Motors: Fuelling the electric revolution

Guy Wilks, twice British rally champion and owner of KNE (Karting North East) test drives the new £120K i8 plug-in hybrid sports car by BMW

 

Admittedly, I’ve never really been much of a BMW fan. The M3 model was cool back in the day when it was boxy and had massive race and rally pedigree, but it still didn’t draw me in.
However, a couple of years ago, some footballers were rolling into the car park up at KNE for some off-season racing. All the usual suspects were lined up: Range Rovers, Ferraris, a Lamborghini. But one stood out from the crowd – a BMW i3!
Bold, different, sleek yet completely practical – everybody swarmed around it.
Today, it still has my attention along with its big brother, the i8, which I got the opportunity to drive last month.
Would this super sleek futuristic hybrid supercar really cut the mustard?
What attracts me to the ‘i’ range is the boldness of its design and bravery of technology. The i8 really does show off all that BMW has learnt over the years. The manufacturer boldly goes further than any other and even has the bravery to step away from a lot of the elements that have moulded the brand into what it is today.

Engineering
This car has a 1.5 litre 3 cylinder petrol engine (mid mounted) that is straight out of the MINI lineup (yes, really) but it’s married to a twin power turbocharger which makes it a 228hp feisty beast. And that’s coupled to the standard end that a BMW drive train would be – the rear.
But here comes the really interesting part: this car is four-wheel drive – the front wheels driven by a two speed 139hp electric motor.
In reality, a total of 357hp in what looks like a supercar might not leave you flabbergasted but what will is the thinking behind it and the results it achieves.
Having split the power sources, the very clever men and women at BMW have achieved the perfect weight distribution over this dual chassis made of aluminium and carbon fibre reinforced plastic. The kerb weight is 105kg more than a 911 (expected with an electric motor and batteries) but the i8 wins the 0-62 battle with a spritely 4.4 seconds thanks to masses of instant torque from the electric motor.

Looks
The looks of the i8 will probably divide. Blanked off kidney grilles, skinny wheels and tyres, ‘bat wing’ doors, aero lines with no visible exhaust does take a little getting used to.
Even from the driver’s seat, seeing the rear quarter through the wing mirrors, the huge scallop to give that slipperiness through the air does leave you wondering whether you left the boot open, at first.
Also, the slickness or styling means the drag coefficient is tiny, giving two benefits: lack of wind noise and increased economy.
On the road the i8 is as dialled as you’d expect – after all, this is BMW’s forte. Standard adaptive dampers will tune the chassis into the road with your driving manner. Up-dale on an enjoyable road, cruising the motorways or in town traffic, this car has it covered to the point that you’ll rarely tire of driving it.
I picked one of my BMW-loving friends up in the i8 and took him for a spin over a magical piece of road in the Durham dales from Stanhope over Bollihope Common and back to Frosterley.
In purely electric mode (driving the front wheels only) we slipped through the villages in a serene and nearly silent way. You feel the electric motor recovery working hard as you lift off the throttle but you almost hardly need to use the brake while it harvests energy on over run.
On hairpin bends and away from the villages, with the gear lever slid across to the left, it’s a different story in sport mode.
The chassis was beautifully balanced and reassuring as we let the i8 stretch its legs out on the corners over the moors, releasing every ounce of power it could give. This may not be the i8’s usual environment, but when you’re spending 100k-plus, you want to be able to enjoy all kinds of driving.
In truth, it may not give that true 100 per cent supercar feel – that edgy one that could throw you off the road easily on a choppy ‘b’ road – but, really, isn’t that a good thing?
Slithering down from the top of the moors, my friend is more than impressed with the ride and performance but he raises a few points that I agree on.
The cabin is unlike its younger sibling, the i3. It has a more conventional BMW interior, albeit put together by hand, but it does disappoint a little. It just doesn’t quite reflect what’s happening on the outside and underneath the bonnet. Optional iblue seat belts do lift it and you can have fun with the interior spec of colour shades, but then, this car does has an unbelievable base spec.

Economy
The concept of motoring and plugging in your car on an evening had never been so rewarding until BMW built the i8.
BMW reports the i8 offers 135mpg but I’d like to see where and how. I achieved between 26-45mpg on different journeys – never quite managing the whole way on electric. But that could have been because a temptation to put my foot down couldn’t be tamed.
When we live in a world where M&S are proud to announce they flush their toilets with harvested rain water and use ultra efficient hand dryers that save 80 per cent electricity compared to a standard one, the car industry is hardly going to escape. The fact is that the electric revolution in motoring has already started.
BMW didn’t just jump on the bandwagon, it is trying to make the bandwagon, and an ultra high spec one at that!
The i8 and i3 models are revolutionary in my mind and will be looked back on as game changers, I’m sure.

Lloyd Newcastle BMW
Guy test drove the BMW i8 from Lloyd Newcastle BMW, Barrack Road, Newcastle, NE2 4LE
www.lloydnewcastlebmw.co.uk

Karting North East
KNW is located at Warden Law Motorsport Centre, Sunderland, SR3 2PR
www.kartingnortheast.com
@GuyWilks

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