Electric Dreams: Driving the BMW i8

Every once in a while there comes a car that captures your senses upon first sight and gets under your skin the moment you slide into the drivers seat. A car that invigorates you when you fire hard out of corners and a car that astounds you with its brilliance by doing all of the above and more. This is one of those times, and this, is one of those cars. Welcome to BMW’s game changing vision of future sports cars, the i8.

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Just how game changing is the i8? Well, we were quite (actually, very) fortunate to have been blessed with the keys to one for a little over half a day, so let’s find out.

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With the birth of BMW’s i cars, come not just the beginning of a whole new fleet of BMW cars, but also a new method of construction. Aware that building these unconventional cars (the i8 and the i3) the conventional way in a conventional factory was just not going to cut it, BMW invested big money and built a new high-tech factory in Leipzig, East Germany, to manufacture these cars.

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Claimed to be one of the most sustainable automobile plants in the world, all of the electricity needed for building the i models is generated on-site using wind power. With the wind turbines generating more electricity than is required for construction of the i cars, the surplus energy is then channeled into other areas of the plant.

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Extensive use of CFRP (carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer) in the i cars also means having the new plant specialize in the forming and mass creation of this very stiff yet lightweight material that allows BMW to manufacture much larger body components for the i8. Panels which are also difficult to produce in aluminum or sheet steel. If there are any Eco techno geeks out there, we think a visit to the BMW i factory could quite possibly be a dream come true.

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Aesthetically, there is really no equal in the i8’s price bracket. Visually, the i8 is at once, stunning and breathtaking, almost making an Audi R8 (even the latest one) look dated, so don’t even get us started with the 911.

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The BMW i8’s innovative use of sweeps, swoops and floating buttresses all mix together into a visual cocktail that allows it to sit on a road like a Spaceship sits amongst a sea of barges.

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Everyone and i really mean it, everyone turns to look. From pedestrians to fellows motorist, from commuters on public transport to pillion riders on the back of motorcycles whipping out their mobile phones to take a snap even while on the move, the i8 really is quite striking, made much more so with our test car’s electric Protonic Blue paint.

Personally I’d opt for Sophisto Grey or Crystal White, and while pictures might tell a different story, Protonic Blue with black accents does emphasize the i8’s complex mix of shapes, wide stance and remains gorgeous in the flesh (even after all the Porsche rear-end jokes).

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Lifting up the dramatic and lightweight butterfly doors reveal the bare CFRP panels that make up the i8’s Life Module passenger cell. While the exposed CFRP weaving might look cool, there are also more practical reasons why it has been left unpainted. With no need to primer, paint and clear the surface, this also means less weight to carry around. Another reason is in the event of an accident that might affect the structure of the passenger cell, engineers from BMW will be able to graft on new layers of CFRP with the correct weave onto the Life Module, a very important aspect for repairing the i8 as CFRP gains it’s strength not just from the material make-up but from how its weaving has been bonded together.

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Climbing over those CFRP sills and sliding in, we find the BMW i8 retains the ergonomics and layouts signature with all new BMWs. Materials and surfaces are as expected of a premium luxury sports car and important bits of control will fall into familiar places for those accustomed to the marque.

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Familiarities though, end right there as there are plenty of stylistic design touches inside which tell you that you are in no ordinary car. The sliver of Tron-like light accents that surrounds the cabin, the very low seating position, the heavily raked dashboard, those buttons at the sides to open the doors, and screens that light up when you thumb the starter.

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And thumb the starter we did, with no other indication that it’s Go-time other than a faint sound reminiscent of a jet turbine spinning up and two screens on the dashboard coming to life. There might not be the roar of a V-engine coming to life, but the effect of near total silence when starting up a car is so unexpected and futuristic that it still manages to feel special without pandering to the typical shouty sports-car crowd.

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Having a near silent start-up also means you will be able to cruise stealthily around small neighborhoods or crowded spaces quietly without having to bother anyone.

