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Driven: BMW i8. Image by BMW.

Driven: BMW i8
Proof that the future of motoring is in safe hands...


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BMW i8

5 5 5 5 5

Good points: stunning looks, stunning to drive, stunningly easy to live with on a daily basis.

Not so good: not cheap, not hugely practical, not likely to get anywhere near 134mpg.

Key Facts

Model tested: BMW i8
Price: from £104,540 (not including £5,000 Government grant); car as tested £111,110
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged inline three-cylinder petrol with synchronous electric motor
Transmission: all-wheel drive, six-speed automatic (petrol) and two-stage reduction gear (electric)
Body style: two-door, 2+2 coupé
CO2 emissions: 49g/km (Band A, £0 VED)
Combined economy: 134.5mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
Power: petrol 231hp at 5,800rpm, electric motor 131hp peak, combined output 362hp
Torque: petrol 320Nm at 3,700rpm, electric motor 250Nm, combined output 570Nm

Our view:

Hype can be a terrible thing. Take the latest Star Wars film (The Force Awakens), which was extensively trailered and promoted before Christmas, including such tenuous merchandising links as make-up and bloody cheese strings. I've not seen it yet and I'm sure it's going to be brilliant, but the sheer dewy-eyed, sycophantic eulogising about it ahead of the film's release put me off. I don't want to get swept up by the hype and view the film with a biased eye - better to let the fuss die down and then watch it impartially. Whereupon, given it can't be as bad as The Phantom sodding Menace was, I'll no doubt love it and wonder why I bothered waiting.

The BMW i8 might well have been a product of hype, and I one of the reviewers a victim of the critical frenzy when it appeared in 2014. With its outlandish looks, hybrid drivetrain and supercar-esque performance, it was surely a 'green' car we could all wholeheartedly get behind without any trace of compunction. But is it? Is the i8 really that good? Does it actually work in that boring place - that's not far, far away - which we call the real world, where Aero Decks and crazy four-wheel drive systems lacking a physical link between the axles sound like refugees from a science fiction flick?

Cue one week with the i8 in the freakishly mild December we've all just gone through, with no other plan in mind than to use it as a car. It's not going on some crazy 500-mile drive in a day to test it to the limit; it's not going to be photographed in front of all sorts of futuristic back-drops; it's not going to be subjected to track work, to find out if the steering and chassis are honed to the nth degree. It's simply going to amble about the rural East Midlands in murky, grimy conditions, going to the shops and taking on rush hour traffic and even attending a funeral. How would it cope?

When it turns up on day one, the looks still stun. Those two sweeping Aero Deck arms running along the top of the rear (creating that wonderful air tunnel between themselves and the rear flanks), the Air Curtain front panels on its mean and scowling face, the black-panelled rear end with the U-shaped i-specific lights, the doors that open upwards - all of them are fantastic and other-worldly. It remains unlike anything else on sale, the brilliant Tesla Model S included, and it doesn't seem to be dating in the slightest. There's not a colour it doesn't look thoroughly fantastic in (although we'd recommend the Protonic Blue with Frozen Grey accents as on our test car, at £450) and it's easily BMW's best current car design, if not one of the brand's finest creations ever - possibly even up there with the E9 coupés of the 1970s.

Moving in through those captivating doors, the i8's interior is more prosaic, although the blue lights in the dashboard that illuminate at night are rather swish. As is the eerie blue glow that suffuses the whole cabin when you unlock the i8 in the dark. Other than that, it features the clean, intuitive fascia of any modern BMW, with the iDrive screen on the dash, its attendant controller on the centre console and a straightforward automatic shifter exactly where you'd expect to find such a thing. Gorgeous TFT dials sit in front of the driver and the seats, featuring the blue stitching that ventures over almost every surface within the i8's cabin, are marvellous... in the front, at least.

So here's the first criticism: it's not practical, not even by the standards of its similarly compromised rivals in this sector. Simply getting in and out of the car is a faff, because you have to traverse the i8's wide carbon cell sill each and every time, necessitating an odd 'folding' process that's easy for no one. Not even The Wife, who's tall and slim, found it easy to access the i8, so for those with 'big bones' like me, it becomes tiresome after a while. And the rear seats are microscopic; so small are they that my 14-month-old son's car seat would barely fit in them, and even when it did (with minimal clearance to the roof), his legs wouldn't go behind the front chair in my driving position. When sat behind his mum, she had to move her electric seat so far forward it was like she was closely inspecting the glovebox all the time during journeys.

