BMW i8 plug-in hybrid review

BMW’s i8 is an amazing technological tour de force; a junior LaFerrari or Porsche 918 Spyder for a fraction of the price, and for company car users it's a real tax buster. The i8 can be driven like a proper sports car or a Toyota Prius, but though its exuberant looks shout supercar the reality is more BMW M3 performance than McLaren, and, unlike McLaren, BMW wasn’t brave enough to let us drive the car unaccompanied.

The i8 will sell more for its looks and performance than its kindness to the environment and I wonder how many buyers will ever plug it into the mains. You can file it under future design icon though. Examples have already been bought by two footballers and a pop singer. Oh, and I can’t believe BMW won’t be putting a powerful V8 in this lightweight body shell before too long.

Review by Russell Bray


PERFORMANCE

Throttle response away from the line is tardy as all the power units wake up but mid-range the i8 is rapid. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. A 12-valve 1.5 litre three-cylinder turbocharged Mini Cooper petrol engine produces 228 bhp when under its full 22 psi of boost. The front AC electric motor is good for 129 bhp so there’s a total of 357 bhp on tap, which is 22 bhp more than a Jaguar F-Type V6S. There’s also a 20 bhp generator/starter motor which fills in gaps in the power delivery of the other pair.

The BMW wins on torque versus the Jaguar too with 420 lbs ft v 340lbs. Acceleration to 62 mph takes 4.4 seconds compared to 4.9 seconds for the Jaguar, but the F-Type wins to 100 mph with 8.8 seconds compared to 9.6 seconds. A 7.1 kWh lithium ion battery pack is housed in the i8’s centre console. In ‘comfort’ mode the car is smooth and near silent. In ‘sport’ the car sounds rather V6 ish but some of the sound is generated artificially and piped into the cabin. Above 5,000 rpm when Italian supercar engines start to ‘sing’ there isn’t much left.


HANDLING

A very low centre of gravity and adaptive suspension means the i8 corners ‘flat’ at speed. But depending on the selected drive mode the i8 is front or four-wheel drive and on a short test drive on a wet day the ultra light steering didn’t give the confidence you get with a conventional mid-engined sports car. The car feels pleasingly light and agile and particularly assured under heavy braking but front grip was less than I expected.

The computers don’t want to let you alter the car’s attitude on the throttle, or kick the tail out, and calls for extra power seem to be met mainly by the electric motor so you feel the front wheels pulling the car straight. Power is biased more towards the rear when entering a corner so there is lots of computer jiggery-pokery going on. The car’s ‘feel’ is more of a fast grand tourer like a BMW 6-Series than a pure bred sports car like a Porsche 911 or Cayman. Tyre noise can be loud considering the relatively narrow tyres.


BODY STYLE

BMW’s promotional material regarding the i8’s styling shows that style icon the Lamborghini Countach so it’s pretty clear where they are coming from and the plastic panelled body over a carbon fibre reinforced plastic passenger ‘cell’ is partly shaped by the latest aerodynamic thinking. But while Ferrari and Lamborghini show off their V8 and V12 engines under a rear window with only a small three-cylinder ahead of the tiny rear boot BMW hasn’t bothered. You can’t even open the front to show off the electric motor to your impressed neighbours either.

Black is the only way to go as the other colour schemes make the car look like an escapee from a Tron film. The car is larger than it looks in pictures, but despite the showy swan’s wing doors climbing out of the BMW i8 is not as easy as getting in, and access to the small rear seats is only for the petite and agile. Powerful gas struts mean the doors are easy to open and close despite their size. To take advantage of the limited boot space, or the small rear seats if not in use, there’s a bespoke set of Louis Vuitton luggage for footballers’ wives at around £17,000. Length 4689 mm. Width 1942 mm.


COMFORT & CONTROLS

BMW i8 Dash

Once you have folded yourself into the i8 the driving position is pretty much ideal. Pushing the starter button wakes the car in electric mode with energy recovery for the battery pack beginning as soon as you ease off the accelerator pedal. You can leave the car in automatic or change gear using paddles on the steering wheel. The instrument display, with its colour changes depending on driving mode, is gimmicky, fussy and too small to take in at a glance. Designers seem to think we are all offices sitting in front of a computer screen.

Cabin oddment stowage is as minimal as in a Lamborghini. Adaptive dampers deliver good ride comfort most of the time but it can get bouncy and jittery too. Wind noise is low but the tyres ‘roar’ on some surfaces. Being relatively narrow they are quieter than cars like Porsche’s 911.


MPG & RUNNING COSTS

The i8’s on-board computers don’t show the average fuel consumption running with both power sources. On petrol alone after a group of drivers the car was averaging 33.5 mpg but I know people who reckon they average 40 mpg plus in the ‘real’ world. That’s about twice what you would get with the V8S Jaguar F-Type. The official combined fuel consumption is 134.5 mpg, while carbon dioxide emissions are 49 g/km on the test.

As a result there is no road fund tax to pay or London Congestion Charge. Under the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) in comfort or eco pro mode the i8 tries to run solely on electric power and is claimed to achieve 23 miles but there was no opportunity to test this. Sixteen is more likely I suspect. BMW covers the battery pack for eight years/100,000 miles.


GREEN CREDENTIALS

Sleek aerodynamics, the coefficient of drag is just 0.26, reduce wind noise and help minimise fuel consumption at cruising speeds. In comfort or eco pro mode, which will be familiar to BMW drivers, the i8 runs on electric power only until the power is exhausted or you use the accelerator too keenly.

Theoretical range is 23 miles and maximum speed 45 mph. Switch to eDrive and you have the same ‘range’ but the car can manage 75mph. In electric mode the i8 accelerates at ‘hot’ hatchback speeds. It’s a bit of a con that you can’t really see the exhaust pipe for the mid-mounted petrol engine which wants to run most of the time. According to our calculations, the BMW i8 has a Next Green Car Rating of 38.


OPTIONAL EXTRAS

On the dashboard are a pair of 8.8 inch HD screens. The one immediately ahead of the driver shows a speedometer, rev-counter and some energy use information. The display is not big enough or clear enough. A centrally-mounted screen shows satellite navigation information, which driving mode is selected, lots of power propulsion graphics you can call up to distract you, and information about the radio and music playing functions.

Standard kit is comprehensive as you would expect for the price and includes windscreen head-up display showing navigation and speed, climate control, cruise control, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, tyre pressure monitoring and adjustable damper control. The leather trimmed front seats are electrically adjusted and heated. Front and rear parking sensors help you cope with the car’s extremities. Buyers can also upgrade the materials and leather by opting for either the £1,150 Carpo or £2,150 Halo interior finishes.


MODEL SUMMARY

BMW i8 Rear” style=

Model tested:BMW i8
Body-style:Mid-engined 2+2 sports car
Engine/CO2:129 bhp/184 lbs ft electric motor, 228 bhp three -cylinder 647 cc petrol engine. 20 bhp starter motor/generator
Trim grades:Neso, Carpo, Halo

On-road price:From £94,845. Price as tested £105,840 (Including £5,000 Government grant)
Warranty:Three years/Unlimited miles. Battery pack eight years/100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 STARS
Next Green Car Rating of 38


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Russell Bray

Author:Russell Bray
Date Updated:20th Oct 2014

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