There are plenty of reasons to get a BMW i8, the indirect revival of the Bavarian marque’s 8 Series nameplate and its first plug-in hybrid sports car. For starters, it looks like a million bucks, what with its futuristic silhouette and beetle-wing doors.
There are plenty of other sci-fi touches to its exterior design, especially in its rear haunches, which feature plenty of angular forms and “floating” structures (the tail-light clusters are of particular note). All this, of course, is largely down to how its “skin” is composed of thermoplastics.
This allows for radical forms not possible with sheet metal, and, says BMW, provides the happy benefit of being half the weight of steel and more resistant to minor dings, but with comparable repair costs should body panels need replacing. Large parts of its chassis, too, are made of “plastics”, though in this instance, it’s the automotive wonder material, carbon fibre, which is on glorious display on the door frames, amongst other areas.
For all its million-dollar looks and space-age construction, the i8 costs “just” $599,800. Happily enough, local i8 models come standard with the Pure Impulse package, which adds 20-inch wheels, a Harman Kardon stereo and aesthetic touches that include extended leather trim for the interior and i8-branded brake callipers.
Staying with the “dollars-and-sense” part about the i8, it attracts an annual road tax bill of $1232 (thanks to its 1.5-litre engine, but more on that later), which is a laughably tiny amount when you consider an owner of a Audi R8 V8 pads the LTA’s coffers by $4206 every year. On top of all that, the i8 attracts a full $20,000 CEVS rebate thanks to its 90g/km CO2 emission.
Besides penny-pinching with the taxman, the i8 will also save you money at the pumps. That’s right, it’s a sports car without a healthy thirst for unleaded. We managed around 12km per litre, despite driving around with two passengers, getting snarled in city traffic and inflicting numerous sustained bouts of go-pedal abuse.
The secret to its remarkable frugality is how the i8 can travel for around 20km or so (37km is the claimed range) on electric power alone. If you drive like you would on a homologation test (that is, with the air-con off, windows up and at a speed that would make your grandmother impatient), the i8 will return 47.6km per litre.
In spite of its greenie cred, the i8 is capable of a surprising turn of speed – the combined output of its 3-pot petrol engine and electric motor (which power the rear and front wheels respectively) is 362bhp and 570Nm, which grants it a century sprint time of 4.4 seconds.
The i8 is brisk and it handles well, too, even though it’s shod with astonishingly skinny tyres for a sports car (215/45 R20 in front and 245/40 R20 at the rear). Because it’s effectively an all-wheel-drive vehicle, the i8 serves up plenty of traction and corner-exiting punch, along with superbly flat cornering attitude thanks to its squat stance.
That said, the i8, while rapid, is no thoroughbred. The Mercedes-AMG A45 with its fire-breathing 360bhp inline-4 takes just 0.2 of a second slower to complete the century sprint, to say nothing of how it costs half as much. Disappointing, too, is how its rumbly, V8-mimicking exhaust note seems piped in through the stereo system’s speakers.
The i8 may have a disjunct between expectations brought on by its racy looks and its actual performance, but it comes with plenty of supercar foibles.
Owing to its high, wide sill, ingress/egress is not for the inflexible of spine or the short of skirt, and you’ll have to be careful not to bash your head on the doors while doing so. And be prepared to tiptoe into and out of multi-storey carparks, because its ground-hugging stance doesn’t take too kindly to steep ramps.
And there’s its supercar-grade impracticality, too. While the two seats in the back aren’t as tiny as you might think, its 154-litre boot is, and it doesn’t even have an additional storage compartment under the bonnet (it can only be opened by a qualified BMW technician), unlike some mid-engined cars.
However, for all the car’s flaws, we have it on good authority that the i8 is selling like so many hotcakes. Which brings us back to our first point – the i8 looks like a million bucks, but doesn’t cost it, which for some buyers is all they need to sign on the dotted line.
TYPE Inline-3, 12-valves, turbocharged, petrol-electric hybrid
BORE X STROKE 82mm x 94.5mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 9.5:1
MAX POWER 231bhp at 5800rpm (motor 131bhp at 4800rpm)
MAX TORQUE 320Nm at 3700rpm (motor 250Nm at 0-3850rpm)
POWER TO WEIGHT 242.4bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 6-speed automatic with manual select (2-speed for electric motor)
DRIVEN WHEELS All (engine drives rear, motor drives front)
0-100KM/H 4.4 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h (governed)
CONSUMPTION 47.6km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 90g/km
FRONT Double-track control arms, wishbones, tie rod
REAR Five-arm, directly connected
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs
TYPE Bridgestone Potenza S001
SIZE 215/45 R20 (front), 245/40 R20 (rear)
TRACTION AIDS ABS with DSC
KERB WEIGHT 1485kg
TURNING CIRCLE 12.3m
PRICE INCL. COE $599,800 (after $20k CEVS rebate)
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
+ Futuristic exterior design, space-age drivetrain, remarkable frugality
– Artificial engine note, “only” a 6-speeder, compromised practicality