Sharing is caring, they say.
The sharer in this tale is Andrew Frankel, the custodian of the BMW i8 long-term test car who sent it off for a summer holiday at Autocar’s Twickenham headquarters. And we all had a jolly good time caring for it.
Renault Zoe owner and therefore resident electric car expert Jim Holder is up first for some scene setting: “I’m not so dumb that I thought the i8 would be just another electric car, or indeed just another supercar, but I was surprised by just how far it redefines what can be done with electric power. From pure-EV mode to giving it everything it’s got, it is utterly beguiling – helped, of course, by those futuristic looks inside and out.”
Ah, yes, those looks. It’s one thing we all agree on: the i8 looks the business. As Sam Sheehan puts it: “Be it a traffic-laden city street or fast-flowing motorway, you can bet the kids in the car in front will stare and point, the driver in the car next to you will give you a thumbs-up and even the old lady on the bus will strain to catch a glimpse.”
I agree. The i8 elicits as great a response from fellow motorists and passers-by as the McLaren 650S Spider I ran last year, a car costing more than twice the price and making 10 times the noise.
However, those concept car looks come with those concept car dihedral doors, which, as Frankel has previously pointed out, restrict the type of space you can park in.
Matt Saunders recalls: “I remember from writing the road test that you’d need a garage more than three metres wide and two metres tall to get both doors open inside it. But then I guess i8 owners are probably triple-garage type of people anyway.”
Will Nightingale clearly doesn’t have a triple garage. “Getting out of the i8 on my driveway involved half opening the driver’s door to stop it from hitting a bush and then limboing under it. Smooth.” Smooth indeed.
Nightingale is more enamoured with how it drives: “Let’s not pretend the i8 is blessed with quite the handling verve of a Porsche 911, but given what else it brings to the party, it’s nothing short of phenomenal.”
Saunders builds on these comments: “It’s actually at its best as an everyday-use GT car: big on response and accessible overtaking thrust, not interested in getting much beyond 100mph, and refined and economical when you want it to be, with all the ‘faszinating’ fun of electric running on your way to top up the kids’ cool points as you pick them up from school. I think it’s knowing the unexpected truth about the i8 that makes it such an appealing thing to own: that you could use it like a Nissan GT-R or a 911 Turbo, and that it’s so much easier to live with than it looks.”
The 911 point is an interesting one, because one of the things that makes the Porsche so usable is its pair of small rear seats. The i8 has those, too. Rachel Burgess made the best use of them: “The i8 isn’t practical, they said. Never willing to take someone’s word for it, I ventured home to take my toddler niece for a ride. Admittedly, it was a workout getting her in and out, and her little legs were up the seatback, but she was more than happy. That said, only a fourfooter would have worked as a front passenger after accommodating the baby seat.”
A major theme running through colleagues’ comments is just how much there is to discover about the car. Matt Burt puts it nicely: “Marketeers bang on about ‘surprise and delight’, that child-like feeling of joy you get when you discover something new and satisfying about a recently purchased product, be it a four-bedroomed house or a pot of natural yoghurt.
“In that respect, the i8 is the gift that keeps on giving, and not just for those of us fortunate enough to get behind the wheel. Driving through south-west London, responding to gawks and looks with a knowing grin, I felt like a cutting-edge tech wizard cum superhero – the Cornish Tony Stark, perhaps.”
Another theme is how much fun it is to drive in fully electric mode. Holder says: “Sometimes, usually when pottering around town silently, you feel like you’ve arrived from another planet.”
There’s a caveat to that, though, as Saunders explains: “It’s what makes the i8 easy to use and good as an EV that also makes it less than brilliant as a driver’s car: the overly light steering, the skinny front tyres and the effect they have on handling balance, the lack of some balls-tobones authentic engine noise rather than all that speaker-borne stuff, and so on.
“But I don’t mind, actually. To me, the appeal of the powertrain, combined with a chassis that does just about enough, gives the car plenty of dynamic allure.”
Meanwhile, James Holloway isn’t a fan of the interior, remarking that it is too similar to every other BMW in the range. He offers BMW some free advice, though, on how to improve it: “Imagine if the top of the iDrive controller became like an old iPod click wheel. Suddenly, a little swipe here and a twist of the finger there and the system would be as modern as the avant-garde styling.”
But before James could get to work on a prototype for BMW, the i8 was back with Frankel, leaving us all to stroke our beards and think how best to summarise its time with us. We return to Burt for the last word.
“Let’s be honest: the i8 hasn’t reinvented the automobile. What it has done, though, is stretch our imaginations and expectations of what an electrified car can be and do.
“It poses one hell of a challenge for every manufacturer with a looming premium hybrid or electric car in its product plan.If you want to make a bold statement about your hybrid prowess, you’ve got to match or surpass the i8. Good luck with that.”
Price £104,540 Price as tested £108,615 Economy 44.2mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 14.9.16