Test Drives

BMW i8 review 2015: It’s Alive (Wire)!


SINGAPORE – Here’s the first local test drive of BMW’s cracking plug-in sports car

What is the BMW i8 again?
In 2009, BMW showed off its Vision Concept coupe. It looked supremely gorgeous but also obviously very conceptual – it’s not something anyone could, or would build and still have the money left over to sell, unless as a loss-leader.

Five years on, BMW has actually  built it: the i8. CarBuyer’s driven the i8 in prototype format, and at its international launch in Los Angeles last year, but now it’s finally here in Singapore, with the first customer receiving his in November 2014.

How can a hybrid, and a plug-in at that, be a fast, desirable sports car?
If you follow the trail from the dawn of hybrid cars – the uber-boring Insight and Prius for example – it’s hard to imagine how. But as we noted back in CB222, the i8 is a machine that is fast because of its concept – not in spite of it.

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Err…but that doesn’t explain anything…

Ok see here: Plug-ins are heavy because they’re basically hybrid cars (which are already heavier than normal ones) with even larger batteries. BMW solved the problem – and for its pure electric vehicle/optional hybrid city car the i3, as well – by going ‘all in’ with the tech. It invested massively in the research, production and use of carbon fibre. The i3 and i8 both have BMW’s LifeDrive architecture – a carbon fibre passenger cell riding on top of a largely-aluminium rolling chassis.

That’s horribly expensive. I’ll never be able to afford one!
Correction: You and I will never be able to afford, or obtain, a Ferrari LaFerrari or McLaren P1 and the like, in this lifetime. But an i8 is still a distant possibility if you forsake children and housing: For all the tech it contains, the i8 is surprisingly inexpensive:at $599,800 with COE. You’d pay more for a Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet or the big supercharged V8 version of the Range Rover.

That’s theoretically inexpensive. We think…
Yep. Even an M6 Gran Coupe costs more. And the i8 is cheap to run: it’s supposed to do 37km on electric power alone, with a two hour charge. Charging it daily will cost you just three Singapore dollars, which at current gas prices is around 1.6-litres of fuel – you can guess how far you’d get in any of the other cars just mentioned.

But a sports car has to be exciting!
The styling leaves no doubt about that: the i8 is low-slung and looks more like a future sleekmobile than anything else on the market right now. Remember those concepts of the 90s with futuristic displays and shark-like profiles? The i8 is exactly all that and it has scissor-doors too.

Yet, it’s only a 1.5…
Take a peek at the spec sheet, then watch the broadcast version of this story: It doesn’t feel at all inadequate, slow or undramatic. In fact I think anyone would be faster in an i8 on a regular circuit than in the Jaguar F-Type R Coupe we pitted it against. The fact that it can dole out all this performance and still do something like 2.1L/100km doesn’t just make it impressive, it makes the i8 flat-out super-cool and even more desirable in this day and age. 

How does it fare in Singapore, then?
The i8 has non-adaptive suspension but it’s set-up very well and handles all sorts of roads effortlessly. Besides the slight difficulty pouring yourself into the driver’s chair, the i8 would certainly make a great daily driver: the power delivery, handling and view are all very good and not in the least intimidating. But with the i8 proving to be a hot product, not even money guarantees you’ll get one here.  

Engine                        1,499cc, 12V, inline 3, turbocharged
Power                         231bhp at 5800rpm
Torque                        320Nm at 3700rpm
Electric motor             131bhp at 4800rpm, 250Nm
Total System Output  362bhp, 570Nm
Battery                       7.1kWh Lithium ion
Charge Time               <2 hours to 80 percent
Gearbox                      6-speed auto (rear), 2-speed auto (front)
Top Speed                   250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h                  4.4 seconds
Fuel consumption        2.1L/100km
CO2                              49g/km

Price $599,800 with COE         
Availability Now

about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong