BMW would have you believe that the new i8 is the sports car of the future – and it’s a believable claim of a car that is daring, exotic and state of the art in just about every way you might judge it.
But the i8 also marks BMW’s return to a part of the market that it has flirted with in years gone by, and rather memorably so. The Z8 and M1 have a successor in this car – and they are some daunting acts to follow.
There are parallels to be drawn between BMW’s M1 and the i8. The M1 is the only other mid-engined production machine in Munich’s history, and was on sale from 1978 to 1981. But neither the M1, nor the Z8, had a start in life quite like the i8's. The i8 was conceived to redefine sports car conventions rather than abide by them.
The i8 began with the 2009 Vision EfficientDynamics concept, which reintroduced the idea of a mid-engined BMW flagship and drew power from two electric motors and a three-cylinder turbodiesel engine. That became the plug-in hybrid i8 concept at Frankfurt two years later, swapping the diesel for a petrol turbo.
Now, the production version has arrived. It is made from the lightest, strongest materials using the most advanced techniques that BMW could apply, and it’s driven by a revolutionary petrol-electric plug-in hybrid, all-wheel drive powertrain. This is Munich’s little miracle: a modern hypercar done for a fraction of the price. And it looks sensational.
But does all of that technological sophistication deliver the type of drive that no class-leading sports car can be without? Or are there limitations to all of this cutting-edge complexity?