Earlier this month, BMW celebrated their 100th birthday. So, I thought this would be the ideal time to revisit what I think is the best vehicle this company has ever made; the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car.
I wrote about the i8 briefly in my “15 Best Cars Of 2015” list (published by The Weekly Voice), in which the i8 was placed on the top spot. Not only was it clearly the most impressive car I had driven last year, but is perhaps the single best car I have ever driven!
The reason I like it so much is simple, the i8 offers everything you’d want from an exotic sports car. If you’re the type who is into posing, trust me, nothing gets attention out on the road quite like the i8. This vehicle turns more heads than Gigi Hadid – probably.
Open its swan-wing doors and you’re greeted by a very civilized interior that offers all the technology one expects from a luxury car. If you want a great sound system, along with the best navigation system, space, comfort, etc., etc., the i8 has plenty to offer in all those areas. While some might point out that the back seats of this 2+2 sports car might not be ideal for transporting normal sized humans, they are quite handy for when you have to throw in some shopping or groceries – after all, its actual trunk is not exactly commodious.
So, if you’re looking for a vehicle to deliver large packages in, the i8 is not the car for you. However, if you’re looking for a technological wonder car that amazes not only for its futuristic looks, but also impresses with its drivetrain and driving dynamics, then keep reading, because this is where the i8 really shines.
BMW has shown in the past, that it doesn’t quite care to follow what others are doing – they like doing things their own way. Hence, back in 2000, when their competitors were making half-a-million dollar supercars that could tear up any tarmac, BMW opted to do a elegant, two-seat convertible that would allow one to savour every mile – rather than destroy it. I’m referring to the Z8 here, a car that had enough get up and go to get you to your destination on time, but wasn’t made to set the world on fire..
In the last few years, Ferrari, Porsche, and McLaren have produced plug-in hybrid supercars that cost well over $1-million, and feature massive engines with little electric assistance – BMW took an entirely different approach.
First of all, the i8 doesn’t cost millions of dollars to buy, in fact, its base price is far more reasonable at $150,000. Sure, that is still a lot of money to spend on a car for most of us, but the i8 is far more attainable than the LaFerrari, 918 Spyder, and P1 I mentioned in the last paragraph.
Part of the reason the i8 is not nearly as expensive as the other plug-in hybrid performance cars, its that BMW used a far more economical drivetrain. Rather than having your hybrid supercar use twin-turbo V8s, or V12 gas engines; the i8 makes do with a three-cylinder gas engine. It is a 1.5L motor that is turbocharged – essentially the same motor you’ll find in a 2016 MINI Cooper – although it is tweaked to produce 231 hp, powering the rear wheels.
But that’s not all. powering the front wheels are two electric motors that combine to give 131 hp. When the i8’s lithium-ion battery pack is charged up, you can drive this car purely in electric mode for about 24 km. Furthermore, the battery pack gets charged up every time the car is braking or even coasting, and if you’re cruising around in “Sport” mode; that charges the batteries also.
On top of all this, there is a six-horsepower electric motor mounted to the drivetrain at the back, that sort of fills in for any gaps in power delivery – this is very clever stuff – and as a result, the i8, despite having only a reasonable combined power output of 362 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, performs better than many vehicles with much more power.
It comes down to how the system is tuned, and how it all translates when you put your foot down. I was very skeptical before I jumped in, as to how good the i8 can be, after all, I’m usually all for simple, lightweight sports cars that have lots of go power (hence I typically like anything that comes out of Lotus Cars). But, when you have the i8 in “Sport” mode, and are on a deserted stretch of tarmac, and you decide to put your foot down, you’ll discover that it performs every bit as well as you’d want a car that looks like this, to. In fact, it performed better than I expected.
I was amazed by how punchy this drivetrain in, and how every twitch of your toe equates to faster propulsion. On top of it all, it even sounds amazing. Sure, there is some digital science helping the car sound better than it should, but that is just part of the i8 formula, using technology to not only help the planet, but also to revive the driver’s soul.
It is not a car for the numbers folks however, because they’ll say that other $150,000 sports cars can cover the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h faster than 4.4 seconds, and have top speeds far north of 250 km/h. But, the i8 isn’t for them – it is for those who appreciate smart engineering solutions. I think these numbers are incredible for a car that also averaged 6.0L/100km during my test.
For instance; hybrids, and plug-in hybrid vehicles have generally been very slow and heavy. BMW went around that issue by making the i8 mostly out of carbon-fibre and plastics – this ensures that not only the car will be very rigid, but also very light, and as a bonus, won’t ever rust. They used more smarts on the battery pack. It is cheaper to fit a car with lead-acid battery packs, but they weigh a lot more, and don’t deliver the electric range a lithium-ion battery pack does; hence the i8 uses the latter.
A key feature of any sports car is its ability to handle corners like its on rails. Typically you’ll achieve that by fitting the car with heavy springs and dampers, and tires as wide as garden rollers. BMW had other ideas. Since the chassis is so rigid, the i8 doesn’t need stiff suspension, so it rides well. Since it is light (it weighs just 1,567 kg), and has intelligent all-wheel drive – which works by combining its gas and electric motors for propulsion – the i8 doesn’t need big fat tires to help it handle – this car just flows through the bends due to its clever set up using 215/45 R20 tires in the front, and 245/40 R20 tires in the rear. BMW also somehow managed to give an electric power steering system lots of feel, so you’re not guessing as to what the front wheels are doing.
Like I said before, the i8 is an incredible machine, a car that not only deserved the top spot on my ‘car of the year’ list, but also the greatest vehicle built by one of the best auto manufacturers on the planet. Happy 100th birthday BMW, I can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with next.