2014 BMW i8 Coupe l12

2014 BMW i8 Coupe l12

A decade ago, you’d have put money on the sports/supercar market being the sector where EVs and hybrids had the least chance of success. Yet the latter is now saturated by makers boasting EV powertrains with ever-increasingly ridiculous horsepower figures.

Not so long ago, a road car with four-figure horsepower would have seemed like overkill, bordering on reckless. Who could have predicted the crazy voltage arms race we find ourselves in today, way back in 2011? In an age where the chances of full battery EVs taking over the performance sector seemed about as likely as Donald Trump getting into the White House, BMW released its Vision EfficientDynamics concept (basically an i8). The path to a cleaner more sustainable future back then seemed to lie with hybrid technology. Mating an electric motor to a small combustion engine alleviates range anxiety while still returning impressive mpg and greatly reduced emissions.

2014 BMW i8 Coupe l12

The BMW i8 was far more than just a green tech showcase, it was the spiritual successor to the Munich firm’s mighty M1. With the burden of that succession on its designers’ shoulders – as well as the hugely complicated and largely unproven running gear – few envied them. The only slight respite for the drivetrain engineers was that the i8 took its mid-mounted internal combustion inspiration from the MINI, in the form of a 1.5-litre three-cylinder TwinPower turbo engine – though M Power toyed with almost all of it. The i8’s version was far more potent than any fitted to one of BMW’s grocery getters, making 228bhp. The chassis and the rest of the running gear are bespoke, with a passenger cell made from carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) that, together with an aluminium chassis frame, keeps the i8’s weight to a minuscule – by modern standards – 1535kg. The wild, interlocking and overlapping space-age bodywork was also pretty handy at wind cheating, with an impressive 0.26cd.

All the tech and clever construction in the world doesn’t amount to much if a sports car can’t impress dynamically. First, trying to ignore the ‘butterfly’ doors in order to get into the driver’s seat is tough – they’re extremely cool. The driving position is the typical low-slung legs-out sports car orientation, and despite the design language in here being nearly two decades old, it still feels futuristic. That’s achieved largely by the cabin’s convex dash, and sculpted door tunnels that mirror external air intakes. The compact wheel feels ideally placed and sized and as soon as I move off, it’s clear the seats will hold me in when things get exciting. Speaking of which… traction control turned to Dynamic allows for playfulness, yet holds off disaster, though you’re unlikely to get there unless you’re about as sensitive behind the wheel as Andrew Flintoff.

The i8 feels inherently stable and driver-oriented with drive modes that genuinely make a huge difference. Comfort provides just that with Sport similarly following through on its promise. The ride in Sport does descend into a bit of a jiggly experience, but it pays dividends during hard cornering, keeping the i8’s composure impeccable. Roll is negligible with the car’s mass kept low and evenly split front to back via batteries in the ‘transmission’ tunnel. The noise from that angry little triple might be augmented via cabin speakers, but it’s a neat trick that works well. At the other end of the spectrum, you can put this thing in Eco Plus mode and happily cover up to 30 miles on full electric power. Whatever mode selected, the i8 never fails to feel anything but special.

Any automotive first is going to have the odd issue and as the first hybrid sports car, the i8 complies. Owners report that the car is generally reliable, but some have experienced electrical issues with charging and overheating. The petrol engine is in an extremely high state of tune and its packaging means it has to have a cooling system in top order. Engine replacements because of overheating aren’t unheard of. Because this is an exotic car, most owners have the budgets to look after them and they’re no less reliable than any of their Italian contemporaries. Though you’ll likely still be relying on the dealer network for maintenance, which won’t be cheap.

With all its new technology at launch, it was always expensive. In 2013 its retail price was £105 shy of £100k. Today, you’ll need at least £31,000 to get into one. At this end of the range you’ll be looking at a well-used, high-mileage example. It’s safer to sink £50k-£65k into a cherished i8. The very best pampered and meticulously serviced cars can change hands for more than £100,000, but these are often later cars – the i8 was made up to 2020. Because of its complex, cutting-edge mechanicals, it’s absolutely essential that you only consider an i8 with a fully-traceable history – this isn’t a car you want to simply trust the owner when he says he lost the receipts.

Owning a BMW i8

Charlotte Coulson says, ‘Once I’d established the best way to get in and out of it, the versatility and ease of commuting surpassed my expectations. I work locally, so I’m able to travel on electric, which was one of my stipulations. Since buying it in February, nothing has gone wrong. I have only needed to fuel it three times and the last two were travelling up to Lancashire. It averages 75mpg – not bad for a sporty number. Road Tax is £0; all in all it’s an inexpensive car to run. It’s surprisingly easy to drive and there’s a tsunami of power when you want it. When I pile shopping into the boot, people are stunned that this seemingly impractical car works as an everyday vehicle.’

TECHNICAL DATA 2014 BMW i8 Coupe l12

  • Engine 1499cc inline three-cylinder, dohc turbo (mid-mounted) with front-mounted 96kw eDrive AC electric motor
  • Power and torque 228bhp (inline triple), 129bhp (electric motor) combined 357bhp @ 5800rpm; 236lb ft @ 3700rpm
  • Steering Electromechanical rack and pinion, power assisted
  • Transmission Combined conventional six-speed auto (rear) with two-stage auto (front)
  • Suspension Front: independent, struts, double track control arms with dynamic damper control, anti-roll bar. Rear: independent, five link, strut, anti-roll bar
  • Brakes Servo-assisted vented discs all round
  • Performance Top speed: 155mph
  • 0-60mph: 4.4sec
  • Weight 1535kg (3384lb)
  • Fuel consumption 70mpg average (potential up to 130mpg)
  • Cost new £99,895 (price in 2013)
  • Parkers Price Guide £31,000-£68,500

Controls have familiar weight behind them 35 years – and figurative worlds – apart, yet rear buttresses still excite. Various drive modes provide excellent versatility.

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