are cocooned in luxury with a tasteful combination of leather and exposed CFRP on the sills when the doors are open. The driving position is low, as is the car’s centre of gravity which benefits its handling. There are two diminutive rear seats, with a pocket-sized boot these seats are better put to use as additional luggage space.
An Eco Pro
The car automatically selects Comfort mode on start-up, thereby offering the optimum balance between efficiency and performance. It will run on electric power up to approximately 75km/h before the petrol engine kicks in. When the engine starts up it’s a very linear process with no drama or delay felt, so comfort mode would be our recommended choice for the majority of drives.
Eco Pro is configured to optimise the electric range of the car, it runs the air conditioning and heating at a minimum to reduce power consumption. We would only really select this if you were low on fuel and want to maximise your range. Sport mode is selected by moving the gear lever away from you, in doing so your aural senses are treated in an instance to quite literally the best-sounding three-cylinder engine you will ever hear.
It’s more akin to a growling V6 then a diminutive 1,500cc engine. In sport mode the dials on the digital driver’s instrument cluster change to a more traditional speedometer and rev counter with a glowing red background. You can select gears manually via the gear selector or use the paddles behind the steering wheel. eDrive mode runs the i8 on pure electric power, it can drive at speeds up to 120km/h with an approximate 37 kilometre range.
The i8 is a finely honed piece of engineering, having an electric motor driving one axle and a petrol engine driving the other looks intriguing on paper as to how they can work in harmony to provide a true sports car driving experience. Thankfully BMW has managed this: the i8 is an exciting car to drive, around town it’s as docile as an i3 and easy to manoeuvre with good visibility all-round. It’s at its best on the open road in Sport mode, the mid-range power delivery is astounding with acceleration to challenge many high-end sports cars, thanks to its near-instant torque release.
The ride is firm in Sport mode but not uncomfortable, the electric power steering however lacks real supercar feel at higher speeds. When you lift off the accelerator the regenerative braking is felt more so then in comfort mode. All four wheels regenerate power to the battery, unlike the i3 that solely uses its front wheels.
BMW refer to the i8 as the future of the supercar, and it’s a bold statement. Nonetheless if this is the direction all sports cars have to take in the future, it won’t be a dull motoring world that’s for sure.
On paper the Porsches may have it beaten but where it smashes the 911 is in drama. It’s gorgeous and just about the only thing on the road today that looks like a concept car. Which it kind of is.
Engine: 1,499cc three-cylinder petrol putting out 231hp and 320Nm. A 96kw electric motor putting out 131hp and 250Nm of torque. Combined power output of 362hp and 570Nm of torque.
Performance: 0-100km/h 4.4 seconds, max speed 250 km/h
Economy: Combined 2.1L/100km (135mpg)
Emissions: (Motor Tax) 49g/km (€170)
Specifications: Standard features include leather upholstery, full LED headlights, professional navigation system, cruise control, front and rear park distance control and head-up display.
Rivals: Porsche 911 C4 3.4 Petrol 350hp (Awaiting Price)
Jaguar F-Type S 3.0 Petrol 380hp €109,570