Fal­con

Why the lat­est model will also be the last

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

NEVER have I seen more cam­era phones pointed at a car than dur­ing my two days with the BMW i8.

Peo­ple love the look of the car and what it rep­re­sents as the first hy­brid su­per-sports car to reach Aus­tralia.

It has su­per­car looks and fu­tur­is­tic tech­nol­ogy that turns heads and prompts ques­tions ev­ery­where I go, although the $299,000 price tag stops a lot of peo­ple cold.

There are queries about the bits and bytes that com­bine a three-cylin­der turbo en­gine in the tail with an elec­tric mo­tor in the nose. Not to men­tion the alu­minium chas­sis and car­bon­fi­bre body.

The i8 is ef­fec­tively an all- wheel-drive speed ma­chine, with a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.4 seconds, that can cruise as a pure bat­tery car for up to 37km.

It has a 2+2 cabin, although the space in the back is only good for a five-year-old, and the usual go-faster bits from 20‒inch al­loy wheels to fully in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion and lux­ury stuff run­ning to air­con, full leather trim, dig­i­tal in­stru­ments and bril­liant sound sys­tem.

The heart of the car is a bat­tery pack that oc­cu­pies what would be the trans­mis­sion tun­nel in a reg­u­lar car, while the body is made from 56 in­di­vid­ual pieces and sits on top of the chas­sis.

The trick­ery in­cludes LED lamps at both ends and di­he­dral doors that tilt up in­stead of hing­ing out.

Elec­tronic wiz­ardry gives you the best com­bi­na­tion of ex­cite­ment and ef­fi­ciency to match the driv­ing mode you have cho­sen.

I first en­coun­tered the i8 in Los An­ge­les, its spir­i­tual home with a list of cashed-up gree­nies that starts at Steven Spiel­berg, and I was im­pressed. I could see some flaws but I wanted to try it at home.

So now it’s sit­ting in the drive­way, hooked up to mains power to charge the bat­tery pack, which comes with an eight-year/100,000km war­ranty, and I’m still im­pressed.

I like the way it looks, I like the idea of a su­per-sports car that is still rel­a­tively kind to the en­vi­ron­ment, and I like the way the i8 works along­side the all‒elec­tric sta­ble­mate, the i3 city run­about.

But ... there are plenty of buts, start­ing with the vir­tu­ally $300K ticket. One friend, who has the money and likes the idea, is not go­ing ahead with a pur­chase plan be­cause of that.

Also, the i8 is quick but not gen­uinely fast. It also goes around cor­ners very well, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing its low‒drag tyres, but not the way a keen driv­ing fan will ex­pect of a car that looks like a Porsche 911 beater.

In fact, the per­for­mance of the car is strong but not out­stand­ing. That will come, I be­lieve, when BMW has a bet­ter bat­tery pack in ver­sion 2.0 to un­leash more go from both the elec­tric mo­tor and the petrol turbo.

There are other prob­lems, such as ac­cess. It is a strug­gle to get un­der the tricky-look­ing doors and over high side sills at the same time. The lug­gage com­part­ment in the tail barely holds a cou­ple of back­packs.

But I love the elec­tric driv­ing mode that’s nearly good enough for a bat­tery-only run to work; I love the way the syn­co­pated triple-cylin­der kicks into ac­tion when I ask for flank speed.

I love the 5.2L/100km read­out dur­ing my fun run over some moun­tain roads and I love the de­sign work and the list of stan­dard equip­ment in­clud­ing the head-up speedo dis­play.

The more time I spend with the i8, the more I like it. Apart from the buts. And I can see that some peo­ple will buy one just so they can be the first in their so­cial cir­cle with a land­mark car.

TICK OR NO TICK

My heart says the i8 is worth The Tick. Then my head kicks in and I look again at the price, then think about my cricked back and bruised el­bow from bat­tling to get in and out, and the dif­fi­culty in get­ting some shop­ping in the boot.

So it starts with The Tick as a sci­ence ex­per­i­ment and as a great car to look at and drive — but loses it in the next in­stant be­cause of prac­ti­cal fail­ings.

I’d still have change from $299,000 if I bought two cars: a Porsche 911 to sat­isfy my sports car crav­ing and a bril­liant lit­tle BMW i3 for fully green com­muter work.

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