BMW i8 (2014-2020) Review
Whether in Coupé or Convertible form, the i8 demonstrates that there’s no reason why sports cars of the future can’t continue to be fun
Strengths & weaknesses
It's still relatively early days for alternative-fuelled cars, despite the likes of the Toyota Prius having been around for over two decades now. Hybrid cars are becoming a lot more commonplace these days, but they tend to be in the shape of mainstream vehicles such as saloons or hatchbacks.
Technically, it’s more of a grand tourer than a pure sports car – especially in Coupé guise, with its 2+2 layout (which means there are two rear ‘seats’ that are only really suitable for the very youngest of passengers) – but its performance and on-road manners are certainly sporty enough for most buyers.
The first thing that strikes you about the i8 is that it looks like the futuristic sports car that it is. Built on an aluminium chassis and carbon-fibre passenger cell, the bodywork looks sleek and aerodynamic, with flowing lines and the wheels positioned at the corners for maximum sportiness.
The interior is just as futuristic and sporty as the exterior, and certainly not a poor relation when compared to the likes of the Porsche 911, Jaguar F-Type or Audi R8. Leather-upholstered sports seats with electric adjustability make for a comfortable driving position, while a head-up display works well with the instruments and the 8.8-inch colour touchscreen to offer all the necessary information. The two extra rear seats in the Coupé are useful extra storage, especially as there’s only 154 litres of boot space: the Convertible, because of the extra space required for the retractable soft-top roof, has neither the rear seats nor as much boot space, with just 88 litres, so it's not a car for long trips.
The 'iDrive' infotainment system common to BMW models works well, with the ConnectedDrive connectivity system adding a number of useful features, including real-time traffic information and a range of apps. However, in common with other BMW models, Apple CarPlay is both a paid-for option and only connects via Bluetooth, which is both baffling when it’s available via a wired connection on countless cheaper mainstream cars and also subject to glitches when it fails to connect – unforgivable when paying over £100,000 for a car.
The petrol-electric hybrid powertrain offers a good blend of performance and efficiency – although the latter is variable in real-world driving and comes nowhere near the lab-derived official figures. The sound of the three-cylinder engine is enhanced electronically, but it still sounds great, while the different modes offer the best of both worlds, when it comes to the petrol engine and electric motor. The energy recuperation and regeneration also offer different types of driving experience to maximise the i8’s efficiency, which is rewarding in a slightly nerdy kinda way.
The i8 is certainly a fun car to drive, though. It has loads of grip, great balance and agility (despite the weight of the batteries), sure and consistent steering, and handles beautifully when pushed on a twisting country road. It is as sporty as most drivers will want and even the Convertible doesn’t compromise too much on that, with its soft-top roof marginally reducing the stiffness of the chassis. Can it match the 911 or R8? Not quite, but the differences are really small and offset with the knowledge that the hybrid system is less polluting and more efficient.
The ride quality is pretty much standard sports car-level stiffness, but it's not uncomfortable, even in town when tackling speed bumps: it's definitely on a par with what you'd expect from a low-slung sports car.
The i8 – in both variants – is an eye-catching, fun-to-drive car that is perhaps one of the most low-cost ways of owning a luxury sports car (especially if you harness the advantages that the hybrid system offer and use electric power on a regular basis). The 911 and R8 perhaps shade it in sportiness terms, while the Bentley Continental GT offers a more luxurious experience (albeit for an additional £30,000-40,000). However, as a vision of sports car of the future, the i8 is unmatched and, overall, it offers a thoroughly appealing package.