The BMW i8 is a powerful hybrid with sci-fi looks (Wired UK)


There is a year-long waiting list for the i8 — and none of
these eager people have driven the car yet. This gives some
indication of the level of anticipation surrounding BMW’s new eco
poster child.

However, for a car that is aimed at the sort of consumer that
would usually look at a 911 or Audi R8, BMW knows that the i8 must
heavily tick the sports performance box, as well as laud its eco
credentials, in order to be deemed a success.

Fortunately, Wired had a chance to put the i8 hybrid through
some automotive and tech paces ahead of the UK launch on a day’s
driving outside of Inverness.

Firstly, when you see the cars lined up ready for action it
looks as if Wired has stepped onto the set of a science fiction
film. The low, sculpted carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic bodywork
would not appear out of place in a Ridley Scott movie. The copious
amounts of fibre in the i8’s construction also helps this car come
in at just 1.5 tonnes. The “LifeDrive” construction means that the
passenger section is a carbon fibre tub that is bolted and bonded
to an aluminium subframe, which is all exceptionally stiff.

The i8 has a mid-mounted, 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged
engine that drives the rear wheels through a six-speed auto
gearbox. A small electric motor acts as a starter motor but can
also fill in any torque gaps in the engine’s delivery. The front
wheels are powered separately by an electric motor and two-speed
gearbox. Now, there’s an awful lot going on there. Trying to make
those three power systems talk to each other seamlessly –
especially switching between the three modes of eDrive, Comfort and
Sport — so that you are unaware as a driver of the shifts going on
around you must have been very tricky indeed.

“That actually was one of the main challenges in project i8,”
says project director Dr Carsten Breitfeld. “This drive train is
the first road-linked plugin hybrid because the electric powertrain
on the front axle and the combustion powertrain on the rear axle
have no mechanical connection. They are linked only through the
street and the control electronics.

“In the eDrive mode, we drive completely electrically through
the front axle. In the Comfort mode, the software controls the
energy efficiency through the input of the electric and combustion
engine. And in Sports both engines are working at maximum
performance. To construct the software and the application so that
the interplay of the drive components are working in an optimal
way, was — as said — one of the major challenges. But we think we
have solved them in a convincing way.”

BMW has. From the almost austere cockpit where all the controls
are familiar — it would have been nice to see the sci-fi design
elements continued inside — it was practically impossible to
discern which power plant was providing the thumping acceleration.
Wired also loved the futuristic electric whine audible alongside
that acoustically enhanced 228bhp turbocharged engine. In fact, far
from dialling it down, so that you might be able to pretend you
were in a traditional sports car, Wired would have liked to play
with the volume settings to get a little bit more of this noise
signature from the 129bhp AC electric motor. If you’re going to
choose the future rather than the past, you’re going to want to
embrace that choice and revel in the technology at play under the
bonnet. You want to know it’s there, to celebrate it.

In eDrive, the i8 is zero-emission front-wheel-drive with a top
speed of 75mph and a range of 22 miles. Comfort mode sees it morph
into a plug-in hybrid that’s surprisingly refined with a range of
310 miles. The car can be charged from zero to 80 percent inside
two hours.

Select Sport mode and the i8 transforms into something
altogether different. Now all the motors work in concert to offer
maximum power. In this setting the i8 generates 357bhp. The drive
is planted, with flat and fast cornering, but you feel the bumps
and dips in the road. The regeneration braking system is also an
absolute triumph, the best Wired has encountered.

So at one extreme the i8 can supposedly reach (though you never
will) 135mpg and 49g/km CO2 Emissions, and at the other it will hit
0-62mph in 4.4sec and a limited top speed of 155mph.

Yes, the 154-litre boot is laughably small (make sure you order
the Louis Vuitton i8 luggage to fit on the rear seats). Yes, it’s
not quite got the performance of the 911 or R8 — but this is an
admirable car that can deliver an exceptionally entertaining drive
or, at the flick of a switch, an eco-friendly commute. It has its
sights set firmly on where we are headed rather than glorifying or
tinkering with yesterday’s automotive achievements. BMW has done
very well.

BMW i8 Specs:
Hybrid coupé: 1.5ltr turbo petrol engine
rear-wheel drive / electric motor front-wheel drive
Price: From £99,845
Power/torque: 357bhp/420lb ft
Top speed: Limited to 155mph
Range: 375 miles (22 miles electric)
Recharge time: Two hours (UK domestic
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.4sec
Fuel economy: 135mpg EU Combined (in a perfect
CO2 emissions: 49g/km

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