Mark Jones
Road Test Editor
7 minute read
22 Feb 2015
3:00 pm

The new BMW i8

Mark Jones

I have to be completely upfront here, this was no easy road test to write.

The stuff millionaires are made of. Picture: BMW

Sure, this is the premium sports car showing us the way of the future. It is a R1 755 000 BMW i8 that comes with just about every luxury fitted as standard kit.

How hard can it be? Go out, drive the car, and simply tell everybody what you experienced. But there are so many things I had to consider while writing this test and I am going to do my best to talk them all through with you.

Perhaps I should start with the hype and interest around the car. It was off the charts, I could not go anywhere in the i8 without people swarming around the car. So from that point of view, BMW have achieved their objective of people noticing they have done something different.

But it is not just different for the sake of being different, with its ultra-dynamic proportions, elegantly sporty lines and low-slung silhouette, it is also the world’s first sports car to be purpose-built with sustainability in mind from vision to reality.

The BMW i8 also backs up the show by featuring LifeDrive architecture developed specifically for BMW i, with a passenger cell made from carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP), an advanced drive system technology, high-voltage battery power, dynamic chassis control, crash and structural functions integrated into the aluminium Drive module along, with a kerb weight of just 1 485kg, a drag coefficient of 0.26 and a very low centre of gravity of less than 460mm for that much sought after well-balanced weight distribution.

You also get “suicide” doors that open upwards for that extra wow factor when you arrive anywhere, and full LED headlights and LED rear lights as standard, with laser lights becoming available as an option from November 2015 production and on the floor at your i Dealer from January 2016 to announce your presence on the road in no uncertain terms.

Sliding inside the i8, and I say slide because typical of a real sports car getting in and down low in the car is not an elegant affair. But once inside, you feel well and truly cocooned and ready to hit the road in the best that BMW has to offer.

The stuff millionaires are made of. Picture: BMW

The stuff millionaires are made of. Picture: BMW

On board, as I said earlier, almost everything is standard fitment like BMW Head Up Display, Navigation System Professional with proactive drive management for all-electric driving, fully digital instrument display for content and presentation formats that adapt according to the driving mode with 3D graphics, two-zone automatic climate control, BMW iDrive with freestanding 10.25 inch Control Display and Touch Controller, leather sports steering wheel with multifunction buttons, electrically adjustable leather sports seats and a leather-trimmed instrument panel.

Of course, you can still spend a few rands on extras, such as the DriveAssist package with High Beam Assist, rear view camera, Surround View, Speed Limit Info display and Collision and Pedestrian Warning with City Braking function. Internet access comes with more standard features that include Intelligent Emergency Call, BMW ConnectedDrive Services with Concierge Service and Real Time Traffic Information. Mobility services developed specifically for BMW i, include

BMW i Remote app and BMW TeleServices.

But that is the steak so to speak, what about the sizzle? I wish I could say you punch the start button and the i8 fires up with a raucous bark like a sports car should. It doesn’t. It merely indicates to you on the instrument cluster that the car is on and ready to go. In absolute silence.

Using the Driving Experience Control switch and eDrive button allows you to choose from various driving modes that see a claimed range of up to 37km on electric power alone in the EU test cycle and a top speed of 120km/h, to a Comfort mode that offers a nice everyday balance between dynamics and efficiency and claims a combined range of up to 600km – again in the EU test cycle; and a Sport mode with added boost function provided by the electric motor and systematic energy recuperation for the high-voltage battery, with Eco Pro doing duty in both all-electric mode and hybrid mode.

Staying on the technical side of things, the lithium-ion high-voltage battery can be recharged when stationary from any conventional domestic power socket via the BMW i Wallbox and the charging process can be monitored and controlled remotely by means of the BMW i Remote app available on your smartphone.

Right about now, I started with my battle to figure out which mode I would use, if I were to own this i8 as an everyday car and not just as a brief road test offering. And then how it would be best to give you a realistic idea of the actual fuel consumption I was achieving because the claim of 2.1 litres/100km on average seemed too good to be true.

So first things first, no matter how long I left the i8 on charge, the best range it offered me on electricity alone was 30km. I am not sure why. And because I could and with a lot of restraint – because who wants to drive such a sexy car slowly and in silent mode? – I used electric power only for doing the morning school run and going to gym and I used no fuel.

The stuff millionaires are made of. Picture: BMW

The stuff millionaires are made of. Picture: BMW

So that fuel number was 0.0 litres/ 100km, but there is a cost to the electricity you consume charging the car.

I did my best to figure it all out, but the onboard computer said I was using 6kWh of electricity in this mode and by my calculations that would be about R6 per hour, which is a whole lot cheaper than petrol per hour.

For basic cruising around on the highway and stuff when the battery had charged, the fuel consumption figure averaged out at 6.9 litres/100km and this is the number I felt was most representative. But when you switched to Sport mode and the petrol engine started to aggressively charge the battery and you made liberal use of the power on tap, the fuel consumption numbers went easily up to 10.0 litres/100km and beyond and the battery average usage fell to under 3kWh.

So exactly what fuel consumption figure you will get will depend on how you make use of the power options available to you and that is the end of that.

Getting to make full use of the potent and rather sweet sounding 170kW/320Nm three-cylinder 1.5 litre petrol engine that powers the back wheels and the 96kW/ 250Nm electric motor that drives the front wheels through a six-speed Steptronic transmission results in rapid forward motion when combined.

To be honest, this gearbox felt dated and it is not the sharpest or fastest shifting unit in BMWs tool shed, but for everyday use it is fine and with launch control utilised the i8 still ran off a 0-100km/h time of 4.49 seconds, rushed to the quarter mile mark in a quick 12.79 seconds and crossed the 1km mark at 231.17km/h before hitting its self-imposed electronic speed limiter at 250km/h.

The in gear acceleration times between 60 and 100km/h, 80 and 120km/h and 100 to 200km/h are equally good at 2.28 seconds, 2.89 seconds and 12.07 seconds respectively.

All round, I was impressed with the amount of instant urge available when you floored the accelerator.

Obviously this is dependent on the amount of battery charge available, but the i8 does a great job of keeping the battery on the boil when you are away from a wall socket, so this is not an issue, like with other hybrid vehicles I have tested.

Handling was firm and sporty thanks to sophisticated chassis technology featuring a double-wishbone front axle and a five-link rear axle along with Electric Power Steering and Dynamic Damper Control as standard. Even with this technology onboard and mixed size 20-inch wheels under the car, the relative narrowness, for the sake of efficiency, of the tyres married to a slight bit of understeer when pushed hard ensured the handling was good, but not razor sharp.

In wrapping up, the BMW i8 comes with a two-year/unlimited mileage warranty and a five-year comprehensive full inclusive maintenance plan and eight-year/ 100 000km battery warranty to complete a very complete and exclusive package that is showing the way of the future.