1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder/electric motor. 266kW/570Nm
What's it got: Six airbags; Stability control; Collision-avoidance braking; Parking sensors; Surround-view cameras; Dual-zone climate control; Cruise control; Trip computer; Power heated seats; Auto headlights/wipers; Keyless entry/start; Satellite navigation; CD/DVD/MP3 stereo; Digital radio; Internet; Bluetooth; 20-inch alloys
For the thin strata of society that habitually forks out serious amounts of dough for sporting kit, the value story is less gloomy. While not 911 'cheap', the BMW is really no less attainable than an Audi R8, Maserati GranTurismo or its M6 siblings. With its supercar looks, to-the-minute technology and competitive performance credentials, it doesn't under-deliver at face value.
Nor does it under-deliver on kit. The cabin sports luxuries such as dual-zone climate control, leather, power heated seats and an infotainment system with nearly every possible feature ('i'-specific satellite navigation, Harmon Kardon sound, Bluetooth, digital radio, Internet). Surround-view cameras, head-up display and a low-speed collision-avoidance braking system with pedestrian warning beef up a safety artillery built around the usual airbags and stability control. Options are few and far between by BMW standards. You can have your i8 cabin with different interior trim packages, including seat belts in the company's 'i' shade of blue. Or you could specify BMW's 'i Wallbox Pure' fast-charging system, which allows the i8's batteries to be fully charged in one hour and 45 minutes, down from the two and half hours required from a standard home power outlet.
What's inside?The i8's spectacular scissor-style doors impose a degree of difficulty to access – the sills are high and wide, and the seats are very low. You don't need to be a contortionist but it's not always easy to enter and exit gracefully. It's not an especially practical car, either. Those wild doors obviously can't have pockets, and the small-item storage options that remain (centre console bin, glovebox, a few cupholders) are easily exhausted. Small children will fit in the two back seats (Isofix anchorage points are provided) but it's not a serious proposition for adults, let alone the long-legged. Think of it as a plush luggage space. It will likely have to be used as such because the boot – located behind the petrol engine under a hatch – measures a paltry 154 litres.
Of course, practical compromise is often part and parcel of the supercar thing. And the i8 does serve up an extremely pleasant experience for its two front occupants. The feeling of occasion once ensconced in the evocatively styled surrounds, the seats (which are plush but grip tightly where you need them) and the user-friendliness of the interface (the switchgear, iDrive control system and are all familiar, easy-to-use BMW fare) all see to that. Under the bonnetRather than the usual V8 or screaming six offered in this segment, the i8 has a tiny (1.5 litres) three-cylinder petrol engine in the back (driving the real wheels) and an electric motor in the front (driving the fronts). That might not sound particularly exciting but its 4.4 second 0-100km/h sprint credentials most definitely are. Its 2.1L/100km economy rating is an even more startling headline for this kind of package.
You'd have to be a pretty uncharitable sort not to be impressed by its performance. Set the drivetrain to 'Sport' mode and it draws on all of its combined petrol/electric power to accelerate in one devastatingly effective sweep. Its rolling response – thanks to the instantaneous torque of the electric motor – is almost literally neck-snapping.
There are some things that traditionalists might struggle with. The mandatory six-speed auto is slick, smart and has steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters but obviously isn't engaging in the manner of manual. While the engine makes a suitably impressive sound, it's actually synthetic and comes from expert speaker tuning rather than exhaust tuning. It doesn't always live up to the eco hype either. In purely hard driving its economy averages might just break into double figures. We saw the battery drop from fully charged to nearly empty in just 20-odd km of urban driving in all-electric 'e' mode, making the claimed 37km range look a bit rich.`
Unlike most sports cars, though, it's also capable of really screwing down fuel use when given the opportunity, something our 5.2L/100km average on our combined urban/highway loop – not a match for the claim but still an exceptional figure for a car of such towering performance – illustrates. And we weren't sparing the gas. On the roadAs with the drivetrain, BMW has taken a totally different path here. The i8, with its hybrid system and batteries, should be heavy but the passenger cell is built from carbon fibre reinforced plastic, keeping total weight down to a trim 1485kg. It feels different to drive, too, more detached, more 'digital' than the resolutely analogue experience of something like a Porsche 911. Some of it is due to the ride, which is distinctly supple and relaxed by serious-sports-car standards. Some of it is down to the steering's muted feedback. Some of it down to its balance and the sensation of drive being shifted between front and wheels for most efficient purchase.
All of this, however, just makes the BMW different, not bad. It darts into corners with undisguised enthusiasm, the body stays admirably flat and its front tyres hang on much better than their skinniness suggests. The way puts its power down and fires out of corners isn't far off being literally breathtaking. It's fast, fun and effective in its own, high-tech kind of way.
VerdictThere are sports cars out there that are quicker, more intoxicating to drive and easier to live with than the i8, and they might even do so for less money. If you were a rational hard-arse you might even stamp a big 'fail' onto its bonnet. Really, though, it's a triumph; a glimpse of a fun, low-emissions driving future turned into reality. Not a flawless reality but one that's beautifully executed, rewarding in its own way and undeniably tantalising. Buyers who can look past its foibles won't be disappointed.