Instead of the care of its usual keeper, the petrol-electric coupé has been thrown into the bear pit that is Autocar HQ — and everyone seems to have an opinion
Mark Tisshaw
21 October 2016

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.”

BMW i8

Price £104,540 Price as tested £108,615 Economy 44.2mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 14.9.16 

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Comments
14

21 October 2016
Your test car must be very different to my own version, as on various trips through Germany it has proven to be very keen on accelerating all the way ( and beyond ) the 155mph limiter. I've been astounded by its over 100mph abilities, on one trip to Vienna, cruising between 135mph and 155mph for long periods, yet still returning 38.9 mpg for the trip . Particularly amazing to me is the rapid acceleration beyond three figures on a 1500cc engine, an amazing machine at a price which must terrify every other manufacturer ? Perhaps that extremely functional BMW "parts bin" interior helps with costs, but it certainly operates faultlessly, fabulous man machine interface, fabulous sat-nav and very functional heads-up display .

21 October 2016
Ravon wrote:

Your test car must be very different to my own version, as on various trips through Germany it has proven to be very keen on accelerating all the way ( and beyond ) the 155mph limiter. I've been astounded by its over 100mph abilities, on one trip to Vienna, cruising between 135mph and 155mph for long periods, yet still returning 38.9 mpg for the trip . Particularly amazing to me is the rapid acceleration beyond three figures on a 1500cc engine, an amazing machine at a price which must terrify every other manufacturer ? Perhaps that extremely functional BMW "parts bin" interior helps with costs, but it certainly operates faultlessly, fabulous man machine interface, fabulous sat-nav and very functional heads-up display .

That comment surprised me too as I've read elsewhere the i8 has more than decent acceleration beyond 100mph.

Regardless, it's good to read an owner's first hand experience. It's an absolutely gorgeous looking car.

21 October 2016
Like how many miles the long term was and what the real world mpg figure was, you know the figure Autocar and others bang on and on about

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

21 October 2016
How do the 'kids in the car in front' point and stare ? Are they wearing their seat belts ?

289

21 October 2016
Quite.....good point Greenracer.
Quite how Autocar describe their offices as a bear pit when they just cannot bring themselves to say a bad word about any BMW (or JLR product).....the i8 was onto a winner before it turned a wheel!
I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder but having ran a BMW dealership in the 80's to 90's, I never in my wildest thought that BMW would ever build something so gimmicky or tacky in design. A spivs car.
BMW used to build quietly classy cars for the enthusiast....I guess this is a product of the BMW buyers of today.

22 October 2016
There is NO reason for Autocar to say a single bad word about BMW, specially i8 (that applies a little bit for JLR also). Why? Because BMW are benchmarks and class leaders with a proven track record since over 4 decades. BMW has been delivering joy and excitement to people who are interested in driving their cars.

We have choices, for example people with no interest in driving, and see it merely as transport, can always choose an Audi that offers a total disconnection from the car. You were one of the lucky ones to have been running a BMW dealership for so long. And i8 shows how far ahead BMW are in most areas. I think you have a little anger issues toward BMW. It doesn't make any sense. It's like being angry at your best friend that always makes you feel good.

Dan

21 October 2016
such an appealing car to me the i8. There would 100% be space for one in my post lottery win garage.

21 October 2016
jamesf1 wrote:

such an appealing car to me the i8. There would 100% be space for one in my post lottery win garage.

Me too!! (the only trouble is I don't do the lottery...)

21 October 2016
Everything here is subjective, where are the facts and figures for its long term use, even performance wise your only comment has been rebuked by ravon, it's not practical you say and then comments about a child seat barely fitting in the back but you have a photo of an adult in the back without her head tilted over, is there genuinely room in the back? The only insightful long term comments are those regarding access in confined spaces due to the doors.

21 October 2016
Everything here is subjective, where are the facts and figures for its long term use, even performance wise your only comment has been rebuked by ravon, it's not practical you say and then comments about a child seat barely fitting in the back but you have a photo of an adult in the back without her head tilted over, is there genuinely room in the back? The only insightful long term comments are those regarding access in confined spaces due to the doors.

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