From Alternative to Accustomed

Danny Cobbs finds himself getting used to life driving ‘alternative’ cars as he tests out the new BMW i8

I seem to be writing more and more about ‘alternative’ engine technology. Last month I reviewed the plug-in hybrid VW Golf GTE and this month I’m going to share my thoughts with you on something which uses a similar drivetrain.

So when does the ‘alternative’ become the norm? I guess diesel cars were once considered left-of-field; a bit agricultural and too foreign. Now, however, we don’t give them a second thought. In actual fact, last year in the UK, 49.8% of all the new cars registered were diesel powered – that’s practically a 50:50 ratio.

In 2013, there were over 32,000 hybrids sold in the UK, which showed a 20.5 per cent rise on the previous years’ figures, and that number is only set to grow. There is over 1500 public electric charging points nationwide, and by 2018 Transport for London has contractually promised at least 6000 sites within the Capital. So are we still talking about something which is an alternative?

And, when mainstream car maker’s like BMW start producing things like the new i8, it’s difficult to argue that plug-in hybrids are little more than a passing fad and only exist so they can keep the policymakers at bay.

Admittedly, the i8 does appear as if it has been transported back from the future. Yet, it’s the ethos behind the i8 which adds even further credence, and a huge dollop of reassurance, to the hybrid debate while also challenging the way the world views sports coupes. These types of cars are here to stay, so let’s embrace them, and no more of this alternative nonsense.

The i8s lightweight bodywork is a master class in automotive design and is achingly stunning from any angle. Open the doors, and they fall forward and upwards, like butterfly wings, to reveal an interior which is as revolutionary as the exterior.

Many elements from BMW’s current range have been carried over, yet the addition of twin screens, naked industrial spec carbon fibre and a multi-surfaced dashboard makes the driver-focused cockpit seem like a colonisation of George Lucas imagination.

Underneath the i8’s skin sits a complex and innovative drivetrain. It’s driven by two motors; an electric one up front and a turbocharged three-cylinder 1.5-litre unit in the back. Combined they offer 363bhp of power and drive all four wheels.It has a top speed of 155mph, with a 0-62mph time of 4.4 seconds – that’s Audi R8 V8 and Porsche 911 4S territory.

Not only is it fast, it’s green too. BMW claim 134.5mpg with just 49g/km of CO2 emissions. The batteries give the electric motor a top speed of 75mph and a range of 22 miles. Thereafter, it automatically engages its hybrid mode; switching between the two power sources, harnessing kinetic energy and recharging the batteries as it does so.

The i8 is more than just a whimsical design concept; it’s available right now. It costs just under £100,000, with first orders due for delivery in January 2015.


Quick facts

Top Speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
Average fuel consumption: 134.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 49g/km
Price: £99,115