BMW’s quirky i8 still electrifies
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One model, no extras. That in itself is an unusual statement for a brand such as BMW, which revels in offering its customers all manner of interchangeable options packs.
But then, you probably didn’t buy an i8 in the first place because you wanted to load it up with garnish. You bought it as a statement. Because then and even now, there’s nothing like it on the road.
For a sports car that first surfaced in 2014, the i8 still turns heads. And I’m not talking in a Ferrari-kind of way. This thing looks unlike anything else similarly exotic. It looks like a concept car.
It looks like it should be on a motor show stand, not parked outside JB Hi-Fi.
And that’s even before you stop and get out using those butterfly doors; nice bits of theatre that have little practical reason for being but are at least light enough in their heft to push up or pull down without any real effort.
Getting in and out of the i8 might involve slightly more involuntary grunting though, as a wide sill needs to be negotiated in either direction.
Getting in becomes easier with practice and, thanks to the slippery material covering the sill, you sort of sit down with your legs out of the car, swing them around and in and then just let gravity take its course.
Getting out involved, for me at least, lots of inelegant touching of the tarmac.
Pity, given the upswing of the i8’s doors suggests someone utterly cool is about to alight.
Auckland | Mount Wellington
$112.53 p/w $450.13 p/m
The i8 does remain a cool car, though. No, it isn’t a world-beater in terms of its EV-only range. From a full charge, the six-module 7.1kWh lithium-ion battery drains away to nothing in what seems like minutes.
The onboard petrol engine isn’t so much “range extender” as “life blood’’. That’s not to take anything away from what the i8 represents.
If BMW releases — as many of its competitors look set to — a genuine long-range Tesla-rivalling EV soon, I hope it still looks like this.
But the growly three-cylinder engine, enhanced synthetically inside the cabin, is a smile-inducing powerplant in its own right.
Using regenerated electricity to take off from stand-still, the i8 powers away impressively and remains eager if you need it to be.
Combined power and torque mean this feels like a genuine performance car.
It feels solidly planted on the road, too. The electric motor is mounted at the front axle, with the petrol engine at the rear, which makes for great weight distribution.
Don’t bother trying to lift lids and peer at the mechanicals though; you can’t. Only BMW technicians hold that particular allen key.
The eDrive ’leccy motor has a two-speed transmission, while the three-cylinder petrol has a six-speed transmission attached.
In saying the i8 arrives sans options, it’s still a well-kitted vehicle. It has all the usual driver-centric comfort, convenience and safety BMW drivers can expect.
You can select Sport drive mode if saving energy is of little concern, or ECO PRO, which — as in the i8’s baby sibling, the i3 — will turn off all unnecessary power-sapping frivolities and govern available power in order to conserve battery range.
The iDrive system (albeit an older generation in this particular car) and practicalities like parking sensors, heated seats and a premium Harman/Kardon stereo system remain in-situ. There are even two rear seats of a fashion. Boot space? Yes, but pack lightly.
Rather than a one-shot, BMW has insisted on updating the i8; we’ll see it later this year, or possibly early next year. What’s more, a sharp-looking soft-top roadster version has been added to the line-up, too.
Zero-to-hundred will still be counted off in 4.4 seconds in the updated i8 coupe, although system output will go from a total of 266kW to 275kW.
The electric motor-only range will go from around 37km to 66km; still nothing to give the likes of Tesla — or even Renault-Nissan — sleepless nights.
Probably due to the extra weight, the mechanicals for the electrically-opening/closing soft-top roof bring with it, the roadster records even less range; 53km.
BMW isn’t pinning its hopes on these particular vehicles to win the EV race, however. The i8 was designed as — and even in its imminent update will remain — something of a showcase for aerodynamic design and carbon fibre-centric engineering as much as what a performance-themed EV looks like.
The manufacturer has been focusing on offering plug-in hybrid versions of key sellers like the 3- and 5-Series since the i8 first arrived.
In fact, before the news that an updated i8 coupe and a new roadster were imminent, you could have been forgiven for thinking the whole notion of BMW’s iPerformance cars had been parked indefinitely.
With the recent arrival of the similarly updated (and sportier, phwoar!) i3 S, and the new i8 twins on the horizon though, it’s great to see BMW still believes these electrically enhanced, performance-minded, but ultimately stupendously quirky cars have a place in what will be a rapidly evolving model line.
There will be EV sports cars in the future that perform much better and offer more range. But the i8 will remain a true classic.
Engines: 1.5-litre three-cylinder TwinPower turbo petrol engine (170kW/320Nm) w/ eDrive electro-synchronous motor (96kW/250Nm)
Pros: Rarity, performance, exterior styling
Cons: It won’t get you all that far on electric-power alone, wait for the new one coming soon