BMW i8 Coupe (2014 - ) review
The BMW is a car of the future that you can buy today. Supercar performance combined with city car running costs
Interested in buying BMW i8?
The overall look of the i8 is as dramatic as you expect of any supercar, but it’s only when you look closer that you appreciate the full extent of its stunning form. The bodywork is made mainly from carbon-fibre reinforced plastic which, as well as reducing weight while maintaining strength, is very versatile in the way it can be worked and formed. That allows the designers to go much crazier than they could with that old-hat metal stuff. There are mind-bending curves and creases all over the i8, not least the air ducts that carve over the rear wheelarches and punch straight through the middle of the rear light clusters. The two-tone colour scheme and unconventional doors also add to the drama, making this one of the most visually stunning cars on sale at any price.
The i8’s cabin has just as futuristic a feel as its bodywork, thanks to two large screens that display all the information that regular analogue dials would, along with details about what’s going on with the car’s complicated plug-in hybrid drivetrain. One of the screens also serves as the display for most of the car’s more conventional functions; and, thanks to BMW’s intuitive iDrive interface, using them is a very simple business. The interior has all sorts of wacky textures and finishes to keep things interesting, and importantly for a car that costs this much, the cabin also feels as plush and as luxurious as it does futuristic. The front seats are wonderfully supportive and the driving position is spot-on, but while the rear view is pretty good right behind you, you might struggle to see what’s coming when you roll up to an angled junction.
Those in the front seats won’t struggle for space, and there is also a surprising number of cubbies in which to stash odds and ends. However, don’t expect to use the i8’s two rear seats for anything other than extra luggage space: head- and legroom are too tight to fit anyone other than very small children, and even then, they might struggle to get comfy. What’s more, the extra luggage space might come in very handy, because the boot is extremely small, at just 154 litres. Getting in and out of the i8 takes a fair amount of personal flexibility, too, due to the width of the sill you have to climb over. You’ll find yourself pointing your backside through the door and lowering yourself in backwards, before swinging your legs in afterwards. And, while those doors look very cool, they don’t make life all that easy in tight parking spaces.
Ride and handling
Any supercar – even an efficient one – should feel exhilarating in the bends, and that’s a job that the i8 does impressively well. The car’s light weight makes it feel supremely agile when you’re changing direction, and you also have enormous grip and quick steering that gives you plenty of feedback and precision. The standard adaptive suspension also gives you unshakeable body control when you have one of the sportier driving modes selected. Then, when you get to the end of your favourite back road, you can select one of the other modes – one that focuses less on performance and more on economy – and the suspension softens off to give a forgiving and comfortable ride. This makes the i8 a surprisingly relaxed car in which pootle round town or to trudge up and down motorways.
The i8’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain uses a combination of electric motors, lithium-ion batteries and a turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine, to provide supercar performance along with city car running costs. Switch to the sportiest mode, and you get the full force of all the various motors, amounting to a total of 357bhp. Granted, it doesn’t have the same kind of organ-bashing acceleration you get in more conventionally powered supercars, but with a 0-62mph time of just 4.4 seconds, it’s still easily fast enough to put a big, stupid smile on your face. And, with so many power sources contributing to the action, at least one of them always has something left to give in any situation. The pace is accompanied by a noise that’s worthy of a supercar: the petrol engine may only have three cylinders, but listening to it, you’d swear it had at least six. Switch to one of the more eco-focused modes, and you can trundle along in near-silence with the electric motor doing most, if not all, of the work. A full charge of the battery (which takes about three hours from a domestic three-pin socket) will let you drive for up to 22 miles on electric power alone, up to a speed of 75mph.
According to official figures, the i8 has CO2 emissions of just 49g/km and average fuel economy of 134mpg, but those figures bear even less resemblance to reality than with more conventionally powered cars. The figures you actually achieve will depend very much on how you use the car. Those who only have a short commute that can be dealt with purely on electric power will really see the benefit, because it’s like having a ‘pure’ EV, just with no range anxiety. Call upon the petrol engine on a regular basis, though, and you’ll see your return plummet dramatically, and that’s before you even start making the most of the i8’s impressive performance. That said, it should be more efficient than most supercars, although like any supercar, you’ll need deep pockets to buy, insure and maintain one.
Examples of the i8 exist in such small numbers that there’s very little useful reliability data available. True, there’s a great deal of new and unproven technology on board, and BMW’s reliability record isn’t what it should be, according to Warranty Direct’s manufacturer rankings, which place the firm quite a way down the table. However, the i8 does have a really well-engineered feel that demonstrates incredible attention to detail, so we hope that the it will prove as dependable as it should be.
The i8 has six airbags and a sophisticated stability control system, as you’d expect, but it also has a few other standard safety gadgets that you might not. The adaptive LED headlamps have a clever high-beam assist function, there’s a speed-limit information system, and there’s a forward collision warning that incorporates autonomous braking and pedestrian detection. A head-up display and tyre-pressure monitoring are also standard fit. The i8 hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP, and due to the small numbers in which it’ll be sold, we don’t expect that to change.
Many cars this expensive are rather disappointing when it comes to the amount of standard equipment you get for your money, but the BMW i8 is not one of those. Included in the price are items you’d expect, like electric windows, climate control, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control, a multifunction steering wheel and electrically-adjusting seats that are leather-bound and heated. The infotainment system also features DAB radio, Bluetooth and sat-nav, as you’d expect. However, you might not expect the 20GB hard drive, the head-up display or the all-round parking sensors and cameras, which also come as standard.
Because you want a supercar with a conscience, and it’s a role that the i8 plays brilliantly. This car offers so much more than that, though. As an everyday supercar, it’s a genuine alternative to a Porsche 911, and believe us, that’s praise indeed.