The hybrid-electric BMW i8 is more than a sports car. I think it represents the future of the automobile. Let’s start with its CO2 emissions of just 49g/km and its frugal fuel consumption similar to a hatchback. These figures alone make the i8 an exciting proposition. But taken alongside the car’s performance credentials – a 0 to 62mph acceleration time of 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 155mph – and you have a car that’s more than capable of entertaining the most enthusiastic driver, even while it massages their conscience.
As the fastest hybrid car BMW has ever produced, it seemed only right to test the i8 on one of the country’s finest race tracks. So I took it to Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire, giving it every opportunity to display its ample talents in front of a Telegraph film crew.
With a clear road before it, the i8 feels absolutely at home. Its powertrain is a clever combination of electric motor and twin-turbo petrol engine. The latter component is mounted just ahead of the rear wheels. Allied to a super-light carbon-fibre body, the result is a vehicle with exquisite balance that just begs to be cornered at speed.
Needless to say, I accepted the invitation gleefully, and my efforts were rewarded. The i8’s responsive steering offered just the right amount of feedback to find a good line through the bends, while the seamless power delivery gave me a fantastic feeling of control.
That feeling is enhanced by the four-wheel drive set-up. The electric motor drives the front axle, with the petrol lump turning the rear. They work harmoniously to provide optimum traction in all conditions, giving a real sense of empowerment when you’re in the driver’s seat.
Talking of being in control, the i8 offers a choice of three driving modes, to suit the driver’s priorities. Naturally, I selected Sport mode for our Thruxton test, ensuring the car delivered the very best performance for high-speed use with super-responsive acceleration and jaw-dropping handling.
Under everyday conditions, Comfort would definitely be the mode of choice. This gently softens the acceleration for a more relaxed driving experience, blending electric and petrol power to pleasing effect.
If economy is your concern, Eco Pro mode is designed to minimise energy consumption. It adjusts the car’s acceleration and braking, as well as the heating and cooling settings, so that everything works as efficiently as possible. As a result, you can cover up to 373 miles without stopping to refuel or recharge, successfully rebutting the notion that eco-friendly cars aren’t suitable for everyday use.
Actually, this speaks of one of the i8’s most striking features. For all its sports-car pizzazz and hi-tech character, it feels very much like a car you could live with, day in, day out. Yes, you’d enjoy testing it to the limit when the opportunity arises. And yes, you’d relish its energy-efficiency and tiny carbon emissions. But at root, the i8’s appeal lies in the fact that it’s just an extremely impressive car; one that would be a genuine pleasure to own.
All of which makes the car’s futuristic character doubly intriguing. Because although it looks like something from the sci-fi movies I watched in my youth, it’s remarkably well-suited to the real world. It certainly is a car of the future. But as I found out on the Thruxton asphalt, that future is here right now – and it’s shaping up to be very exciting indeed.
The BMW i Range is part of a smarter, faster world. Imagine a car that drives like a BMW, but recharges like a smartphone and communicates with your other devices. Whether it’s the compact but ultra-intelligent i3 or the blisteringly fast i8, these are the technologies driving your world forward.