Life Motor Reviews

Sunday 8 December 2019

Video: Behind doors of BMW supercar: a glimpse of tomorrow's world

Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I DON'T know who came up with the idea of upward-swinging doors on this supercar but they were either extremely agile or didn't live in the real world.

Then, I suppose, anyone paying €136,000 for this futuristic carbon-fibre two-seater doesn't do mundane, everyday things and will delight in the difference.

At least six people here have ordered one (it goes on sale July 19).

It is unlikely to be their sole mode of transport. It is something of a trophy acquisition, a first, a ground breaker and an eye-catcher, for sure.

I dipped into their unreal world for a few hours in Inverness, Scotland on Monday. Here's how I got on.

The i8 looks extraordinary even with the winged doors closed.

Whoever buys one will have something to look, and wonder, at for some time.

Those doors - the bane of my day - are hinged on the front pillar/windscreen frame (parking in an ordinary bay will be difficult).

Look, there is only one way to get into this. Sit your bum on the sill (hope it's not raining), swivel the legs and slide in.

I don't advise it with a short skirt and high heels.

Inside there are two slender, curving seats with poor, poor thigh support and two tiny excuses for seats at the back suitable for the overflow from the tiniest boot you'll ever see. It will take a carry-on bag; two half-empty ones at a squeeze and defies the Trades' Descriptions Act (154 litres).

The inside is all leather; that on the dash is dark in contrast with white/cream elsewhere. The central console, gear-shift lever, buttons are straight from Beemertown. There are two screens, one to your left in the dash; the other in front of you. The latter shows you which mode you're in (electric, petrol, both) and speed, mpg etc. The layout is smart and clean.

The interior of the BMW i8 hybrid supercar
The interior of the BMW i8 hybrid supercar

Structurally this has a carbon-fibre body, aluminium subframes and carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic body panels.

It means dents and damage are minimal and the panels clip on and are easily replaced. Excellent. Minor bumps are absorbed without leaving dents and damage to the paint doesn't lead to corrosion. It weighs 1.5 tonnes.

A1.5-litre (231bhp) turbo petrol engine drives the rear wheels through a 6spd auto gearbox; the fuel tank (42 litres) and lithium-ion battery pack are underneath and the 131bhp electric motor sits between, and drives, the front wheels through a 2spd transmission. There is a sense of balance. The batteries are guaranteed for eight years and 100,000 km.

The fun starts when you press the start button.

Normal Drive and Sport positions and steering-wheel paddles all await. You pull away in electric mode.

Accelerate sharply and the 1.5-litre 3cyl petrol engine (we know it from the new MINI) throbs to life.

They have acoustically engineered it through the speakers to sound 'sports car'.

From early on I noticed how quickly it pulled through middle range. It is among its outstanding attributes; immediate pickup to the lightest of touches.

With electric cars, you get instant and full torque (pulling power). To balance that at the back there's a 20bhp starter/motor/generator to help the engine compete.

Comfort is the default driving setting but there are several. Sport has a harder ride and even quicker throttle response, and replenishes the battery. Fun.

If you take it easy, it will stay in EV mode for 35km (20km in real life) and will then alternate between engine and battery.

AC charging will be standard here and you'll get 80pc charge in two hours. A full charge on a home Wallbox takes a couple of hours or so longer.

The 0-100km sprint claim of 4.4 seconds didn't feel Porsche 911 fast. Nor did it feel like a screaming snorter at high speeds. That's unusual as it has the lowest centre of gravity of any production BMW and should convey wonderful immediacy of movement. Maybe the energy didn't come across because it was so well planted and gripped so well.

I thought the slim tyres (on standard 20ins wheels) were a bit noisy and contributed to a slightly airy feel to the steering.

On corners, the power split favours the rear wheels; as you accelerate the powertrain controller is supposed to revert to the normal split. I found it understeered a little going into bends.

The 135mpg economy claim is mad - in our real world. We got 30.3mpg over 172 miles but that's mad too because we didn't spare the horses. Realistically you'll get 45mpg.

It's a city car too and we paid due homage in EV mode.

But you want something of this stature to thrill.

It does in some measure, though I feel the real excitement is in BMW producing such a quick, stunning looking car and breaking moulds.

In the real world of tomorrow that's what the i8 will be remembered for.

Hybrid coupé; 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine drives rear wheels;

BMW i8: the facts

96KW electric motor drives front wheels; 6spd auto transmission.

Overall power: 357bhp.

Acceleration: 0-100kmh in 4.4 seconds.

Emissions: 49g/km. €170 road tax.

Top speed: 250kmh (limited).

They claim it is capable of 132mpg.

Cost: from €136,430 on-the-road. Price includes SEAI grant of €5,000 and VRT relief of €2,500.

Recharge: Two hours (domestic supply)

Range: 496km (375 miles) with up to 35km (22 miles) in electric mode.

Irish Independent

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