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Switching the i8 over eDrive mode or going light on the throttle keeps the i8 running along on full electric and the only things that come out of the exhaust at the back are imaginary unicorn farts. It really does feel quite refreshing to be able to drive around in a car that looks as wild as this, yet not having it constantly shout about what it can do. Driving around in electric feels, for lack of a better word, cool.

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On full eDrive mode, the BMW i8 is able to drive without support from the combustion engine until the battery is almost exhausted and allows the i8 to hit 120km/h on electric power alone. Not that you’ll ever try doing such a thing in Singapore right?

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Power comes from a hybrid drive-train consisting of a small but punchy 231-horsepower 22 psi boosted 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine located behind the seats, a 131-horsepower electric motor mounted on the front axle and an additional electric motor supplementing the petrol burning unit and feeds power to the wheels whenever the 1.5-liter requires it, like perhaps, in between gear changes. Total output for this hybrid setup is 362 HP and a stomping 570Nm of torques.

This means that on the move, the BMW i8 is quick, really quick. On electrics alone, the i8 can hit 60km/h in 4.5 seconds and when you eventually slot the gear lever in Sport mode, 100km/h comes up in 4.4, almost on point with the mighty (and more powerful) BMW M4. Impressive numbers for an electrically assisted 1.5 and the way the i8 shuffles is quite unlike it’s M-Powered brethren.

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Unlike the M-cars which kick you in the back the moment you plant your foot down, the i8 accelerates and propels itself down the road with much less drama while maintaining a pace that is equally as rapid. There is no surging, no turbo lag, just uninterrupted power as the i8 throws itself into the horizon. The sound of an angry 6-pot might play through the speakers but it doesn’t at all feel artificial in its delivery. Wind the windows down and the even sounds pretty good from the outside.

Running down one of our favorite curvy roads uninterrupted, the BMW i8 was able to hustle and slice its way through tight bends really really quickly. With most of the car’s 1,485kg weight situated low down and keeping its center of gravity as close to the ground as possible, the i8 remained poised, stable and flat through each and every corner we threw at it.

While there are paddles behind the wheel to toggle your gears, the 6-speed automatic does a fantastic job choosing the right cogs to be in and with instant electric torque coming in to power us out of every curve, you don’t really need to do much self shifting. The steering feel might be slightly on the lighter side, but it is accurate and very direct. At times, the slightly skinny tires up front might put up a protest but they don’t give up gripping. This hybrid can cover ground at a rather alarming pace and is a really addictive car to drive to drive really quickly.

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Driving the i8 in Sport mode isn’t just fun, it also allows the car to charge up its batteries, so whenever you are running low on battery power, just pop it into sport and cane it. BMW i8 owners probably have the most fun battery charging method ever. I actually found driving around in Sport mode to be much more suited to the personality of the car so needless to say, my batteries were running on a full charge most of the time.

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The i8 though it isn’t perfect. Those dramatic doors which look uber cool, might create some parking issues in town. Hinged right in the A-pillars, you do need to factor in some space at the sides when you need those butterfly wings to open up.

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Boot space is also a premium in this car and be mindful of what you place into the boot as the heat from the engine radiates in. No bringing home tubs of ice cream in there.

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And wile the BMW i8 is marketed as a 2+2, the rear seats and rear passenger space are not exactly what we would call, commodious. There is also a slight bit of distortion when peering out the back with the rear view mirror.

So there are faults with the BMW i8, but to be honest i don’t care. I love the i8, i love how it looks, i love how it drives, i love the thinking behind it but most of all, i love how it makes me feel; Like a Rock-star.

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The BMW i8 really is a modern Countach moment for the automotive World. You just know that from this point on, things are never going to be the same again, and this Spaceship on wheels is what we want Marty Mcfly to see when he arrives on October 21 this year, it might not have Mr Fusion but where we’re going, we might just not need that anymore.

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