Plugged into power

SI­BONELO MYENI ex­pe­ri­ences in­stant torque and be­comes a be­liever

The Witness - Wheels - - ELECTRIC -

I’VE just been stopped by Metro cops and af­ter five min­utes, I am yet to reach for my wallet — no, not for that! To get my driver’s li­cence.

That’s ’cause the two friendly cops wanted to see the car I am driv­ing up­close and to take self­ies in and around it … such is the at­trac­tion power of the BMW i8.

The de­sign of the i8 is cut­ting edge with a shape that is more akin to a con­cept car than a pro­duc­tion one. It shows, judg­ing by the num­ber of peo­ple that are stunned when they see it, most just seem in a trance as they ap­proach you to ask to see it closer.

In my nine years of car test­ing, I have never seen a car that cuts across race, age, sex with in­ter­est like the i8 does.

Open the party trick “Bat wing” doors and ladies envy the pas­sen­ger seat … oh and its got four seats but the rear two are for mid­gets. Be­cause of those doors, get­ting in an out is a bit tricky, es­pe­cially for the rear pas­sen­gers, and you need to mas­ter it con­sid­er­ing the at­ten­tion you get when park­ing.

The in­te­rior is typ­i­cal BMW with good-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and well laid out switchgear mean­ing the i-Drive con­trol in­fo­tain­ment screen dom­i­nates the driver-fo­cused cock­pit. The elec­tric seats look and feel snug with good ad­just­ment al­low­ing a com­fort­able driv­ing po­si­tion.

Press the en­gine start but­ton and a fu­tur­is­tic sound gives a hint that you are now ready to go … no en­gine sound. The i8 is a plug-in hy­brid that fuses a rear­wheel drive 1,5-litre three-cylin­der Turbo with a front-wheel drive elec­tric mo­tor for a com­bined power out­put of 266kW/570Nm en­abling the svelte coupe to sprint from 0 to 100km/h in 4,5 sec­onds be­fore top­ping out at 250 km/h.

That sprint time is pos­si­ble with a charged bat­tery be­cause at less than ideal charge, the i8 uses the petrol en­gine, which re­sults in slower sprint times.

Fully charged, the i8 can drive for 35 km at speeds of up to 120km/h on elec­tric mode only. We av­er­aged 6,2l/100km dur­ing a week of hard driv­ing which is im­pres­sive tak­ing into ac­count the per­for­mance. How­ever, the 30 litre fuel tank does limit range.

The BMW en­gi­neers di­aled in a good dose of seat-of-your-pants fun on the i8 as it han­dles like a sports car.

The com­bi­na­tion of all-wheel drive and in­stant power from the elec­tric mo­tors en­sure rapid speeds are achieved with no fuss. How­ever, squeal from the nar­row tyres make the driver know when the limit has been reached.

Slot the gearshift into Sport and the in­stru­ment di­als turn red with a V6 like growl from the en­gine (helped by the ra­dio for that ex­plo­sive sound in­side) with a nice ex­haust blip on man­ual up-shifts. In com­fort mode, the i8 rides bumps well, helped by the light but rigid car­bon fi­bre body which in turn aids high-speed change of di­rec­tion.

The tran­si­tion from us­ing the elec­tric mo­tor to adding the petrol en­gine could be bet­ter as it some­times gives a clumsy kick.

At R1,9 mil­lion, the i8 is a bar­gain tak­ing into ac­count the tech­nol­ogy and most im­por­tantly the drop-dead gor­geous looks. You have to pay three times that money to get sim­i­lar at­ten­tion­grab­bing looks from the Ital­ians.

Oh … I got stopped at ev­ery road­block I en­coun­tered dur­ing the week of driv­ing in Dur­ban and Jozi … with very lit­tle in­ter­est be­ing shown in the driver.

Zero to 100 km/h comes up in 4,5 sec­onds, in what is ba­si­cally a 1,5-litre three-cylin­der turbo front wheel drive car.

PHOTO: BMS

All wheel drive plus in­stant elec­tric power equals blis­ter­ing ac­celler­a­tion in the BMW i8, per­fect for the For­mula E pace car and our blue light bridge will love it.

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