Review: BMW i8 (2014)
Redefines hybrid performance. Great sound from little 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine. Mighty through corners with effortlessly smooth acceleration. An absolute joy to drive.
Tiny boot unless rear seats are used for luggage.
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BMW i8 (2014): At A Glance
- New prices start from £110,080
- Contract hire deals from £1,075.85 per month
- Insurance Group 50
- On average it achieves 37% of the official MPG figure
The BMW i8 marks a revolution. Not just for hybrid cars but for sports cars in general. The technology may be incredibly advanced but the principle is really very simple. A small 1.5-litre engine, borrowed from the MINI, powers the rear wheels while an electric motor drives the front wheels. In between are the lithium ion batteries which means a low centre of gravity and perfect weight distribution.
The result? A phenomenally good sports car that sets new rules for how performance should be delivered and how a driver's car can feel. Forget the fact this is a plug-in hybrid, instead just appreciate the BMW i8 for what it is. One of the best cars on the road today, regardless of how it's powered.
Of course the styling certainly adds to the appeal. The i8 looks like a concept that's just been driven off a motorshow stand. It wouldn't feel out of place in a futuristic Hollywood blockbuster. If you want a car that gets noticed, even on the streets of central London that are awash with McLarens and Aston Martins, the i8 is it.
The low nose and menacing headlights flow into a fairly conventional coupe design but it's at the back where this BMW stands out. The roof panels flow down to create a floating spoiler over the rear lights. It's a car you could stand and admire for a very long time.
There are other flourishes too, such as the dihedral 'butterfly' opening doors which add to the feeling that this is a very special car. As you'd expect, carbon fibre plays a big part in the construction, from the doors to the roof and even the bodyshell, which means a kerb weight of just 1490kg - that's not much more than a Ford Focus TDCi.
This light weight means storming performance. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes just 4.4 seconds - that's Porsche 911 Carrera S territory - helped by a total of 362PS and, more crucially, a huge 570Nm of torque.
Of course the i8 isn't merely about performance. As it's a plug-in hybrid it's also incredibly efficient. According to the official figures CO2 is just 49g/km, which means you can drive into central London for free, while average economy is a claimed 135mpg - although these figures are always skewed by plug-in hybrids. More useful is the range. With a full tank and a fully charged battery the i8 can cover around 310 miles.
And don't think that because this is a hybrid it's going to be anodyne or quiet. The i8 is enthralling to drive and a real joy, plus you can forget any ideas that it doesn't sound the part either. BMW has somehow managed to make that little 1.5-litre engine sound like a flat six with a gorgeous noise from both inside the cabin and out. It may be expensive, but for the lucky few who get their hands on one, the i8 is a tour de force.
What does a BMW i8 (2014) cost?
BMW i8 (2014): What's It Like Inside?
- Boot space is 154 litres
Despite its small size the i8 is actually a two-plus-two thanks to two small rear seats. In reality you are unlikely to ever use these with any gusto, instead they're useful as an extra place to put luggage.
That's pretty handy as the boot is best described as minimal with a 154-litre capacity, about enough for one small suitcase. But on the plus side you can get a Louis Vuitton tailor made carbon fibre luggage set which consists of two travel bags, a business case and a garment bag. And it only costs a mere £12,000. Ouch.
The rest of the interior isn't as ostentatious as the Louis Vuitton luggage set. In fact it's suprisingly straightforward. Often the temptation for manufacturers of top end sports cars like the i8 is to throw everything at them, making for an overly complex car to drive and baffling, button-laden cabin. Instead the i8 stays true to the BMW ethos of simple design.
Get behind the wheel and you're greeted by a stylish interpretation of BMW's steering wheel alongside a standard BMW gear selector and a start button. For any BMW owner, it will be reassuringly familiar and that's a key thing here. The i8 may be very complex under the skin, but it's incredibly easy to drive. Press start, put it in D and away you go.
There are differences. The i8 is undeniably futuristic and that extends to elements like the instrument display. Gone are the conventional analogue dials, replaced by a totally digital full colour instrument display which changes depending on what mode you're in. In the Comfort and Eco Pro settings, there's a powermeter to show the electric motor useage but stick it on Sport and the whole thing turns red while the powermeter changes to a rev counter.
