BMW i8 Review and First Drive

After having a great time in BMW’s electric (and somewhat eclectic) i3 I have been waiting for my turn in the full flavour behaviour i8. That day has come. 

With the i8 receiving it’s formal UK launch, demo units of this £99,000 super car have started arriving at dealerships and the good people at Cooper BMW Teeside were very kind to keep me in the loop.

It’s a busy time for BMW, with the i8 launched and the new M3 and M4 showing up on forecourts at the same time, it seems that BMW are tailoring to us speed freaks for the summer.

Back to the i8. Let’s cover this like we do with most Tame Geek reviews, in sections.

First up, technology and toys

Let’s just take a second to have a look at another picture of the i8.

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On considerably closer inspection, you discover that the i8 looks good from every angle. The folds and creases make the body of the i8 seem like it’s what happens when a Transformer gets some alone time with spaceship.

The i8 is not subtle. Sat with a McLaren MP4-12C in front of it, these equally striking cars couldn’t look any more different. Both looking beautiful but with the i8 doing what the 12C could never do. Show you the future.

The i8 is the new halo model for BMW. In being so, the styling had to be extreme, yet efficient and aerodynamic. As you look at the i8, you can tell that the heart and soul of the designers has gone in to this car.

What makes it go then you ask? Let me break it down for you. Yes, this is a hybrid. The i8 has a LifeDrive architecture made up of two units that correspond exactly to the requirements of intelligent lightweight construction. The first component is the Drive module, an aluminium chassis, with the electric motor located in its front section and in the rear part of the Drive module is the three-cylinder petrol engine, both of which are joined by the high-voltage battery. The second component of the LifeDrive architecture is the Life module, an ultra-light passenger cell made of high-strength carbon fibre which also plays a part in compensating for the additional weight of the electric motor and the high-voltage battery.

That electric motor in the front is good for 128bhp and 184lb of torque. (To put that in perspective, that’s more than you get from a modern Audi 1.4L TSFI engine.) The  petrol engine that’s mentioned is a heavily tuned three cylinder from the new Mini. This extensively worked over and turbocharged engine is kicking out 228bhp and 236lb of torque (Not far off the new Golf GTI).BMW i8 Review 10

Given that there’s more computing power in the i8 than there was for the first few moon landings added together, it can almost be expected that those computers and the ever great XF gearbox could add those numbers together. It can! When in full attack mode, the i8 can use all 356bhp and 420lb of torque. That bit of mechanical and electrical maths gives you 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds, a top speed of 155mph (limited) and a capability of delivering 134.5mpg and going over 20 miles on electrical energy alone.

As you’d hope for a car that costs six figures, the i8 is a lovely place to be inside, if a bit tricky to get in. The Dihedral (read: Lambo) doors reveal just how low you sit in the car and present you with quite a ledge to get your legs over. A bit of practice and you’d be fine, but this is not car in which to wear a skirt.

Once you’re inside this lovely space, you don’t really want to leave. In the back there are two token sitting areas but I was assured that staff from BMW had fitted in them during test drives. The front however is just a futuristic as you’d have hoped. The glowing blue plastic highlights, mixed with the two TFT screens all nestled in leather and high quality recycled materials and carbon fibre. Bliss.

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The seats in the i8 are like those in the i3 and are made of lightweight but strong materials that offer a good level of support. Which becomes useful when you’re being enthusiastic with your driving style.

The i8 comes with many toys but I think my favourite has to be the Grand Theft Auto style parking system. This works by having a set of cameras around the car. While parking, a top-down view of the car is displayed on centre screen and all the way around this is a top-down view of the car surroundings. You can actually park your car quite safely using this system and not need to look out of the windows. Visibility is how you would expect with a super car. The view out of the windshield is good but the rear window is mostly there for decoration and at the front the A column takes up quite a bit of space in your field of view. Luckily the driver and passenger windows are fairly well placed to compensate.

All the other usual refinements are there as well. Satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone preparation and lots of other Connected features are included. They want to be for the price tag! There are only two additional trim levels you can add to the i8 but given the cost of either of these it’s pretty much mitigated by the £5000 government rebate for this being an electric vehicle.

Now for the driving

As you roll away, silently, in the i8, the now familiar electric creep takes you gently forwards. Immediately on turning, you get a very light feeling from the steering. Typical with electric steering systems but in the i8, it feels right. This is a car of the future and feels it. Smoothly you set off on your journey and you soon feel the solid nature of the ride. This is a sports car but you are not thrashed about. Go over a drain cover and you will notice it but that is more down to the rigid nature of the carbon fibre body, rather than the sports suspension.

Getting to a slip road and remaining in automatic mode, the words ‘best give it the beans then!’ Come out of my mouth and the loud pedal gets buried. An apt name, because after a second or two of pure electric grunt, the computer goes ‘oh you really want it all do you?’ And wakes up the petrol engine that has thus far been sat quietly behind you. The result of all of this is an impressive turn of speed. It’s spooky how easy you get to motorway speed without noticing, get in to the outside lane and with out noticing, the petrol has gone back to sleep and the electric is taking you the rest off the way. The power delivery in the i8’s normal mode reminds me quite a bit of a high-capacity turbodiesel engine. That’s not a bad thing! There’s a reassuring feeling of unlimited power on tap.

