The BMW i8, quite literally looks like a small space ship sprung to life from a sci-fi flick revolutionizing hybrid vehicles. While almost every premium manufacturer has a hybrid up its sleeve, BMW has gone full monty when it comes to space age design philosophy.
What you see in pictures could probably be the very future of automotive design. i8 was launched globally back in 2014, and BMW introduced its technological trophy in India only in 2015. We had a 3 day stint with i8 and came back mighty impressed. Here’s why….read on!
BMW i8 you see today was unveiled as Vision Efficient Dynamics concept back in 2009 at Frankfurt Motor Show. Several iterations and global exhibits later (It was also shown in India in 2011), the production version of the plug-in hybrid has remained quite close to the radical concept. BMW has been known to harp on the inclusion of efficient nomenclature in various aspects of its product lineup. The car you see in pictures is a 2015 model and the i8 hasn’t changed much since its global debut. It continues on the same lines and is likely to get a new colour tone as an inclusion, nothing more.
Overall design takes BMW’s famed Efficient Dynamics to a new level, all while incorporating those space age looks. Viewed from any angle, this extremely low and wide hybrid sports car has a myriad of powerful shapes and complex contours.
To be optimally aerodynamic, BMW has even gone to the extent of blanking out its signature kidney grille up front. This sophisticated machine in Sophisto Grey with BMW i-Blue subtly masks the air curtain, which channelizes air flow inside the rear wheels. It is impossible to miss the floating C pillar creating a layering effect streamlining air flow along with the U shaped LED stop lamps constructed as air channels through which the airstream flows.. No wonder, i8 achieves a low 0.26Cd (Drag coefficient)….. talk about form and function!
BMW i8 interiors are no less than the levitating cars from Total Recall with a sprinkle of Tron Legacy vibe. Scissor doors look mega cool but as with all low cars, i8 isn’t the most ingress friendly. The best way to enter is to slide into the seats.
The exterior visual carries over seamlessly to the interiors with the layering principle, evident in the two tone dashboard. Interiors are typical and unmistakably BMW with focus on driver orientation with the controls and displays.
The 10.25″ high-resolution fixed screen is docked atop the dash, capable of displaying a host of information controlled via iDrive system with touchpad dial. The cool blue instrument cluster display turns warm amber when driving on sports mode. As night falls, i8 interiors sport a luxurious ambience with a blue glowing effect emanating from the contour lines on doors, instrument panel and footwell. BMW says the i8 can seat 4 passengers but rear seats are best used to stow belongings and soft luggage. The seat backs don’t flip forward, so access to rear seats isn’t the most smooth, or convenient.
Driver and passenger seats are low, sporty and lightweight in construction further emphasizing the thought put into optimal weight distribution despite i8 being a hybrid sports coupe. i8 sports a 50:50 axle load distribution thanks to its LifeDrive architecture. Passenger compartment is made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) which offers cost effective mass production while maintaining weight reduction benefits of carbon technology. Swing the door open, and sills proudly display the carbon fibre weave, which is 50% lighter than steel and 30% lighter than aluminum. All of it go into making i8’s centre of gravity the lowest of all BMW cars.
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Heart of the Matter
i8 is predominantly powered by BMW TwinPower Turbo 1.5l 3 cylinder petrol motor capable of producing 231bhp coupled with a 6 speed automatic transmission. A 131bhp electric motor is hooked up to the front axle with a 2 speed automatic transmission. This hybrid in sport mode is capable of dispatching 0-100kmph in 4.5 seconds with the joint strike force of twin power sources. Low 1485 kerb weight helps. The 7.1 kWh high-voltage lithium-ion battery pack with advanced active thermal management system forms an electrical power house of this hybrid.
BMW i8 offers a choice of 4 drive modes: Comfort, EcoPro, Sport and eDrive. eDrive mode can only be used with a charged battery and sadly our test car wasn’t fully charged. With a fully juiced up battery pack, you can drive the i8 for 35kms. Comfort mode makes use of both power sources in a judicious manner. EcoPro mode keeps pottering around being economical. Sport mode keeps the engine spinning at all times with the electric motor supplementing propelling power at high speeds.
We left the car in Comfort mode and at times on EcoPro mode while ambling around in city traffic. Even with minimal battery charge, i8 pulls away in the e-mode courtesy its 131bhp electric motor powering the front wheels. The inline 3 pot motor only breathes into life once the car crosses about 60kmph. There is absolutely no drama in how the i8 pulls away in stealth mode often leaving unsuspecting pedestrians baffled. The most astonishing part remains the way fossil fuel atoms and electrons switchover propelling duties, inexplicably seamless.
BMW has provided some synthetic aural augmentation – a somewhat coarse burble played through the onboard speakers to up its sporty intent. i8 makes clever use of regenerative braking and occasional boost from the petrol engine when brisk acceleration is required.
In Sport mode, the petrol engine remains engaged at all times as a primary acceleration unit. The front electric motor joins in once speed surpasses 120kmph for additional boost up to its electronically limited top speed of 250kmph. In hybrid mode, i8 can return a staggering 47kmpl.
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The BMW brand is attentive to terms such as handling, steering feedback, driver engagement, and more. Despite being a Hybrid, i8 is no alien to the above terms. Shod with Bridgestone Potenza S001 195/50 R20s up front and 215/45 R20s at the rear, i8’s rubber doesn’t invoke any supercar like handling confidence on paper at least. In the real world, i8 remains a respectable handler in spite of skinny rubber. The electrically assisted steering weighs up progressively as speeds build up providing ample feedback.
Low COG bestows i8 with good handling mannerisms when driven within boundaries defined by the tyres. In Comfort mode, ride quality remains compliant by supercar standards and feels best suited in battling urban traffic. i8 rides on 117mm of ground clearance and a long overhang at the front calls for extra caution while traversing over speed breakers. i8’s Hybrid-specific Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), including all-wheel-drive functionality for independent drive sources, Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying and Brake Stand-by features; with Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) makes it a comprehensive package.
Braking comes courtesy of 13″ ventilated discs at four corners supplemented by Dynamic Braking Control and Corner Braking Control as safety features. The most important factor remains the Brake Energy Recuperation systems, which harvest braking energy back into the batteries every time you put foot to pedal. So, in theory, i8 always has a certain amount of charge balance. All systems work hand in glove without strain. The brake pedal feel remains un-appliance like, natural and progressive.
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BMW i8 doesn’t fit into any specific mould. Rather it creates its own. It isn’t a slouch despite being a Hybrid, and carries a supercar price tag without the face melting performance. It isn’t a designer label yet it’s stylish and sexy. The current i8 is already so good and way ahead of its time on the design front. We can’t help but wonder what the its successor could look like. Reportedly, there aren’t much upgrades in the 2017 version. BMW’s Hybrid Halo is all about making a statement in a very discreet way.