When the BMW i8 doesn't feel enough like a sports car, just flick a switch and its character changes instantly
Andrew Frankel Autocar
22 August 2016

I’d been waiting a while for this moment, carefully running in the BMW i8’s tiny three-cylinder engine until it was ready for some proper work.

I recalled the car’s press launch and being rather impressed by its ability to maintain considerable point-to-point pace with little apparent effort. But there was nothing in my first month with the i8 that suggested a repeat performance was likely. It just hasn’t felt like a sports car - and I mean that largely as a compliment.

It has an extremely relaxed gait, even when you’re not cruising around powered by electrons alone. Its ultra-long wheelbase, 2+2 configuration and skinny tyres appeared not to lend themselves to a road warrior’s disposition at all.

As it happens, you’d need a McLaren P1 before you’d find a car that changed character more at the flick of a switch. Knock the BMW's gear selector to the left, watch the dials turn from soothing blue to angry orange and a tacho replace the power reserve gauge and listen to a sharp, angry bark emanate from the engine bay. And then it’s off.

Because it’s so laid back most of the time, it’s easy to forget it’s quicker to 62mph than a new Porsche 911, or that it all comes with a yowling soundtrack many have dismissed as synthetic but which I find genuinely exhilarating.

If there is a key to the way the car delivers its power, it’s that it is fitted with the world’s first two-speed electric axle. Single-speed electric motors have to be disengaged at high speeds to prevent over-spinning, but a two-speed motor can assist from rest to top speed. A handy side-effect is that it also extends the all-electric range, and you are entirely unaware of the electric motor changing gear. And for those of you thinking those BMW engineers really are very clever, I’m sure they are. But this was the work of GKN, a British component supplier.

And on that patriotic note, I shall sign off. More on what happens when it reaches a corner next time.

BMW i8

Price £104,540 Price as tested £108,615 Economy 42.1mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 6.7.16

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Comments
7

22 August 2016
And faster than a 911. Although making a financially case for Supercar Hybrids is, shall we say awkward, it's great they're trying. If I headed the project I'd remove the tank and petrol, engine, gearbox, clutch, exhaust, rads, ICE advanced electronics, prop shafts etc and put in a bigger battery sell it for £20,000 less. After all if a start-up American company can do it so can BMW!

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

22 August 2016
I m sure they could do it if they wanted, but BMW were designing a hybrid, not a full electric car.

22 August 2016
I'm still amazed and amused by this car, like no other I ever owned . A trip to Goodwood at the weekend to view a wonderful turnout of Renault Alpines yet again showed the cars amazing cross country performance at it's best . It's ability to execute perfect "Roadcraft" style overtakes is amazing , so much instantaneous torque, so much engine braking . Something that continuously amazes and amuses is the acceleration available if you simply keep changing gear , not running the IC engine up the rev range, just continuously pulling another gear, there is nothing I've experienced like it !

22 August 2016
Refreshing to hear real world view from an owner. I know it is rather a different league (and much less clean!), but one of the attractions to me of a large diesel hatchback with DSG is the way you can maintain rapid acceleration at the click of a paddle (no off-boost period) and using only mid-rev band. Having the i8 as a pure electric would surely remove some of that interaction and fun.

22 August 2016
Initially I thought it would presumably be fairly easy to do an all electric i8 given Tesla's Roadster, but there must be a reason they haven't. I'm guessing weight as an i8 weighs 1485kg, and the Roadster a frankly incredible 1,305kg (credit to Tony Shute and Richard Rackham at Lotus for that one!). Even with losing the engine, I'd imagine the BMW Chassis would need a fairly thorough re-engineering to go to all electric.

22 August 2016
I understand that there is a significant refresh of the car coming next year that will indeed make it electric only (and the i3 too for that matter). Don't know about that £20k price reduction though!

22 August 2016
"... a yowling soundtrack many have dismissed as synthetic..." Well, that's because it IS synthetic. Which is appalling. Completely ruins it for me. BMW's middle name is Moteren -- they should be ashamed of themselves for perpetuating such fraud and fakery. The i8 is a very interesting car and clearly a superb engineering achievement. That they can't (or can't be bothered to) make it sound reasonably good without resorting to fake engine sounds played through the speakers is shameful. Triples can sound great, and plenty of turbocharged cars sound good, so the excuses don't hold water. Of course, they commit this fraud with their turbo four, straight-6 and V8 engines also. Do better.

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