The BMW i8
THE FUTURE OF THE SPORTS CAR
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.
THE BEAUTY OF THIS CAR IS THAT YOU HAVE TWO POWER SOURCES:
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