2015 BMW i8 Review

The future has arrived – stop dreaming, start believing, this is the next generation’s pin-up car

By Shahzad Sheikh

2015 BMW i8

What’s that you say? 5.0? V12? Or 707bhp? Nah, you get none of those today. Not for your AED625,000 ($170k). Instead I bring you intelligent technology, cutting-edge craft and a glimpse into 2050, when petrol-only cars will be banned and governments are replaced by RoboNet (a benign robotised  operating system that tries to bring to peace to humanity before giving up – a precursor to SkyNet of course).

So come with me if you want to drive – because soon this will be the only way. And hey, it’s not all bad, I mean look at it. Well everyone else was as we were driving it around northern Italy – just think about that for a moment: we were in Ferrari and Lamborghini territory, people are used to seeing home-grown exotics, but heads were turning, camera phones were clicking and hands were waving in appreciation as we glided past in this thing with its faux signature kidney grille and famed blue-and-white propeller roundel. Another victory for Germany?

2015 BMW i8

But then it does look a bit like an off-planet arrival. Not since the BMW M1 of the 1970s has the Bavarian builder of premium sporty cars produced something as sexy and scintillating as this. Wedge-tastic with cohesive proportions, it has sharp edges that somehow meld in harmony with extraordinary curves, that in turn jest playfully with ambient light wrapping and twisting it about its exotically made body.

There’s vertical flying buttresses that serve little purpose (forget what the engineers tell you about downforce and all that) other than they look amazingly cool, and there are nooks and crannies and inlets that will be a nightmare to clean, but you won’t care. My only disappointment is that they had to drop the translucent doors of the original concept due to safety legislation – otherwise this is more concept car than most concepts cars.

2015 BMW i8

And unlike most concept cars it works. It’s a full production car with a BMW durability, reliability and performance guaranteed. But before we get into it and take it for a long drive through the beautiful Milanese countryside, here’s some facts you need to know about the incredible plug-in hybrid supercar in our 2015 BMW i8 review.

Video Walkaround

Scroll down for a bonus video review of the BMW i3 electric and range-extender electric city car.

2015 BMW i8 – The Facts

  • Under that dramatic skin is a carbon fibre passenger cell mated to an aluminium chassis that holds the drive train. It has an incredibly low air resistance drag value of just 0.26Cd.
  • It’s a two plus two, with rear bench seats, scissor doors, and a small luggage compartment behind the engine in the back. The car weighs just 1485kg with a 50:50 front and rear weight ratio. It has the lowest centre of gravity of any BMW just at 45cm off the ground.
  • Mounted mid-ship behind the rear seats is a small 1.5-litre three-cylinder twin turbo motor mated to a six speed automatic driving the rear wheels. It produces 231bhp and 236lb ft of torque.
  • At the front is an electric motor putting out 96kW – 131bhp – and 184lb ft driving the front wheels through a two-speed auto, and juiced by a bank of lithium-ion batteries ensconced in the central tunnel. The electric motor gives you full torque instantly from standstill. The first gear ranges from 0-120kph and the second is for 121-250kph.

2015 BMW i8

  • Combined horsepower is 363bhp. It has a top speed of 250kph (upto 120kph on electric power only) and will accelerate from 0-100kph in 4.4seconds. Combined fuel economy is 2.1L/100km with emissions of just 49g/km. On electric charge alone it can go 37km, but total range is up to 600km. Pushed hard it’s still expected to consume less that 12L/100km (we average 8.9 on the test).
  • It takes three hours to charge the electric motor at home, two with a special BMW fast phase box. You can also get a solar charging station (see i3 video below).
  • No e-diff, but double-wishbone front axle and a five-link rear axle with electric power steering and dynamic damper control. It gets 20-inch light alloy wheels as standard, though there are four different designs available.
  • There are front and side airbags, ISOFIX child seat anchors, tyre pressure monitor, reversing camera, hardened glass between the passenger compartment and the rear engine/luggage bay, surround view, driving aids, and Harman Kardon sound system. Industry-first laser headlights are available as an option.

2015 BMW i8

Inside the BMW i8

Open the scissor doors, and you find quite a narrow opening through which to slide into the bucket front seats – but then such is the way with exotic cars anyway. Once inside, there’s a cool instrument panel display, heads-up readout and a swoopy curved dashboard with a broad centre console with two storage boxes and a cupholder, to make up for the small glovebox and lack of door pockets (everything would just fall out anyway!). The pinnacle hood is stylised and the steering wheel is nicely finished with contrasting highlights.