The quality is, of course, impeccable, with a plenty of attention to detail and a top level of fit and finish, illustrated by the premium feel of the leather seats, which are standard naturally. Everything works with real precision while the driving position is exactly what you want in a sports car - a low slung seat and plenty of adjustment in the steering column.
Given that this is a supercar with a near £100k price tag it's no surprise to find a generous level of standard equipment including the clever head-up display and the excellent Professional Navigation with an 8.8-inch display which is one of the best systems around with an easy to understand display and quick routing. It also shows you the area the i8 can cover on electric power alone.
The BMW i8 comes with AC Charging which means the battery can be charged from zero to 80 per cent within two hours via a BMW i Wallbox. At the moment these cost £315 to be installed, helped by a government grant, although for anyone buying an i8, a few hundred pounds on a wallbox is unlikely to be much of an issue.
Of course when you're not at home or work, owners will have to use public charging points. BMW has a system called BMW ChargeNow which gives access to a nationwide network of charging stations using a BMW i ChargeNow card. It costs £20 a year (with a pay as you go system) and charging points are displayed on the navigation screen along with whether they are currently in use or available.
Child seats that fit a BMW i8 (2014)Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.
What's the BMW i8 (2014) like to drive?
BMW's ability to extract seemingly impossible levels of power from engines reaches it peak in the i8. While the combined power of the combustion engine and electric motor is 362PS, what's mightily impressive is that the tiny 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine contributes 231PS of that.
Don't forget that this is an engine borrowed from the MINI Cooper where it develops a far more modest 136PS. Of course changes like the fact it's fitted with BMW Twinpower Turbo technology helps a great deal. Despite the name that actually only involves one turbo, the Twinpower bit refers to the combination with high precision injection.
While the small combustion engine powers the rear wheels, the front wheels are driven by a 131PS electric motor which also provides 250Nm of torque from a standstill. As with other hybrid cars, the electric motor provides assistance to the petrol engine when needed and can also power the i8 itself, with a range of 22 miles and a maximum speed of 75mph.
That may sound a little complex but from behind the wheel of the i8 there's no need to worry about any of that. The car takes care of the power distribution, you just get to enjoy the superb handling and stunning performance. While the benefits of electric power are known to drivers of EVs and hybrids, the i8 takes things to a whole new level. Like any other hybrid it's quiet when you pull away and incredibly refined at low speeds with no wind or road noise from within the cabin.
The carbon fibre structure really comes into its own here as the rigid structure means there are no rattles on the move and while the ride is sportily firm, it's still forgiving enough to be comfortable. In the standard Comfort mode, the battery drives the i8 at low speeds with the engine only kicking in above 75mph or when you need more power, such as overtaking. If you're gentle on the throttle, the electric motor will do all the work.
You can of course put the i8 into electric only mode which means the electric motor will drive the car up to 75mph (where the petrol engine kicks in) providing it has enough charge in the battery of course. However, put the i8 into Sport mode - which involves simply knocking the gear lever across the left - and the i8 really shines.
Sport mode stiffens the suspension, changes the electric power steering to be more reactive and sharpens the throttle response. The result is an utterly compelling sports car that not only goes well but sounds superb too, with that tiny three-cylinder engine somehow creating a unique yet gorgeous sound.
In fact it's very difficult not to drive the i8 in its Sport mode all the time, such is the wonderful feel and noise. With all that torque available from a zero revs, it's effortlessly quick from low speeds, for example when coming out of a slow corner, while the engine provides the power higher up. What's great is that as the driver, you don't notice any of this going on, you just get to enjoy a sports car that feels unlike anything else out there.
The perfect 50/50 weight distribution means it's amazingly composed through corners with impressive composure at both high and low speeds giving you endless confidence in its ability to tackle a series of bends. As it's four-wheel drive, traction is immense, even in the wet while the electric power steering has decent feel and a good weight to it. On paper it will accelerate from 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds but it's the immediacy of the in-gear acceleration which most impresses. This is no frantic and stressed racer either, but a refined and smooth sports car.
|i8||-||4.4 s||42–49 g/km|
|i8 Roadster||-||4.6 s||46 g/km|
Real MPG average for a BMW i8 (2014)
Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.
Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.
Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.
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