Why the latest model will also be the last
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.