The email’s preview pane had scarcely disappeared from my computer screen before I had replied to it.
It read: “Can you nominate your favourite car of the year?” Within seconds I’d written back: “BMW i8”, knowing that if I didn’t, somebody else – everybody else – would beat me to it.
Why is it my favourite? The i8 isn’t the fastest or most rewarding car I’ve driven this year. I like light, simple cars that handle predictably and are dynamically engaging. Cars like the Lotus 2-Eleven, Caterham Seven Supersport and Porsche 911 GT3 have the attributes that usually top my personal wish list.
The i8 isn’t like any of those. It isn’t simple, for a start. That it has a Mini Cooper engine at one end and a pair of electric motors at the other sees to that. And because of those, its dynamic reward is slightly limited, too.
This is a car that handles differently depending on whether its batteries are charged, in which case it understeers quite a lot, or empty, in which case it is slower but understeers not at all.
Objectively, to a dynamics purist like me, that should make it about as appealing as a radio that won’t broadcast Test Match Special on one randomly selected day from each test. But somehow it doesn’t matter, because the i8 is just so interesting.
Interesting to look at? Of course. No other mid-engined 2+2 looks as good. Admittedly, that’s a limited field, for the very sound reason that it’s hard to package a mid-engined 2+2 and make it look good. The fact that the i8 has one of the most compelling (and not the least bit awkward) stances of any modern car makes it an aesthetic triumph.
Interesting to sit in? Undoubtedly. Some of our testers thought that it didn’t veer far enough from the BMW norm, especially when compared with the i3, but it hits just the right note for me.
Interesting to drive? Yes, and not only for the wrong reasons. Because if you leave its outright handling alone – and to be fair, even though it’s no Porsche 911, that isn’t so bad – the i8 is a fine GT car. It steers with oily slickness and smoothness, it rides soundly, its electric motors fill the considerable torque gap in the heavily turbocharged engine’s delivery, making it quick to respond to the throttle, and its refinement and stability are of the first order.
But, more than anything, it is just interesting to study, to be around, to spend time adoring and admiring. Everywhere you turn, there is a detail to be savoured. Every time you fill it with fuel, there is surprise at how little it asks for. And every time you glance at it, you know you’re looking at a car that is a shoo-in not just for this year’s shortlist, but any other year in history’s, too. The i8 is a car we’ll remember, and remember well, in half a century.
Come back tomorrow as we reveal another star car of 2014
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