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Motoring; BMW’s super future

PUBLISHED: 13:08 18 November 2014 | UPDATED: 13:08 18 November 2014

BMW i8

BMW i8

Archant

It’s lean, mean and very green – BMW’s i8 is the supercar of the future, says motoring editor Andy Russell

The 'cockpit' of BMW's i8The 'cockpit' of BMW's i8

If there’s ever a remake of Back to the Future, the bold new BMW i8 should be the star car. Every curve and contour of the carbon composite body of this revolutionary sports car has been designed to make it as slippery as possible to cut drag. Even the slim 20in forged aluminium wheels with comparatively skinny tyres are designed to reduce turbulence, while the aluminium drive structure and carbon fibre reinforced plastic passenger cell are all about being light yet rigid. With its heavy batteries, it still weighs in at only 1,490kg.

You would expect a supercar to boast a huge V8, V10 or V12 lump of engine but here the i8 makes a further break with convention. This is BMW’s first plug-in hybrid performance car with a 231hp 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine driving the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox and a 131hp electric motor the front axle to give a combined 362hp and 570 Newton metres of torque, nearly half of it available from standstill on the electric motor. And while it may be a small engine, it still has a stimulating soundtrack – albeit enhanced into the cabin – as you wind it up in sport mode.

The figures are impressive – 0-62mph in a searing 4.4 seconds and top speed limited to 155mph. But the i8 is as much about environmental performance, with the potential for combined fuel consumption of 134.5mpg and CO2 emissions of just 49g/km. So no road tax or congestion charge, not that it should be a problem given the i8’s near-£100,000 price tag (although you do get a £5,000 government grant). Expect 60-70mpg, as good as many family cars. 
With the combination of petrol and electric, the i8 has a potential range of 310 miles in Comfort mode, which switches seamlessly between battery and engine. The electric motor gives a power boost to the petrol engine during acceleration, but in eDrive mode it gives a range of up to 22 miles with a top speed of 75mph on battery alone. Recharging to 80 per cent takes two hours at a BMW iWallbox or public charging point or under three with a domestic three-pin socket. It also recharges via the electric motor.

The low centre of gravity means the i8 corners flatly and feels agile yet is endowed with a surprisingly supple, and most unsupercar-like, ride quality – partly down to the light weight and those thin tyres, which mean road noise is kept in check.

Just getting in is exciting. The dihedral doors open forwards and upwards and once inside the hi-tech Life module, as BMW calls it, you are greeted by a fully digital cockpit. You don’t expect a supercar to be spacious and practical and while this 2+2 is OK for children in the back, you could squeeze a couple of small adults in for a short hop, although you need to be supple to get in and out.

With the engine at the back, boot space is extremely limited but you can get a Louis Vuitton set of travel bags, a business case and a garment bag tailormade to fit.

The i8 is a halo model, not only for BMW technology and its purpose-built i3 electric supermini, but the plug-in electric hybrid market in general. Despite the price tag, BMW expects to sell around 750 in the UK alone next year, which will inject some excitement into the environmental issue.

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FACT FILE.

Price: £94,845 incl £5,000 government grant.

Engine: 1.5-litre, 231hp three-cylinder turbo petrol engine and 131hp electric motor producing a combined 362hp and 570 Newton metres of torque.

Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch gearbox driving rear wheels. Electric motor drives front.

Performance: 0-62mph 4.4 seconds; top speed 155mph (limited).

MPG: 134.5 combined.

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