BMW i8 review – Telegraph.co.uk

Posted: Monday, April 28, 2014

With its windscreen-hinged doors and LED and laser lighting, it attracted
thumbs up approval from Los Angelinos. Those doors also effectively rule out
bay parking, as they each require 552mm (22 inches) of swing to open. You
could find yourself stranded in a multi-storey…

The carbon-fibre tub is evident around the doors. It’s comfortable in the
front, cramped in the rear

There were smiles as we tumbled bum-first into the cockpit, which isn’t the
most dignified of entries. The cabin is cosy but classy and (mostly)
comfortable, with BMW’s austere but luxurious interior design, instruments
and switches. An analogue power indicator in the driver’s instrument
binnacle shows electric motor input/output and a battery-charge meter. The
gearlever is entirely conventional, with Drive and Sport positions and
steering-wheel paddles.

The front seats are supportive, but not entirely comfy for taller drivers. The
rear seats are vestigial, accommodating small children and luggage, and the
154-litre boot will swallow one airline carry on and gets pretty warm.

The i8’s drivetrain, electronically-assisted steering and wishbone
front/multilink rear suspension are hung off the subframes. The main power
comes from a souped-up Mini engine, a 228bhp/236lb ft, 1.5-litre, turbo
three-cylinder which sits across the back and drives the rear wheels through
a six-speed automatic transmission.

Swooping flying buttresses dominate the rear view

Under the middle of the cabin are the fuel tank and the 220lb, 7.1kWh
lithium-ion battery pack, warranted for eight years and 62,000 miles.
Between the front wheels is BMW’s 129bhp/184lb ft AC electric motor driving
the front wheels via a two-speed transmission. That allows the i8 to be not
just fast, but also to accelerate briskly. To prevent the instant torque of
the electric front end dominating the petrol-powered rear, the engine is
assisted by a 13bhp/74lb ft starter/motor/generator to help spool up the
twin-scroll turbocharger.

There are myriad driving modes, with Comfort the default setting, where unless
you’ve pressed the hold button the system will drain the battery to about 30
per cent charge then juggle gasoline and volts to maintain it at around that
state. E mode uses only the front electric motor and the 5kWh of available
charge for up to 22 miles and 75mph. Sport uses both power sources at full
boost, even using the petrol engine to drag the electric motor to recharge
the battery, which is spectacularly inefficient but maintains enough charge
to give a kick in the back if required. Not that the i8 kicks for long if
you’re really on it, which is why BMW hasn’t produced a lap time for the
12.8-mile Nordschleife circuit at the Nürburgring in Germany.

Since we drove the prototype last year, BMW has attended to the noise
criticisms to give it a more throaty idle by picking up the exhaust noise
and broadcasting it though the cabin’s loudspeakers. It’s a bit
over-enthusiastic at times.

After a polyphonic whoosh to indicate the systems are go, the preferred
take-off in town is in electric-only mode and the i8 whines softly through
Beverley Hills. The Bridgestone Potenza tyres are noisy and don’t have the
finest ride quality – occasionally the rear uncomfortably pogos on regular
bumps, although expansion joints and potholes are relatively subdued.

The interior features BMW’s austere but luxurious interior design and
instrumentation

On the Pacific Coast Highway the warbling, growling three-pot starts and gives
relaxed cruising and a decent turn of speed, although standing starts tail
off after an initial heady electric-motor rush and the i8 never feels quite
as fast as the 4.4sec 0-62mph claim. On the twisting roads first impressions
are that the dynamics, with the lowest centre of gravity of any BMW, are
pretty sound. The i8 corners flat and fast with some feedback to the major
controls and a supple ride quality.

It’s not all perfect, however. The steering is well weighted but feels a bit
woolly, lacking front-end bite, and while the power-split system between
internal combustion and electric
motors means the i8 turns into corners as a rear-drive car, there’s a
strange understeer halfway around a turn and no torque vectoring to pull the
front around.

There’s also a geartrain-protecting half-second delay to the throttle
actuation, which doesn’t help, and while the tyres seldom relinquish grip
they howl when pressing on and lend a strange imbalance to the chassis.
Perhaps it’s the tyres, maybe the inherent weight and complication of the
hybrid system, or BMW’s fetish for chassis control settings (which
inevitably leave you in the wrong one), but there’s a puzzling lack of
sharpness in the i8.

The i8 corners flat and fast and has a supple ride quality

In addition the brakes, which have the finest balance of regeneration and
friction braking we’ve yet experienced, are spongy when warm, which adds to
the impression of imprecision.

Clearly the 113mpg EU economy claim is ludicrous and Carsten Breitfeld, the i
Project head, is candid about the real consumption. He says that without a
recharge, i8 economy will be about twice that of an M3 – say 40mpg. We
achieved 52.2mpg in a throttle-caressing cruise and 27.3mpg driving hard
through the canyons. So, however much its owners may boast, those working
folk on the bus are producing a lot less CO2.

I wanted to like the i8 so very much. It is truly impressive and special, as
well being a gorgeous landmark car, yet its puzzling imprecision means that
it falls just short of being a great drive.

THE FACTS

BMW i8

Tested: Hybrid coupé with 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine, six-speed auto
transmission, rear-wheel drive and electric motor driving the front wheels

Price/on sale: From £99,845/July

Power/torque: 357bhp/420lb ft

Top speed: Limited to 155mph

Range: 375 miles (22 miles electric only)

Recharge time: Two hours (UK domestic supply)

Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.4sec

Fuel economy: 135mpg EU Combined (52.2-27.3mpg on test)

CO2 emissions: 49g/km

VED band: A (£0)

Verdict: Terrific, innovative car that sets down a marker for sporting
hybrids. Looks wonderful, but it’s too expensive and while it handles well
it’s not sharp enough to be a great sports car

Telegraph rating: Four out of five stars

RIVALS

Audi
R8 electric, no prices yet

A built-to-order battery-electric model is expected next year as part of an
all-new R8 range of mid-engined two-seaters. Audi’s head of research, Ulrich
Hackenberg, is claiming a range of about 280 miles.

Volkswagen
XL-1
, from £82,000

VW’s meisterwerke emerged from a project decreed by former chairman Ferdinand
Piech in the late Nineties. Carbon-fibre construction, but totally
concentrated on saving fuel with a warbling 800cc twin-cylinder diesel –
amazing, but quite slow.

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