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Driving the future, the BMW i8

01.04.2016

I recently got behind the wheel of the BMW i8 and if you know anything about cars and the i8, in particular, you will know that it is an eco friendly sports car.

I decided that I was going to overlook the eco friendly part and focus on the sports car aspects. In order to do this I headed out to the Lowveld in search of some driving roads.

The looks

Being a sports car, the i8 needs to look sporty and to be honest, it does. It's low, sleek and wide. It has many grooves and wings and slats, all of which play a vital part in making it as aerodynamic as possible. The passenger cell is also made from carbon fibre, which is not only very strong, it’s also light. The whole car weighs just over 1 400kgs. However, the party piece, the attention-getter, has to be the doors. Open them and watch as the crowds gather around. I have never driven a car that has received this much attention before. I did feel like Batman.

So the i8 looks like a sports car on the outside, what about the inside?

The interior

You know what really irritates me about some hybrid cars out there? It's the fact that just because it's an eco friendly car, designers then go all out making the interior as eco friendly as possible. They use recycled plastics and moss for carpets, the wood still has insects living in it and they only use leather from cows that have died from natural causes.

This is not the case with the i8. Yes, some of the materials used are recycled but you don't even notice. The dashboard is neatly set out and it feels like every other BMW. So much so that the gear lever is the same as that found in the BMW 340i that I drove last week. The iDrive system is the same as on other BMWs as well. At night the interior and dashboard light up like the Star Ship Enterprise, but what BMW doesn't, these days?

The drive

As I drove on the highway towards the Lowveld I found the car to be relatively comfortable, quiet and with the cruise control active the drive is fuss-free. The only way you know that you’re in something special is when people drive past with their phones out the window with the occasional thumbs up.

Let me talk about the engines. Up front there’s a 96kW/250Nm electric motor that drives the front wheels. This motor is powered by the batteries and when fully charged, has a range of about 30km. What's also a plus point is the fact that the car can travel of speeds up to 120km/h on the electric motor alone.

At the back is a mini 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged engine which develops 170kW and 320Nm. This engine drives the rear wheels. So the i8 can be front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive or, when needed all-wheel-drive. This means that it will hit 100km/h in 4.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 250km/h. That's some serious performance.

Somewhere in the Lowveld I found a glorious stretch of road where I would unleash the i8 and explore its dynamic capabilities. Pop the transmission into Sport mode and the electric and petrol engine now work in tandem to give a combined power output of 266kW and 570Nm of torque.

The way in which the car reaches a corner, sits in the corner and the speed at which you can exit a corner is mind boggling. Because the barriers have been placed in the middle of the car its centre of gravity is low; this means that it corners flat. The grip levels are also impressive considering the fact that the car doesn't have the biggest or widest tyres.

The other thing about driving the car hard is the fact that the harder you brake, the more energy you generate, which in turn charges the batteries which give the electric motor more power to help you drive faster. This was turning out to be one impressive drive but then I realized something...

As good as what the i8 is, something didn't feel right. The car felt somewhat emotionless. It's like when you video call someone; you see them, you hear them but it's not the same as being with them and having a conversation. The i8 makes use of electric steering and although it is direct you do get a sense that it's not connected to the front wheels. The same can be said for the sound. Being a hybrid there will come a time where you just drive on the electric motor. The motor makes a slight whistle sound; this means that other noises tend to filter into the cabin. It is for this reason that BMW has added extra insulation. The down side is that now you can't really hear the engine. To rectify this issue BMW has synthesized the engine noise, which plays through the speakers. Again, it's like listening to AC/DC over the best stereo that money can buy but it will never be as good as hearing them live. 

Verdict

In conclusion, I found the i8 to be such a pleasure to drive, really. To my amazement you can open the doors in a standard-sized parking bay. It has two seats at the back but I started cramping just trying to get in. The car averaged about 8.0 litres/100km over my test week, so it is rather economical and it doesn't use up all of Eskom’s electricity to charge up. It takes about three hours to charge. 

The i8 reminds me of that boy in the A.I (Artificial Intelligence) movie. He looks like a real boy, he thinks like a real boy but under the skin he's just a robot. That said though, for around R1 800 000 the i8 is much cheaper than a McLaren P1 and better looking than a Prius, plus you end up feeling like Batman every time you get in it and nothing beats feeling like Batman.

Article written by Justin Jacobs
01.04.2016
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