And that brings us to the boot, which is feeble. No child's folding conveyance, be it pushchair or pram, could ever hope to fit inside, while weekly grocery shopping trips require masses of forward planning in order to purchase only the essential sustenance that can be crammed into the cargo area. So really, as a 2+2, it's a total failure because it can only be bought as a 'second' car for a very rich, childless couple. Don't think for a second that if you've got young kids, you might be able to get away with it as primary transport - you won't.

Still, as we touched upon earlier, is any supercar/sports car at the £100,000 mark supposed to be about boot space, kids and ingress/egress before anything else? Probably not. Which is a good thing, because it allows you to still give the BMW i8 a glowing review without feeling like a charlatan. There are a few more bugbears to get out of the way: the ride, which doesn't feature adjustable dampers, is always very firm; there's a lot more tyre roar than we remember from our initial pre-production and overseas drives; and the rear track is a full 7cm wider than the front, which you need to be aware of when taking tight corners or low-speed manoeuvring.

Otherwise, the i8 is sublime. OK, so the steering lacks ultimate feel, but it's still well-weighted enough to be a pleasure and the performance - whether both motors are fully juiced or not - is never short of sensational. That 1.5-litre triple, making 231hp and 320Nm on its own, is worthy of the highest praise and while the sound it generates under hard acceleration is artificially augmented, when something sounds this good you'll overlook the synthetic nature of the symphony and just revel in the noise.

The brakes, the gearbox(es), the way it shifts from electric running to hybrid to petrol-only, the easy-going nature it has when you're not driving it hard - all of this makes you forget the ingress/egress issues, so instead you spend the time mulling over whether you could live with the i8 daily. We certainly could; it's such a sweet motor to drive in all conditions, the BMW never fazed by traffic or open roads or city driving or heavy rain or slippery surfaces. It's magnificent in every detail.

Save for the economy. If you approach the i8's returns from the angle of 'well, a 911/R8/AMG GT would never match its consumption', you'll adore it. If you look at the brochure and see 134.5mpg quoted... and then realise that, unless you live in city suburbs and are a purely urban commuter, you're only going to get 41.4mpg from it, there's the potential for disappointment. Our 481 miles included a night journey into Nottingham, a 300-mile return journey to Bristol (which involved a long M5 tailback on the way home) and general pottering about on country lanes, with the odd sojourn into Newark-on-Trent thrown in for good measure. Battery use in the same time was 19.6 miles/kWh and the average speed was 44.2mph, so as you can see it wasn't driven in cautious, hypermiling style.

Nevertheless, useless rear seats, tiny boot and less-than-stellar fuel returns aside, the rest of the i8 is simply marvellous. It proves that the future of motoring, in which tiny turbocharged engines and hybrid assistance will feature heavily, does not have to be boring; in fact, it can be anything but. It's as if a vehicle from many years into the future has landed here, but - unlike a DeLorean, which is unutterably dreadful unless it's fitted with a flux-capacitor - this dihedral-doored machine is a delight. We gave it four-and-a-half stars last time out, yet really, this is a five-star car by any reasonable measure; so it seems like it wasn't just hype bigging up the BMW i8 in this instance. Now, let's see about booking some tickets for The Force Awakens...


Audi R8: Audi's latest styling direction is the only possible downside of this car, because - apart from its odd looks - the latest R8 is a brilliant V10 screamer.

BMW M4: the 'normal' performance BMW. It's little more than half the price of the i8. It's quicker. You can get in and out of the M4 a lot easier. There are rear seats and a useable boot. And yet we'd have the i8 every single time.

Porsche 911: has just made the switch to all turbocharged engines and is of course a polished performance car. Dynamically superior to the i8 but far less interesting than the BMW - and it's harder on fuel too.

Matt Robinson - 6 Jan 2016    - BMW road tests
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- i8 images

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW i8. Image by BMW.


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