BMW i8 review

Our Rating: 
5
5.0/5.0
2014 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The BMW i8 is a revolutionary plug-in supercar with incredible performance and economy

For: 
Stunning looks styling, low running costs, strong performance
Against: 
Cramped rear seats, road noise, Small boot

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The BMW i8 can lay claim to being the most important new supercar for a generation. Featuring jaw-dropping looks and a hi-tech plug-in petrol-electric drivetrain, the innovative BMW electric car sets new standards for performance and efficiency.

It’s the second model in BMW’s electric ‘i’ models, following on from the bold BMW i3 family car. Like its smaller sister car, the i8 benefits from head-turning looks and advanced lightweight construction. That means you get an aluminium chassis that’s clothed in carbon fibre reinforced plastic body panels, that are both strong and light. Yet while the BMW looks incredible, it’s the engineering under the skin that’ll really grab your attention.

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Despite being aimed at high performance rivals such as the Porsche 911 and Audi R8, the i8 has nothing more exotic than a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine mounted behind the rear seats, However, thanks to the addition of a powerful 129bhp electric motor linked to lithium ion batteries, the BMW boasts a healthy combined power output of 357bhp and a thumping 570Nm of torque. As a result, the i8 will blasted from 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds and go on to a top speed of 155mph. Yet while the performance figures are pure supercar, the i8’s running costs have more in common with a supermini.

Thanks to its plug-in petrol-electric powerplant, the i8 claims a remarkable 134.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 49g/km. Of course, these figures are only really achievable if you charge the BMW’s batteries once a day and the majority of your journeys can be completed within the 22 mile electric range. Even so, use the petrol engine all the time and you can still expect a return of more than 40mpg, which is impressive when you consider the available performance.

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Raw statistics aside, the i8 represents a sea change in the engineering of higher performance vehicles. It seems likely that one day all new sports cars will be like this.

Styling

4.9

The BMW i8 looks absolutely stunning whichever colour and wheel combination you go for. The narrow LED headlights (optionally available with laser technology, which delivers an even more penetrating and bright beam pattern than the standard car), elegant curves, spaceship-style rear lights and distinctive flying buttresses all make for a low-slung car with more presence than almost anything else on the road.

As a result, you’ll need to get used to being the centre of attention, because the i8 us a car that attracts a constant stream of camera phone wielding car fans. The BMW is available in a variety of colours, including silver, white, blue and black, with the latter the most understated. That’s because it does without the contrasting panels (such as in the bonnet) that come on the other. You can also choose between neat silver or blue trim detailing for areas such as the familiar double kidney front grille.

BMW i8 UK rear

Open one of the i8’s jaw-dropping dihedral gullwing doors and you’ll discover an interior that’s every bit as stylish as the exterior. It’s not quite as futuristic as the smaller i3’s, but the wraparound dashboard is slickly designed and dominated by a pair of 8.8-inch HD screens - the unit in front of the driver displays the speedo, rev-counter and energy use dials, while the centrally-mounted display is for the sat-nav and infotainment functions.

Better still, quality is top notch, with excellent fit and finish and top-notch plastics. As with the smaller i3, recycled and sustainable materials are used throughout. It’s very well equipped, too. Sat-nav, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and heated seats all feature, while the high-backed seats are finished in leather. Buyers can also upgrade the materials and leather by opting for either the £1,150 Carpo or £2,150 Halo interior ‘world’ finishes.

Driving

4.2

A three-cylinder-engined sportscar doesn’t sound like the most thrilling prospect in the world, but thanks to the assistance of an electric motor, the i8 feels every bit as quick as an Audi R8. Officially, 0-62mph takes 4.4 seconds, but because you have the instant torque of the electric motor, it actually feels a lot faster in the real world. It doesn’t matter what gear you’re in, the i8 responds instantly to every prod of the throttle.

Keep it in Comfort or Eco Pro mode and the i8 will try and run on electric power alone, which it can do for about 22 miles and at speeds of up to 45mph. Using just the electric motor, you’ll find acceleration comparable to a hot hatch. The eco-friendly eDrive setting gives you pure electric running for the same range, but raises the maximum speed to 75mph.

