What’s important with the i8 is to manage your expectations. Come at it hoping for a straight rival to a Porsche 911 or an Audi R8 and you’re likely to come away if not disappointed, then at least slightly bemused. Expect it to be closer to BMW’s own 6-series or another grand tourer and the i8 is perhaps more likely to fulfil your remit.
The steering, for one, is definitely more that of a tourer than sports car. It’s responsive and accurate, no question, but lighter than we’d expected, and with little discernible increase in torque effort off the straight-ahead to replicate the feeling of cornering force transferring to the rim. Instead, it retains its consistent, oily slickness at all speeds. It’s far from unpleasant but less connected than you might have expected.
The chassis, too, feels more tuned for dabbling in straight-line demolitions than it is for consuming corners. There’s a spot of fidgeting around town, but that clears on the open road and, given that it has excellent straight-line stability, the i8 makes a superb cruising companion. Where the i8 is slightly less convincing is if you ask it to do the things you’d normally ask of a £100k sports car. It’s not that it’s incapable; it wouldn’t record a lateral g figure of 1.03 if it were.
No, it’s just that the balance isn’t quite suited to outright sportiness. The i8 feels at some stages agile and at others hampered both by the roles it’s meant to play and by its mechanical layout.
It’s quick to turn, and the steering’s consistency, if not its feel, is pleasingly reassuring. It quickly falls on to its outside front tyre, which, at just 215mm wide, is bound to give up grip before the 245mm-wide rears. At least, that’s the case in the dry.
In the dry, you drive up to where the front lets go and then manage things; in the wet, it’s a slightly different story. The front end lets go first on a steady throttle, but it’s possible to push through that and unstick the rear, which is, of course, driven by the three-pot Mini engine. Even with the stability control apparently disengaged, from then on the i8 doesn’t behave like you might expect.
The throttle pedal induces little but lag, and when power does arrive, it’s frequently biased to the front electric motors, which clumsily drag the i8 straight again. It can be quite quick, but it’s not always wildly entertaining.