July 29, 2014

BMW i8: a quick glimpse into the future

I was fortunate enough to get a test drive of the BMW i8 but I'll say right off the bat it was not anywhere near long or in conditions varied enough for me  to offer a complete opinion so I won't pretend to offer a review.   But I did get enough seat time for some initial impressions.

Earlier in the week, on the Axis Facebook page,  I had asked what readers were most interested in knowing about the new hybrid  BMW.   Most replied they were curious about sound and brake pedal feel.  Clearly our readers are as mental as we are but I can reassure them, the i8 brakes and makes noises!

But more on that later.

The first impression of the car is that it manages to be look concept car futuristic yet, somehow, perfectly plausible on the road.  Not Lambo crazy but people did stop and snap pictures.
Naturally, dropping  through the exposed carbon fiber that frames the gull wing doors gives a sense of occasion but once inside, you find the familiar layout of a BMW and are immediately at ease.

Driving position is very good, the interior wraps around you but you don't get a feeling of a small tight car.  Visibility is very good, controls where you expect them to be.

Press the start-stop button and  all you hear are some sci-fi electronic sounds.  Slip it into drive with the familiar BMW shifter and off you go in almost total silence.

Now, that may or may not appeal to you but there is no denying it's a pretty cool experience.

When you set off, the i8 behaves exactly like any auto transmission car:  ease off the brake and it starts rolling,  it's no golf cart.   When you're done being green, a push of the gear lever to the left into sport mode changes the dash from blue to red and snaps the little turbo 3 pot to life.

So,  how does it sound?   It sounds pretty cool.  There is a lot of spitting and popping and turbo snap on the off throttle and on shifts,  Sounds something like a slightly more polite Alfa Romeo 4c engine.

It's augmented you say?  OK,  so what,  you probably changed the exhaust to augment the sound of your car, I know I did.   It is just not an issue in real life.  It's not like you feel the sound is coming from the speakers, the source is from behind of your head, pretty much where you would expect it to be.

Does it go?  yeah, this is not a Prius,  it feels about like an M3 in pick up.   Dynamically I can't say much because of the nature of the test I got but in a straight line? Oh yeah, it's got a very satisfying push.    Geashifts are very quick both up and down.
You CAN disable DSC fully but I had no possibility to try any hooligan moves and can't confirm or deny the i8's  power slide credentials.

Steering is light but not as light as in the latest 3 series sedans.

No, in real life it doesn'tt really look like it ate a 911
The ride is calm in regular mode but stiffer than I imagined it would be in sport mode.   I was surprised you cannot choose, say, sport mode with a soft suspension setting but I may have lost that in translation with my BMW France hosts.

Brakes feel 95% like normal BMW brakes, they are a little more grabby than you might expect in the very first part of the travel but then felt just like on an M car.  An odd little wobble after initial application is the only clue something different is happening underfoot, with regeneration and all but I assure you, it's very subtle.

The best party trick the i8 pulls off is in how perfectly seamless the drivetrain is,  There are no jumps, no shudders when the car changes from one mode to the next, even between full electric to full IC.  The brakes and the throttle feel the same in full electric more as they do in all out sports mode.   That must have been incredibly difficult to achieve.

On a practical note, it has a trunk somewhere between a 911 and an Exige, but BMW teamed up with Louis Vuitton for a custom fitted set of luggage to fit in the rear "monkey seats".

So who would want this car?  That's a very interesting question.  For about the same price you could order a Carrera S with all the available performance options, including the $17k power kit.  Or a no option GT3.  Or a Vantage S. Or a Maserati Gran Turismo.
The i8 might be a better GT car than any of those, I'd love to try it on a long trip one day.  Cruise in near silence and then light it up when you feel the need.  Neat trick.

Even if the milage the i8 returns is spectacular, nobody will buy it to save on gas,  they will buy it for the idea of it, to be different and to be first on a road that, eventually, we will all have to travel.
With the i8, BMW has shown that it does not have to be a dull boring road at all.


  1. I got 5 on it! Who's down with me?

    Seriously though this is a telling sign of the long-term issues we haven't been told much about his condition. It makes me a little sad (and more than a touch jealous) thinking how he lived...just calling the airport up to get the plane ready and then off to wherever in a luxury jet with the family or friends.

    Hopefully we'll get more information than 2nd-hand rumors and 'for sale' listings.

  2. Looks like an amatuer effort compared to a Model S.


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