Slot the gearlever to the left into Sport mode you get the petrol engine running all the time, the full output from the electric motor and firmer settings for the dampers and more aggressive power steering. Flooring the throttle in this mode gives you a smooth and muscular surge of acceleration, accompanied by a sci-fi whine from the electric motor and a deep, throaty growl from the three-cylinder engine – clever tuning means that it sounds a little like a Porsche flat-six, particularly in Sport mode when the electronically enhanced soundtrack is turned up to 11. Adding to the sensation of speed is the six-speed automatic gearbox, which delivers seamless changes to create the illusion of an uninterrupted wave of acceleration.

BMW i8 UK action

Guide the i8 through a series of bends and it feels light on its feet, with barely any body roll and a crisp response from the fingertip-light steering. Unlike some rivals that feel as if they are pummelling the road into submission, the BMW is more delicate and measured, requiring only small inputs from the driver.

Once you’re actually in the corner, you’ll find the i8 isn’t quite as engaging or as adjustable as a 911 or Audi R8, but it’s seriously capable nonetheless.

Thanks to the standard adaptive dampers ride comfort is pretty good, while the BMW’s aerodynamic styling – it boasts a drag coefficient of just 0.26 – means there’s very little wind noise. However, despite its skinny tyres, the i8 generates quite a bit of road roar – although it’s no worse than a Porsche 911.

Reliability

4

With such a lot of new technology on board it’s tempting to be cautious about the i8’s reliability. To help put your mind at ease, though, the basic layout of this three-cylinder engine has already been seen in the latest MINI line-up, plus BMW’s 2 Series Active Tourer MPV.

Electric motors are, on the whole, very reliable because of their relative lack of moving parts, while the regeneration from the motor puts less strain on the brake pads over time. However, for extra peace of mind BMW covers the battery pack with a comprehensive eight year and 100,000 miles warranty – the rest of the car is covered by the firm’s standard three-year guarantee.

With the carbon fibre body we’re expecting safety to be excellent, especially considering the front, side and curtain airbags fitted as standard. The battery is also well protected by a crash structure and BMW is saying that repair costs are normal for the class, despite the hi-tech construction.

Practicality

2.8

The BMW i8 is supposedly a 2+2 but you only get a pair of seriously upright, legroom-limited seats in the back – no one will thank you for squeezing them in there for a long journey. Even sall children will find the conditions cramped. In fact, it’s best to think of them as extra storage space.

It has to be said that the scissor-opening doors aren’t the most practical way of getting in and out, either, but the drama that they add to proceedings is definitely a price worth paying. And while the long doors look heavy, the combination of lightweight construction and powerful gas struts mean that you never have to break a sweat when getting in and out

There is a boot in the under the glass hatch at the rear, but it’s cramped - you can fit a couple of weekend bags in, but don’t expect to be carting around large suitcases.

BMW i8 front seats

As a plug-in hybrid, the i8 does without the range anxiety of traditional electric cars. With a 32-litre fuel tank onboard it can theoretically cover just over 300 miles on a full charge and with a full tank.  Plug into a domestic power socket and you’ll get an 80 percent charge in around three hours, while fitting a BMW home charging station will reduce the charge time to two hours, while BMW’s £315 15-amp iWallbox reduces the charge time to two hours. Once fully charged, the i8 can travel around 20 miles on electric power alone, while careful use of the regenerative braking system should increase the range

Even so, BMW understands its buyers don’t want any compromises and so option of borrowing a traditional BMW for longer journeys or family holidays. The scheme involves owners being handed an annual allocation of points that can be redeemed against other cars in the brand’s line-up.

Running Costs

3.8

The i8’s official figures of 135mpg and 49g/km are a little unachievable in the real world, but you’ll definitely improve on what you’d get from a 911 or an R8. During our time with the car we returned nearly 40mpg, a figure that included plenty of hard driving. However, as with all plug-in models, the running costs will depend very much on how you use the car. If you use the car for a short daily commute and have access to a charging point, then you could save thousands at the pumps. And the savings don’t end there.

Company car buyers will also benefit, with the i8 currently sitting in a 5% BIK band, meaning company car tax could be as low as £998 per year. For 2015/16 and 2016/17, the i8 will shift up to a 9% band and then an 11% band but that still significantly undercuts traditional sports car rivals.

And as you’d expect from BMW there’s a great value servicing pack, with a one of payment of £1,000 covering all routine maintenance for five years. Even better, our experts expect the i8 to retain around 55 percent of its new value after three years.

Last updated: 27 Oct, 2014
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