BMW i8 road­ster

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Aspi Bha­thena

Hybrid elec­tric su­per­car drops its top

Driv­ing the BMW i8 Road­ster in Ma­jorca, Spain, was cer­tainly a joyful ex­pe­ri­ence, giv­ing us an op­por­tu­nity to ap­pre­ci­ate this car in both its e-avatar and with its tur­bocharged might

The BMW i8 was the first pro­duc­tion car to get LED laser head­lights. It did not look like a pro­duc­tion car; rather it looked like a one-off pro­to­type when it was launched as a sports coupé. Over the years, we have seen sports cars like the E-Type Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL with the gull-wing doors, but in both the cases the Road­sters were the bet­ter look­ing cars and it was a no-brainer that BMW would launch an i8 Road­ster. There are no vis­i­ble ex­hausts, BMW’s trade­mark kid­ney grille is blanked off, the sills get shrink-wrapped be­hind the rear wheels as if there is no en­gine back there, and the body­work folds up from the doors and cas­cades down, never meet­ing but even­tu­ally book­end­ing the tail-lights. The rear LED tail­lights com­ple­ment the laser LED head­lights to give the car a fu­tur­is­tic look at the rear as well. In the dark with the laser head­lights and the rear LED switched on, the car does look fu­tur­is­tic. The i8 Road­ster looks just stun­ning.

The i8 chas­sis is made of alu­minium and it cra­dles an elec­tric mo­tor in the nose, with a spine of lithium-ion bat­ter­ies run­ning be­tween the axles and tur­bocharged petrol en­gine just ahead of the rear wheels. On top of that sits a car­bon-fi­bre re­in­forced plas­tic (CFRP) pas­sen­ger cell like a body on chas­sis con­struc­tion and it is all wrapped in a ther­mo­plas­tic skin. When­ever a coupé loses its roof, the weight of the car goes up be­cause you need to re­in­force the body and the chas­sis. While speak­ing to Head of Prod­uct De­sign, Robert For­rest, I asked him how re­in­force­ment work was done and his an­swer was, ‘Very lit­tle’, be­cause the orig­i­nal chas­sis and body were al­ready very strong.

Ingress and egress in a sports car is quite tricky, but with the roof down it was a breeze. The multi-func­tion steer­ing and the lay­out of the dash­board are driver-fo­cused and the head-up dis­play makes life easy while driv­ing. You don’t have to take your eyes off the road. The leather seats of­fer plenty of lat­eral sup­port and are very com­fort­able. The soft top has a car­bon-fi­bre lin­ing in­side to keep it from get­ting de­formed at high speed and can be opened and closed at speeds up to 50 km/h. The open­ing and clos­ing is done with elec­tric mo­tors. The in­te­rior is well-ap­pointed as one would ex­pect of BMW.

The drive started from the re­sort we were stay­ing at. Hav­ing spent two days on the island of Ma­jorca, driv­ing the MINIs, I had be­come fa­mil­iar with most of the driv­ing routes. The first five kilo­me­tres of the drive were on battery power and front-wheel-drive and with­out a sound un­til we came to the nar­row vil­lage roads. The turn of foot is ex­cel­lent as the re­sponse from the elec­tric mo­tor is in­stan­ta­neous. There is 250 Nm of torque on tap from the word go. The up­rated power out­put of 105 kW (14 3 PS) from the elec­tric mo­tor pro­pels the i8 to 120 km/h with ease. This elec­tric mo­tor is mated to a two-speed gear­box and drives the front wheels.

As soon as I got on the mountain section, I pulled the gear-shifter to­wards me to se­lect the Sport mode. A com­plete tran­si­tion takes place: the steer­ing

The car han­dles like a dream and it was a joy to throw it round cor­ners in the Ma­jor­can coun­try­side with gay aban­don

weighs up, the ex­haust note changes via the speak­ers, the ex­haust sounds like a V8 en­gine and is re­ally in­tox­i­cat­ing, the sus­pen­sion be­comes firmer, and the me­ter con­sole colour changes from blue to or­ange.

The real gem in this whole pack­age is the 1,.5-litre three-cylin­der tur­bocharged petrol en­gine that pro­duces a stun­ning 231 PS and 320 Nm. A com­bined out­put of 374 PS and 570 Nm is at your dis­posal in Sport mode. There is an 11-kW (15-PS) mo­tor at the rear which trans­forms the re­spon­sive­ness of the en­gine and gear­box. It dou­bles up as a starter mo­tor, but when you shift down, it flicks up the r evs as if there is a light­weight race­spec fly­wheel with no in­er­tia, giv­ing the impr es­sion that the triple has the same live­li­ness as the in­stant-torque e-mo­tor up front. This three-cylin­der mo­tor is mated to a six-speed auto ’box.

The i8 is ca­pa­ble of 0 to 100 km/h in 4.4 sec­onds and a top speed of 250 km/h (elec­tron­i­cally lim­ited). With all this per­for­mance the i8 r eturns 14 kilo­me­tres to a litre, which, to say the least, is phe­nom­e­nal for a su­per­car.

The tran­si­tion from elec­tric power to the com­bined power of elec­tric and petrol en­gine is ab­so­lutely seam­less. The car han­dles like a dream and it was a joy to throw it round cor­ners in the Ma­jor­can coun­try­side with gay aban­don, thanks to the four-wheel drive. The car held on to the line around turns with­out the slight­est hitch. The nar­row tyres used for low rolling re­sis­tance did not ham­per its han­dling ei­ther. The ride qual­ity of the i8 is on the firm side as one would ex­pect of a su­per­car. The only is­sue I had was the A-pil­lar which cre­ated a blind spot while go­ing around tight left-hand cor­ners.

To sum it all up, if you want to stand out from the crowd, then the i8 road­ster is the car for you — it will draw all the at­ten­tion you want with­out mak­ing a noise or pol­lut­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

Pho­tog­ra­phy: BMW

( Be­low) Full func­tion with fan­tas­tic form; tweaked aero looks sharp as ever

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