Drive Review of the BMW i8 by Neil Lyndon

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In BMW, Car Reviews, Featured Articles by Neil Lyndon

The i8 is not just a car: it’s a cultural phenomenon, a social event
How often does a super-expensive, burnished tv advertisement for a car actually fail to do full justice to the wonders of its design?

How often does a £100,000 price tag for a car seem cheap at the price?

  • The Latest DS3 Lights
  • The Latest DS3 Lights
  • The Latest DS3 Lights
  • The Latest DS3 Lights

How often does a car mark a watershed in history – so that everything that has gone before is made to look like the antiques of the last century and everything that comes after will be seen in the shining light of this advance?

The new BMW i8 hybrid-electric supercar deserves every one of these extraordinary accolades. In nearly 60 years of caring about cars and 30-odd years of writing about them, I wouldn’t need more than the fingers of one hand to number the cars that can be ranked with the i8 for their revolutionary significance (original Mini/ VW Golf/ Honda NSX/ Nissan Leaf).

If you look in the wing mirrors while accelerating flat-out, the view is like a camera looking back at earth over the body of a space-craft on lift-off.
Like them, the i8 is not just a car: it’s a cultural phenomenon, a social event. It ought to interest people who aren’t normally interested in cars because it gives us a positive indication where, as a society, we are going.

This is not just the first supercar (0-60 mph in roughly four seconds) whose emissions are so low (would you believe 59 g/km?) that it’s exempt from London Congestion Charging: it is also the first hybrid electric car that is so ravishingly cool that you have to bite your hand to stop it snaking out and compulsively stroking the car’s sensationally lovely carbon fibre body, designed by Benoit Jacob. Every other hybrid car on the planet so far has looked much the same as every other ordinary car (see Lexus); or it has made an embarrassing show of its technological oddity by looking like something the office geek has just knocked up (see Prius/Leaf). No self-respecting hipster would be seen dead in a Leaf. The same arbiter of cool would sell his granny into slavery to be seen grooving through Beverly Hills or Puerto Banus in an i8.

That carbon fibre body – constructed in a process that has been described as closer to knitting and baking plastic thread than pressing and welding steel sheets – is unique from every angle. To achieve a drag coefficient of 0.26, the ant-eater nose is as low as a sports racing car. To achieve the downforce necessary to keep the car on the road when it is supplying a total of 357 bhp to all four wheels, rear wings are integrated into the body behind the passenger compartment. If you look in the wing mirrors while accelerating flat-out, the view is like a camera looking back at earth over the body of a space-craft on lift-off.

At that moment, the i8 also sounds like nothing on earth.  The astounding 1.5 litre twin turbocharged petrol engine in the back produces a barely-believable total of 231 bhp and sounds like an F1 engine when you floor the throttle pedal.
At that moment, the i8 also sounds like nothing on earth.  The astounding 1.5 litre twin turbocharged petrol engine in the back produces a barely-believable total of 231 bhp and sounds like an F1 engine when you floor the throttle pedal. At the same time, the electric motor in the front kicks in with a supersonic whine to add 131 bhp of boost.

Obviously, we were not on empty highland roads when we were enjoying this rapturous sensation and the uninhibited test that resulted in overall consumption of 34.2 mpg rather than the 130+ mpg claimed by BMW was all conducted on private roads; but the i8 will touch the motorway maximum speed on its electric motor alone which is also capable of driving the car 23 miles before it needs to be recharged from a power point at home or by the petrol engine in motion.

To enable the occupants to get into a car whose roofline is barely higher than a desk-top, dihedral gull-wing doors swing up over broad sills on which you have to rest your bottom before swinging in your feet and legs and wriggling down into position. Both driver and front passenger are then in a position of perfect comfort, with a whole handspan of headroom, but God help any humans confined in the rear seats, which match an Iron Maiden for spaciousness.

Space for luggage is equally risible. You sometimes see lawyers’ briefcases with greater capacity than the titchy slot in the i8.
But nobody is going to buy the i8 for family outings.  This is a car for somebody who cares nothing for practicality but, instead, loves and honours the highest creations of art and technology of which human hands are capable and wants to be connected with a revolutionary moment of history.

I only wish I could be one of them. But, at £99845, I’d probably have to barter a granny or two to raise the funds for the i8.
Give me a minute to think about that…

About Neil Lyndon
Neil Lyndon

Neil Lyndon

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Neil Lyndon has been a journalist, broadcaster and writer on the UK's national stage for 40 years, writing for every "quality" newspaper on Fleet Street. He started writing about cars and motorbikes for The Sunday Times in the 1980s and was Motoring Correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph for 20 years, having previously written a column on motorbikes for Esquire. He is also recognised as a leading commentator on gender politics, having published No More Sex War in 1992 - the first ever critique of feminism from a radical, egalitarian point of view.

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