Long-term test 2017-BMW-i8 The same but different
OWNER: MARK DIXON
Love or loathe’em, hybrids are here to stay – although it’s more than 20 years since the Toyota Prius was launched and you do have to wonder whether the public would have embraced hybrids sooner if they’d looked more like spaceships and less like painted vegetables.
Fact is, as I was always banging on about when I ran my first-generation Honda Insight (now sold; see), hybrids can be a lot of fun to drive. We’ve been running an i3 on the mag for a few months now, and all of us have relished the intellectual challenge of using its regenerative charging system to the max – and, less intellectually, the childish thrill of swooshing past other drivers by surfing the i3’s remarkable wave of torque.
Interesting car though it is, the i3 has its limitations. It’s intended to be a city car but several of us live a considerable distance from the office, which means that a one-way drive will exhaust a full electrical charge – and the tiny range-extending petrol engine only gives you another 70 miles. Charging the car at home from a domestic supply can take up to 15 hours, and if you live in a flat, like me, you’re stuffed.
Which is why we were keen to try the i3’s bigger brother, the i8. It’s a completely different kind of car: a GT with supercar performance that promises supermini economy. Yes, it’s a petrol-electric hybrid, but you can choose to run the i8 on petrol all the time (unlike the i3), using its turbocharged three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine – nicked from the entry-level Mini, can you believe – with added oomph supplied by the electric motor. A 1.5-litre triple may not sound exciting, but 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds tells a different story.
Talking of exciting sounds, the i8 is a bit of a fibber in that its sporty exhaust note (which sounded a bit racing #V8-like
, to these ears) is artificial and piped into the cabin. Shame! But that doesn’t detract too much. The #BMW-i8
is not just blisteringly fast, it feels genuinely special, and at night its cabin is streaked with blue-LED curves in a very spaceship manner.
The one feature about the i8 guaranteed to divide opinion is the gullwing doors. They look super-cool but, leave the car in a typical British car park, come back to find someone has parked either side of you, and you may not be able to open them wide enough to get in. You have to be pretty athletic to climb in and out of the lowslung seats with any decorum, too – which rules out much of the #Drive-My
For that reason, my colleague Glen said that he’d rather spend his hypothetical 100 grand on a 911. I take his point but I’d still have an i8. After all, who doesn’t want to pilot a spaceship?