When BMW announced they were going to pull the plug on the i8 I was very sad mainly because the timing felt weird and ultimately, wrong. BMW unveiled the production version of the i8 at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show, electric and hybrid cars were still a bit of a "meh" product and that means that a lot of people said "woooow" and then forgot all about it.
I didn't forget about it, though. I immediately got in touch with a local BMW dealership and asked if I could borrow it. Amazingly, they said yes.
The i8 comes with a retro-futuristic body, looking almost exactly like the original concept car it comes from. It is a bit boxy at the back, low, wide and compact. The side skirts feature blue elements, and so do the kidney grille and the rear bumper. It also has gullwing doors and the rear windshield is basically horizontal, it's cool but rear visibility is terrible. Overall, it looks like it was designed in 2035 by people who have read books about 1985 design.
Inside it is a bit more conservative, with an 8.8-inch infotainment screen, a digital instrument cluster and sports seats with leather upholstery. There are a couple of things wrong here. Visibility is a bit of an issue, I also don't like screens that stick out of the dashboard because it always looks like an aftermarket product. It is also a bit awkward, it feels like they spent so much time designing the exterior and then they couldn't be bothered with the interior.
Anyway, when it comes to the driving part, the i8 isn't the most powerful car in the world, it never was, but it feels exciting. The version I drove was powered by a 1.5 l3 turbo producing 231 PS and a small electric unit making 131 PS, for a combined power output of 362 PS and 570 Nm of torque. It was brisk and reactive under acceleration, and the digitally-enhanced exhaust system sounds great, even though you're aware it is partially fake. It's a vibrant, lively car. It comes with its own presence when it's moving, and a great stance when it's not.
Crucially, and this is one of the best things about it, the electric engine in the i8 is synchronous. I'm not sure I'm the right person to tell you why and how that works in technical terms but in practice, synchronous electric engines can consistently deliver the same level of performance without ever fading away.* The throttle response is instantaneous, giving you all the torque you need without being snappy, and the good ol' ICE provides you with the right amount of power.
The i8 wasn't exactly cheap when it first came out, the asking price for the model I tested was €140,000. That is and was 911 territory and we all know what that means. By the end of 2015, BMW had sold 7,197 units globally and the fact of the matter is that in the current climate, with profitability being king, cars like the i8 are becoming increasingly harder to justify. In the end, I feel like the i8 arrived too early at the green car party and was just about ready to leave when everyone else began showing up. Pity.
What do you think of the i8? Let me know in the comments
*Tesla is arguably the most popular brand to use asynchronous motors. Performance may vary depending on different factors but in theory, this means that if you try accelerating from zero to sixty ten times in a row, the tenth attempt should be considerably slower than the first and second attempt.