The BMW i8


Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - BY GLENDA WIL­LIAMS

Ev­ery now and then, along comes a car that causes astir. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary, sculpt ured, f ut urist i c: meet the i8, BMW’s f irst plug-in hy­brid sports car.

I’m driv­ing the car around the tech­ni­cals witch backs of Fran­schhoek with glee. But per­haps to the re­lief of my driv­ing part­ner who, like me, is no great pas­sen­ger, we en­counter the equiv­a­lent of Mr Plod ahead and nav­i­gate a por­tion of the moun­tain pass at a rather more se­date pace. Fi­nally, a gap emerges and the car can again be un­leashed from its elec­tric con­straints, popped into sports mode and it can demon­strate its ex­haust roar and abil­ity as a high-per­for­mance sports car.

But I di­gress. The car I am driv­ing is the pro­gres­sive and head­turn­ing i8. It’s not diff icult to be bowled over by the sports car’s über­sexy form borne out by the many slack-jawed looks, whis­tles and hoots en­coun­tered along the route. Dom­i­nated by dis­tinc­tive gull­wing doors, pow­er­fully formed quar­ters, a sweep­ing and sculp­tured body and U-shaped LED head­lights, a ma­chine that looks as good as this is as­sumed to have a per­for­mance to match. It was this that I was here to f ind out.

The tech­no­log­i­cally pro­gres­sive i8 sports a com­bi­na­tion of in­no­va­tive elec­tric drive and the lat­est com­bus­tion-en­gine tech­nol­ogy. But be­fore I could drive this in­trigu­ing an­i­mal I had to get into it and tug the dis­tinc­tive f ly­ing door shut. I had lit­tle dif­fi­cult y en­ter­ing the per­fectly pro­por­tioned low-slung sports car, nor did the gull­wing door af­fect my not- so-per­fectly coiffed hairdo. It is, how­ever, not

as grace­ful an en­trance for the skirted fra­ter­nity or the tall and bulky. Still, it’s a small price to pay to drive this pi­o­neer­ing ma­chine.

The sense of drama and oc­ca­sion pre­sented by the ex­te­rior is more muted in the cabin that can ac­com­mo­date t wo adults and t wo tiny tots. That doesn’t mean it is bog-stan­dard; it is beau­ti­fully ap­pointed. But con­versely for a car as tech­no­log­i­cally com­plex and ul­tra-mod­ern as this, BMW has opted to re­tain familiar switchgear and func­tion­al­ity mean­ing there is less of a need to ac­quaint one­self with the cock­pit than one might ex­pect. Loaded with tech and equipped with mul­ti­func­tional in­stru­ment dis­plays, i nclud­ing head up dis­play a nd a free­stand­ing 10.25-inch con­trol screen, the i8 has all the bells and whis­tles one might ex­pect in­clud­ing nav­i­ga­tion, cruise con­trol and park as­sist.


BMW’s e Drive plu s t he in line 3- cylin­der en­gine. Even if you run out of elec­tric power you have the petrol en­gine as backup, so long trips are also part of the i8 deal. With only a 37km range in the elec­tric bank, con­serv­ing bat­tery power while on the move via the charge-lock mode and charg­ing through re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing is pos­si­ble and helps charge the lithium-ion bat­tery, centrally mounted un­der­neath the f loor of the ve­hi­cle and from which the elec­tric mo­tor de­rives its en­ergy.

In EcoPlus elec­tric mode, other than rolling t yre road noise, the car is eerily si­lent. But Com­fort mode uti l i ses both t he com­bus­tion and elec­tric sys­tems that presents a driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence not un­like any other car. Then of course there is Sports mode for a more in­vig­o­rat­ing per­for­mance. Yet a per­for­mance ex­pe­ri­ence in­vari­ably has a lot to do with ex­haust song, so I was fully pre­pared to be dis­ap­pointed by the lack of dis­tinc­tive ex­hausts and high-per­for­mance ex­haust noise. And while I am still try­ing to wrap my head around the for­mer, the lat­ter is clev­erly piped through the au­dio sys­tem us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial, yet re­al­is­tic ex­haust snarl.

Con­structed f rom car­bon-f ibr­ere­in­forced plas­tic, the i8’s life mod­ule

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