The Scottish Highlands is an unusual destination to test the new i8. BMW‘s hybrid performance car is a highly advanced piece of machinery – it’s complex mechanisms hidden beneath an almost futuristic shell. This remote part of Scotland has an untamed beauty where nature is at its purist; and as our small charter plane lands in Inverness, it feels a million miles away from the high-tech world where the i8 was born. This is one of the most daring cars of late – certainly in the sustainable category – and I am seriously excited to step inside and explore.
There has been quite a long prelude to this day. The initial Vision EfficientDynamics study was shown to us almost five years ago. It was revolutionary in design. It broke away from conventional automobile aesthetic introducing non-automotive materials and applications to the exterior and interior. It had a pioneering LifeDrive architecture, looked futuristic, spacey, exciting. The i8 production car retains the drama – perhaps not the full intensity but enough to command attention.
The proportions are that of a classic sports car; elongated bonnet, stretched sexy roofline, short overhangs, long 2,800mm wheelbase, and big 20-inch wheels. The i8 though looks unique with its overlapping and interlocking surfaces and visible aerodynamic aids – especially as you catch sight of the rear fender on the wheel arch from the wing mirrors. It has playful scissor doors that open forwards and upwards, and intricately-designed full LED slender lights at the front and rear.
‘The i8 delivers a lot with very little emissions, but with great if not better emotion,’ says Benoit Jacob. A little while ago I caught up with the head of BMW i design who explained that he encourages his team to take a completely fresh approach to designing the i cars. For the i8, they studied gliders and sailing boats that move with natural energy. He told me it is designed ‘by the wind not the design team; it is dictated by nature’ and as a result this is a highly efficiently aerodynamic sculpture.
Inside is slightly tilted towards the driver in BMW fashion and the occupants sit low as you would expect in a sports car. The leather trim, treated with natural substances, covers the slim seats, extending to parts of the centre console, overlapping instrument panel and interior door panels. Elements of the carbon-fibre passenger cell, so much at the heart of this car, are exposed as you (try to) artfully enter and exit this low car via the scissor doors.
The plug-in hybrid runs on a turbocharged three-cylinder engine-electric motor duo with a combined 357hp and 155-mph top speed, yet the i8 boasts 135mpg efficiency figures. Handling is agile and steering is precise, but as much as this is a performance car, it goes beyond a sports car. Once the doors are shut, you are cocooned in a delicate, quite space where you can then choose how to drive: glide in the city on the electric motor or kick the throttle for a completely different experience on the open road.
The contrast is incredible as you switch from Comfort to Sport mode. The instrument panel switches from light blue to hot red, the roaring engine note kicks in, and you as a driver take on a new role yet the interior environment somehow takes the element of aggression out. Jacob is very much aware of the importance of directing driver behaviour in these i cars. He feels his role here is ‘to design the behaviour of the people driving these cars’. After all sustainable driving needs to be about more than saving energy.
Like many other carmakers, BMW feels there is still a valid case for investing in sports cars; that the desire will not wane. And there should be a place for sports cars in the age of sustainability – carmaker just need to create them more intelligently. We experience very little emission and greater emotion as we drive through the Highlands, reflecting the weather as the sky dramatically transforms from piercing sunshine, to torrential rain. There is hardly a car in sight. We are almost drifting in near silence celebrating the environment.
More about the drive here BMW i8 hybrid performance car.
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©