BMW i8 vs The Real World

Looks like the sports car of the future but does it actually drive like one? Take two in the BMW i8

The ‘real world’ offering in the rarified league of carbon fibre petrol-electric sports cars, the BMW i8 is no P1, LaFerrari or 918 Spyder in performance terms. Not that anyone who sees it seems to care. Indeed, while all of the above could slip by innocent bystanders as ‘just’ normal supercars the i8 has star quality in spades and is so obviously something new and different even non-car folk seem genuinely awe-struck.

Star quality that extends to whomever happens to be at the wheel too – pull up kerbside and by the time you open that carbon butterfly door you’ll have a small crowd and camera phone paparazzi waiting to hang on your every word about the driving experience. Crave the quiet life? Not the car for you…

That £99K starting price is interesting too, pitching the i8 directly into the line of sight of the serial 911 buyer who, just might, be looking for something a bit different or eying up electric friendly grants and congestion charging for driving to that City office block. Tempting as the F-Types, R8s, Merc-AMG GTs and similar alternatives at this price might be they all look a little dinosaur-like in the company of the i8, which achieves that rare thing of being incredibly expensive, exotic, unashamedly performance focused and yet totally socially acceptable too.

The IT crowd

Harris drove the i8 in the sympathetic surroundings of California and Matt had a go up in the wilds of Scotland but for this test we used the i8 in more everyday surroundings, hacking the daily commute and heading up the M1 for a meeting in the way anyone might use a ‘normal’ sports car like a 911. Electrically plumbed parking spaces at the office meant a chance to charge the battery for maximum EV goodness but the rest of the time it was just a case of jumping in and using it like any other test car.

First thought? Getting anywhere near that official 134.5mpg is going to require your very lightest loafers, the best the PH clogs could achieve being less than half that on a mixed commute of stop-start motorway traffic and a bit of urban crawl. OK, so it was winter and we’re soft enough to want heated seats on in addition to the rather more compulsory lights, wipers and similar. Still impressive for a 362hp sports car, not so much for a supposed eco champion even driven in a style intended to maximise regenerative charging opportunities and minimise intervention from the 1.5-litre petrol engine.

An inbound journey with barely any battery saw 45mpg; the return fully charged had the trip showing 99mpg running on mainly electric for the first five miles of urban driving before dropping to a less impressive mid 50s once on dual carriageways and motorway. Dig deeper into the i8 literature and these are actually more representative of BMW’s official expectations. Funnily enough that triple-digit combined figure has rather drowned that out though. There are tricks to be learned – following a tip from the delivery driver we enjoyed the fact Sport mode that keeps the petrol engine engaged also does an excellent job of charging the battery. A rather more sophisticated answer can be found by programming your route into the nav, whereupon the computers analyse the profile and calculates where to use petrol power, where to switch to electric and where the best re-gen opportunities may lie. Clever stuff.

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