BMW i8 review rear shot moving

Verdict on the BMW i8

We could write pages and pages about the i8. It is a halo-product for our era, its launch this year conjuring memories of the classic Mini or even the original Jaguar E-Type. In fact it apes both the genius packaging of the original Mini with the super car sleekdom of the E-Type, but to the technological beat of 2014.

It successfully brings together radical advances in material construction (carbon fibre with aluminium) with exotic drivetrains, the latter a combination of a state of the art three cylinder petrol engine driving the rear wheels with an even cleverer ‘synchronous’ electric motor driving the front wheels. The resulting, combined 357 horsepower performs even more convincingly than you might think in a car whose overall weight is just 1,560kgs, less than the ubiquitous Porsche 911 benchmark despite the weight of batteries.

This is not just because the electric motor delivers instant torque, but because of its two-speed transmission, a proprietary advance unique to BMW that allows big torque contributions even at motorway speeds. The i8 can do 50-70 mph in 3.3 seconds in 5th gear, something you’d be wringing the neck of the Porsche to achieve in 2nd gear. In other words, it feels very fast, but also, crucially, differently fast. It’s as if someone has cunningly combined big diesel shove and touch-paper petrol fizz into one ground-breaking combo, but with none of the emissions complications and running costs.

Dihedral doors – makes i8 3m wide when open

In sport mode, it sounds great thanks to a slightly amplified (and slightly inauthentic) engine note piped to the cabin. All this is achieved in a car that combines ding-proof thermoplastic outer cladding panels with an interior cockpit that exudes in-depth integrity and driver-centred function and quality.

The seats are completely adjustable; the materials are superb, there is nothing gimmicky or superfluous. The thin steering wheel and thinner-than-expected tyres deliver the supercar experience back from the hell of ever wider, more ruinously expensive tyre-wheel combos.

What are the downsides?

You still need to find a way of plugging it in, which as we know remains a problem for many. All the torque makes the i8 almost too easy to drive effortlessly, making it more grand tourer than track day special (admittedly this is also its greatest selling point, but then it is a super car). Weirdly, the i8 makes the city-bound BMW i3 look like an even bigger bargain, since you get the same carbon fibre chassis and interior tech but for £60k less. It also makes a used Lexus GS 450h (an asymmetrical example boasting similar power output) look interesting in a new light.

As such, is the i8, which with a government subsidy of £5k comes in at a whisker below £100k, expensive or a bargain?

Given its raw performance and segment, the i8’s nearest true competitors are ‘hyper-cars’ by the likes of McLaren and Ferrari, which are the thick end of a million quid apiece. The i8 shares with those much, much pricier competitors extraordinary looks with nearly-as-extraordinary performance. The proof of this is that a healthy grey-market has already sprung up, with almost-new i8s trading for as much as £50k over list.

But it is still £100k which is a big wedge of money by any standard.

The real way of balancing the price is to consider the 100% FYA write-down potential, if a business purchase, and the fact that the i8 is going to cost you £997 less per month in company car tax than a Porsche 911 Targa, assuming you are a 40% taxpayer running the i8 as a company car. The i8 is VED-free and congestion-charge free if you are in London.

These things add up – and of course right now the i8 is showing every sign of being a depreciation-proof purchase for the foreseeable future.

That might not last, but for now the problem is not the price of the i8 but the fact that you can’t lay your hands on one due to a long waiting list.

We’re bound to conclude that there are loads of cars that you might otherwise consider when spending this sort of money (obviously), yet there are none quite as revolutionary nor as interesting and seductive as the BMW i8.

It is a truly ground-breaking proposition, and the first truly ‘green’ super-car.

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|Dihedral doors - makes i8 3m wide when open|
  • P11D Value: £99,790
  • First year VED: £0
  • 2-door sports car
  • 1.5 litre 3-cyl turbo petrol/6-speed auto
  • CO2 Emissions: 49g/km
  • Economy (combined): 47.6mpg

What is it?

BMW’s gamechanging, plug-in hybrid supercar that combines a lightweight carbon-fibre body with a petrol/electric hybrid set-up delivering sensational performance and very low running costs.

What’s Hot?

  • A VED-free car offering combined mpg of 139 but 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds…
  • …and don’t forget the Benefit-In-Kind tax benefits, which are enormous
  • Sensational exterior looks are genuinely ahead of the times, but not so futuristic as to be provocative…
  • …and an even better interior, which honours one of BMW’s traditional strengths while moving ahead to an iPad-like, embedded-screen modernity
  • 2+2 convenience (i.e. two back seats) is extremely rare in this segment and greatly improves overall practicality
  • The shelf-dominated boot of 154 litres might be small, but it’s nine litres more than a Porsche 911’s, and we’re used to saying that the 911 is a practical option in this segment
  • There’s nothing like it for sale today unless you multiply the price several times and consider the so-called ‘hyper-cars’ by McLaren and Ferrari and Porsche
  • A brilliant real-world car that’s easy to drive in cities…
  • … and against the hybrid-stereotype immensely powerful on motorways due to clever BMW tech
    Is there any car more exotic yet real-world than this?


What’s Not?

  • The waiting list already extends well into 2015, so join the queue
  • Dihedral doors, when opened, make the car 3 metres wide, so check your garage dimensions
  • Despite the tiny petrol engine, boot space is barely better than that of rival supercars
  • There are better alternatives if you want to thrash a car on a track and experience ‘pure’ (or rear wheel drive) handling
  • It wouldn’t be a BMW if there weren’t some expensive options, such as the Harmon/Kardon stereo for £895
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