BMW's Hybrid i8 supercar worth the pursuit

Liz Dobson
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The i8 takes a bit of getting in to but is a pleasure to drive. Pictures / Ted Baghurst

BMW’s bold new beast is great to drive and very easy on the eye

Call me a stalker (I'd prefer "passionate"), but I've spent many hours in quite a few countries devising ways to meet and then drive BMW's plug-in hybrid i8 supercar.

During an interview at the company's Munich headquarters with a BMW vice-president I veered off topic and cheekily suggested I drive the i8 the next day.

The VP laughed.

Next I tried the BMW Group's chief designer during an interview with him in Paris.
He just smiled at me.

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I even offered to detour from a Spain car launch to a holiday in the UK to drive the i8 for a few hours.

Official word was that there was already a queue of international motoring writers in Munich booked to drive the i8 - and there was no room for me.

In Melbourne I came very close to securing a ride when, while looking at the i3 at a large BMW dealership, a customer told me he was there to order his i8. But he was whisked away by a staff member before I could lock in a day to drive the supercar.

But finally my stalking, I mean persistence, paid off when BMW New Zealand's managing director, Nina Englert, rang me with the news the first i8 had arrived here and would I like to drive it.


Driven's Editor Liz Dobson finally behind the wheel of the BMW i8.

I screamed as a reply and said I was on my way over to BMW NZ's Auckland headquarters.
Ever since the i8 concept was revealed at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, the motoring public has been keen to see if BMW would go ahead and produce the car.

In 2009, the i8 was part of BMW's Vision EfficientDynamics concept, with the plan to make a mid-engined hybrid halo car powered by two motors - an electric paired with a three-cylinder turbodiesel engine.

But when it came to production this year, the plug-in hybrid's diesel was swapped for a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol three-cylinder engine that you'll find in a Mini Cooper or BMW's 2 Series Active Tourer.

The petrol engine runs the rear wheels, while the 96kW/250Nm e-drive electric engine runs the front wheels.

Technically it's all-wheel-drive but in sport mode is a rear-wheel-drive and in e-drive electric only becomes a front-wheel drive. A multi-tasker really.

The front electric wheels have a two-speed automatic gearbox while the rear gets a six-speed auto with four driving modes available.

E-drive is pure electric and great for slowly cruising along main city roads drawing attention. Comfort is for under 60km/h so suitable for urban life, while eco pro helps with fuel saving. But for fun (and not for saving fuel) plonk it into sport mode, head to the motorway and let the supercar do its thing.


On e-drive, the car can run for 37km but, being a hybrid, that electric engine is "topped" up by the petrol engine that produces 170kW of power and 320Nm of torque.

The maximum range is 600km with a charging time from your normal socket of about four hours but if you buy BMW's quick-charge i-wallbox the charge takes under two hours.

The electric engine is housed under the front bonnet and is accessible only by a BMW i-drive technician.

The i8's body is predominantly skinned in thermoplastic panels with a carbon-fibre tub, while the swan-wing doors and parts of the car's structure are made from aluminium.
The total weight, including the car's lithium-ion battery pack, is 1485kg - making it lighter than a Porsche 911.

All the components of this car have been tailor-made specifically for the i8, from the narrow, aerodynamically profiled 20in alloys, to those famous doors, a shark-nose front end, and the stunningly sculptured rear channels that run along the boot of the car.

But what is it like to drive?

First you have to get into the low-profile car.


The i8 looks good from the back and features notable wing doors.

Because of the swan-wing shape, the i8's doors require about half a metre next to the car to open. The hinges run along the A-pillar, meaning when the doors are opened, they swing up and forward.

The i8 opens via a button both outside the car and inside the car, but it doesn't motor itself up. A tuned spring/damper set-up helps push the door up and open so you need to give it a push to open fully. But due to the lightness of the panels, it's easy to close the door.

To get into the car, you slide your bum into the seat then swing your legs over the sill. To get out reverse the process while using the A-pillar to pull yourself up. It's certainly not a skirt-wearing car.

But once in, the interior of the i8 is familiar, with set-up similar to the sportier models in BMW's line up and with two screens - one on the dash, one inset into the centre cluster with an 8.8-inch high-resolution screen.


The interior of the i8 is in line the rest of the BMW range

The whirr of the electric engine belies the power beneath and on urban roads e-drive suffices for power, but the instant torque from the electric engine meant a quick right overtake then a sharp left turn was nimbly executed - despite the sucking in of breath from my BMW NZ minder in the passenger seat.

In sport mode on the motorway, the car will hold a gear at high revs and give a willing response. It is, after all, a supercar, so a tap on the accelerator saw us launch ahead with delightful exhaust notes chiming.

On more rural winding bends, the i8 sat in comfort mode and showed that the chassis and suspension combined well to give it a more gran tourer feel that bone-shaking supercar.

Sure the two rear seats are really suitable for kids but adults can fit in the back - if the driver or front passenger is short and has moved their seat forward.

Realistically the Kiwi owners of the i8 won't be using it for school runs or transporting friends to Taupo for a long weekend. Instead the rear seat can hold a golf bag while the deep boot has 154 litres of space.

BMW NZ is keeping this white i8 for corporate use at the moment, while the first Kiwi customer gets their hybrid supercar early 2015 with more arriving throughout the year.
Of course there are downsides to the car.

For a start, the price.

BMW has confirmed the pricing for the i range at a recent launch event in Auckland. The i3 has a driveaway price from $83,500 and the powerful i8, offering virtually guilt-free sports performance, is priced from $278,000.

You'd also want to up your pilates classes to build up your core to help with entry and exit from the car - and if you don't like attention, then you're out of luck.

During my three-hour ride (including a photo shoot), we had fellow drivers follow us to take photos, locals stop their car in the middle of the road to stare at the i8, crowds do double takes as we drove past, and during a quick pit stop at the Herald office the building nearly emptied with colleagues wanting to have photos taken of themselves sitting in the i8.

So is it worth the hype?


Yes. Just taking in the sculptured lines of the car, and those doors, I'd happily just have an i8 sitting in the living room of my mansion so I could admire it all the time.
But it's not just a work of art. It's a smooth riding, responsive supercar that shows the future is here - and it looks damn fine.

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