This i8 needed a bit of a charge, so rolling in pure EV mode wasn’t really on the cards for this drive. Given the power it delivers though and the addictive nature of instant torque, you know that this car could be all you ever needed in a town and dual carriageway.

Right now though, we’re seeing what the total package is like and if you want a better idea of a totally electric life read the i3 review.

As the we proceeded down the dual carriage way, the traffic slowed. Buyer beware, you drive this and people are going to stare. This is because it looks fantastic and also, so out of place. This is a futuristic car that looks it. Bare in mind that this car was shown off in concept form in Mission Impossible 4 and it hasn’t much changed.

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After getting sick of people slowing traffic just for a look, it was time to slink off and look for a few corners and engage sports mode.

Yes, engaging sports mode in the i8 is, like the rest of the car, quite an event. With there being no conventional dials on the dashboard, just two tablet sized screens and a heads-up display, projected on the windshield ( all can be clearly seen with polarized sunglasses on). The drivers cluster go from a relatively sedate layout to a more traditional rev counter and speedo that both glow with an orange/red hue that adds to the drama that’s about to come.

As I double tap the left (down) paddle on the steering wheel to get from 6th to 4th, the exhaust kicks out little barks like an engine with 3 time’s the capacity. The turn of pace with the i8 then goes from comfortably brisk, to ludicrously rapid.

This may sound a little obvious, but, you will have never driven anything like this, unless you’ve been in one of the newer hyper cars ( P1, 918 & La Ferrari). Instant torque and power anywhere in the rev band. literally anywhere. and you hurtle. The closest thing I can compare it to is that of a car from a Burnout game. But even then, this is faster.

The reason for all of that nonsense above is that as soon as you really start to ‘drive’ the i8, it rewards you with movement you never though possible in a road car. Let alone one that costs seven times less than it’s technological piers.

A stretch of road 1.6 miles long, simply, evaporates. As the i8 goes round a long left-hander the car feels completely flat and stable, with the power-train egging you on to push it. It’s almost like inside the car is the eagerness off a puppy but with enough energy to run halfway round the world in the blink of an eye, and it knows it. Could this be an indication that ‘eco’ cars can have a soul, just like their conventionally powered stablemates? BMW i8 Review 14

After getting to some rather sharp turns, the i8’s breaks impress. I’ve yet to experience the issues with ‘regenerative break feel’ that a lot of other car journalists have commented on so I can’t benchmark but the i8 breaks like a conventional car. Scratch that, they are like a super car’s. They need to be to ensure you can stop! Something that the i8 handles with no issues.

As you point the nose in to a corner, there’s a little part of you expecting some understeer. Let’s be fair, there’s a lot of technology in the front of the car. As soon as you turn that thought vanishes as the i8 reminds you of who made it. The 50 / 50 weight distribution that BMW is famed for is present and correct in the i8. The electric motor also makes it’s self known, directing the front wheels to give a flat and fast feeling in the corners.

Had this been a track test, some shaking of the back end would have been attempted, but given that the i8 is effectively 4 wheel drive in sports mode, that would be quite tricky and near impossible on the roads. Somewhat reassuring really. This car can not only scare the life out of you but make you feel elated all at the same time without having to worry about exploding in a ball of horsepower, petrol and carbon fibre.

When exiting a corner and you open the taps and plant the throttle, the speed gauge gains an ‘eboost’ symbol letting you know that petrol and electrons are all contributing in harmony to send you towards the horizon.

After this bout of unadulterated pleasure, it was time to head back to base. That took more effort than anything else. Sat with the BMW representative, we were discussing how easy it would be to just loaf off to the south of France, such is the comfort in the normal mode. Comfortable and refined at motorway speeds, as is to be expected of a GT car but something that this super car can easily accomplish. Needless to say, we didn’t head south. Much to BMW’s relief I imagine.

Wrap up

This is a fairly exhaustive write up on the i8 and I appreciate it if you made it this far as by now you may have noticed that I’ve become quite attached to this machine.

The i8 is not the fastest car I’ve ever driven, nor is it the most powerful or most luxurious. It’s not the most important nor is it the most practical.

What it is, is a dream come true. The i8 mixes quality, technology, speed and handling like nothing else I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving. It’s a dream of the designers and engineers involved and ultimately, of the 10 year old inside me that wanted a car that was a third Batmobile, a third KITT and a third Autobot.

Let’s look at this objectively for a second. This is a car, that in it’s top specification is the better part of £104,000 before the UK governments £5000 electric car contribution. For that kind of money, you can choose from a Jaguar F-Type R Coupe, a Porsche 911 Carrera S, a Mercedes SL, an Aston Martin Vantage or an Audi R8. That’s some stiff competition, each with their own merits but when you consider the i8’s 134.5mpg and 4.4 second 0-62 speed, all while looking like it does, there’s only one question left in my mind: Why would you want to be boring and drive anything else?

The BMW i8 has replaced the Audi S7 as my immediate lottery win purchase and has firmly planted it’s self in my heart as ‘my car’.


A special thanks goes out again to the good people at Cooper BMW Teesside for their kind support and if you’re considering any BMW from an i8 to a 1 series, they’re the people to see: Link

Want to buy me one? Here’s the spec.