BMW i8 review: hybrid sports car of the future

The BMW i8

Reviewers praise the BMW i8 for its 'stunning' styling but criticise the 'strange imprecision' of its drive

LAST UPDATED AT 16:40 ON Fri 18 Jul 2014

When the notoriously petrol-loving Jeremy Clarkson praises an environmentally friendly hybrid vehicle, it really is time to sit up and take notice.

On Sunday, the host of Top Gear dedicated half of his regular Sunday Times column to the BMW i8, which he described as "without doubt the car I’m most looking forward to driving this year".

The i8, which "looks like something from a Hollywood director's vision of the 24th century", represents the future of driving, Clarkson enthused.

So how has BMW's forthcoming petrol-electric sports car managed to get motoring's enfant terrible in its thrall? Below is a round-up of the car's strengths and weaknesses - from optional lasers up front to "spaceship–style" taillights at the rear.

 

Styling

The BMW i8 "looks absolutely stunning" in all its colour and wheel combinations, says AutoExpress. The "elegant curves, spaceship-style rear lights and distinctive flying buttresses all make for a low-slung car with more presence than almost anything else on the road".

In the course off their road test, AutoExpress says that the i8 attracted "a constant stream of camera phone wielding car fans".

The i8's bodywork is crafted from carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic. This plastic is underpinned by an aluminium subframe with plastic body panels that are reinforced with carbon-fibre.

"It also looks amazing," says the Daily Telegraph's Andrew English. It is "low, layered and almost translucent, with what appears to be a pair of cart-horse blinkers round the front corners and the most audacious flying buttresses since Jaguar’s XJS".

Reviewers are equally taken by the car's interior, noting its "generously sculptural, driver-focused dashboard", which are replete with "colourful LCD instruments, low-slung and deep-dished sports seats", notes AutoCar's Matt Saunders.

The i8 is billed as a 2+2 but most reviewers criticise the i8's "cramped rear seats". Realistically, its best to think of the rear seats as "extra storage space" rather than somewhere to sit, says AutoExpress.

Most reviewers also concede that the scissor-opening doors may be beautiful, but they are far from practical.

Driving

"This is the future", says Jeremy Clarkson. "Electric-only power round town and a combination of electric and turbocharged petrol power elsewhere to give 357bhp and a top speed of 155mph".

The car is light, four-wheel drive, capable of 100mpg and the battery can be charged up either from the mains or by using the petrol engine as you drive along, he adds. Where other electric vehicles such as the Prius were "designed to rob the motorcar of every last scintilla of fun, the i8 has come along to put it back", he says.

"It's not all perfect, however," says English. The steering is well weighted "but feels a bit woolly, lacking front-end bite". Also the car suffers from "strange understeer" on corners.

Saunders agrees, noting that the  i8 "doesn’t quite feel as exciting as it does fast". It may offer low-emissions and a sense of environmental responsibility, but the problems with its drive mean that it is "not the last word in fun".

So how does the i8 achieve its performance? The electric motor, which sits in the nose of the car, "sends 184lb ft of instant torque to the front axle via a two-speed automatic," Car Magazine's Georg Kacher explains. "Push the accelerator beyond a detent, and the i8 switches from front-wheel e-drive to four-wheel drive, as the combustion engine automatically cuts in, turning the rear wheels". The turbocharged, three-cylinder unit "feels smooth and progressive," Kacher says, but driving the car in eDrive mode is not a terribly exciting experience, he says, and feels more like piloting the i8's sister car, the i3, than a real sports car.

Evo Magazine's Jethro Bovingdon agrees. When you switch the car into Sport mode "the 1.5-litre engine suddenly sounds like a 4-litre V6 – deep, heavy, but with a soft burr laid over the heavy metal" He says. But the sound isn't matched by the performance.

"In truth the i8 never feels as fast as something like an R8, but it’s fast enough to be exciting," Bovingdon concludes.

The BMW i8 is "truly impressive and special, as well being a gorgeous landmark car", English says, "yet its puzzling imprecision means that it falls just short of being a great drive". · 

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