2015 BMW i8

The seating position is very good though and the ergonomics excellent. There are a couple of rear seats, but they’re more like padded benches, and only kids would tolerate them for anything but the shortest journeys. They’re better thought of as an extended rear cargo area, and indeed BMW partnered with Louis Vuitton to create bespoke fitted luggage to fit not only in the small boot behind the rear engine, but also on the back seats themselves.

2015 BMW i8

However as delightful and dramatic as this interior is, it doesn’t quite match the radical exterior styling. It’s faithful to the concept in terms of the overall lines, but relatively conservative in its materials, instruments and switchgear. Yes it gets the mood lighting, but where is the startling clarity of design, the innovative detail – and where are my goddamn holographic displays?! If Tom Cruise can have them…

Driving the BMW i8

But it’s all about the experience with this car isn’t it? Press the start button and… well… nothing actually happens. It just tells you it’s ready to move off. But it won’t let you do that if the door is open. I find that annoying for no real reason. The Mercedes SLS let’s you do it, and you can pretend you’re flying. But as we’ve already stated, this is an exotic that conforms to legislations and common sense safety.

2015 BMW i8

It has three driving modes, the first of which is pure electric, which you won’t use because you won’t get very far, but it’s nice for quietly gliding around town in, and perfect for the surveillance specialist, not that someone like that would drive an eye-popping car like this, unless it’s a modern day Thomas Magnum, PI.

Then there is the regular mode in which most owners who will drive this car. It automatically chooses the optimum mode for the occasion and the driving style and is able to switch between electric and petrol imperceptibly. Thankfully BMW resisted the temptation to give the i8 endless configurability like its M-cars, which just leave everyone confused. This has just three modes.

2015 BMW i8

Move the gear lever across to the left and you put it in Sports mode. Give it full-throttle off the line and it employs the amazing torque of the electric motor combined with that petrol engine – which also sees use in the new Mini Cooper by the way, but in a much detuned state. You have strong acceleration that will blitz most sportscars to 100kph, getting there in 4.4 seconds.

The ride is very firm, and it doesn’t shy away from transmitting the vagaries of the road surface directly to your posterior. It’s planted though and there is plenty of grip from the all-wheel drive.

2015 BMW i8

Push on out of town and you wish for some more feel in the steering. Initially you get understeer, and you can actually feel the engine management system juggling between the disparate powertrains and transmissions and there’s a type of torque-vectoring effect as it automatically manages the available grip at each corner to pull the car around a bend. There is hardly any oversteer, and the limits aren’t beyond comprehension, so a keen driver can exploit the car once  its electronic nuances are understood a bit better.

Verdict

The technology is amazing, the looks are stunning, and if you wanted an example of what sportscars will be like in the close future, this is it right here. Judged by those standards this is the template for all sportscars from this point onwards. Judged by contemporary standards the car is a little harder to come to reconcile.

The car’s mid-engined balance and lightweight chassis with the low centre of gravity are all a recipe for sporting greatness. And this undoubtedly is a wonderful car to drive – quick and exciting enough to satisfy most discerning owners.

2015 BMW i8

But when you start to realise that it’s possible to buy the exquisite Alfa Romeo 4C for about half the money – one of the most visceral and exciting sports of the moment – and that if you really need the rear pretend pews you can have the Lotus Evora S for well over AED200k less – again enthralling and so much more alive in your hands – then you may well gulp at the i8’s asking price.

Or if it’s performance and power you seek, the 455bhp Corvette Stingray is again about 50% the money, and at the AED600k mark you could also buy the range-topping Audi R8 V10 Plus, the mad-dog SRT Viper, and AED50k less will buy you a Porsche 911 Turbo.

2015 BMW i8

Viewed against this landscape of supreme and established exotica, the BMW i8’s compelling curves have to work a lot harder to keep your attention focused on it. However this is a sportscar for the contrary car enthusiasts, the one with a direct debit to Greenpeace, the one who wants to have his cake and eat it with a clear conscience. It is for the driver that wants to make a statement: fast, stylish fun comes at a price, but not one that belittles our planet’s precious resources.

Bonus video review – BMW i3

2015 BMW i8 – The Specs

Price: AED625k ($170k)
Engine:
Front electric motor, 131bhp, 184lb ft
Mid-mounted 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, 231bhp, 236lb ft
Total output 363bhp
Performance: 0-100kph 4.4secs, 250kph, 2.1L/100km
Transmission: Combined all-wheel drive
Front wheels 2-speed auto, rear wheels 6-speed auto with paddles
Weight: 1485kg

Hope you enjoyed our 2015 BMW i8 review – let us know what you think of the car below

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