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      07-28-2014, 04:15 PM   #1
JasH
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Post UK i8 test drive - The future of high end exotic sports cars

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UK i8 test drive - The future of high end exotic sports cars

I first saw the BMW i8 at the Canary Wharf Motor Expo a few weeks ago. I don’t pay attention to BMWs, so had missed all news of this car, and assumed it to be a concept car when I saw it. It was stunning to look at, and was the one drawing the crowds. I was stunned when the BMW staff told me it was a street car, available to buy!

I took a few pictures, thought it was amazing to look at, but thought no more of it. But it had planted a seed in my mind, and yesterday I went to BMW to take a look at one and spend some time behind the wheel. The car was so new it only had 100 miles on it. It had all the options except laser headlights £8,000). It had the optional wider wheels, front and rear.

First the claimed stats. The car costs £100k, which is surprisingly low considering the technology and build quality of it (or £120k with all the options). In short, it has a full carbon fibre passenger cell, with aluminium chassis and is a mid-engined 4WD car. It weighs just under 1500kg and does 0-60mph in 3.8 seconds (0-62 in 4.4). Yet it delivers 134mpg on the standard combined test cycle!

In the metal, it looked stunning again. Like something from the future. This time I could of course sit inside it to get a proper look, and the interior is also futuristic yet classy and feels good quality, although noticeably not as luxurious as Ferrari or McLaren interiors. The interior is airy and offers great all round visibility. The cockpit is a gadget lover’s idea of heaven however.

Getting in and out was easy, for an S1 Exige owner. The average driver might complain a little however, as the car is low and the sill is wide. There is a lot of exposed carbon fibre visible as you enter the car, which looks fantastic.

I set off in full electric mode, and found that the car was almost completely silent. It was very similar to the original Tesla I drove three years ago, based on the Elise chassis. It had instant torque and plenty of power and acceleration for normal driving. The steering was extremely light at crawling speeds, but weighted up nicely when travelling at speed. There was however no sense of feedback from the wheel, although it felt extremely precise.

I could quite comfortably and happily drive the i8 solely in electric mode, and found it to be extremely relaxing as it was so quiet. I found myself almost whispering when speaking in the car, due to how quiet it was. It was a front wheel drive car in this mode. The ride was rather on the firm side, but very much to my liking.

“Comfort mode” was the second mode I tried, and here the car again stays fully electric most of the time but very unobtrusively and instantly uses the petrol engine, which drives the rear wheels. The transition is seamless and is based solely on throttle input. All controls are “fly (drive) by wire”, but work so well you do not feel disconnected. The car becomes much quicker accelerating, and the engine sound is heard. It is not loud or obtrusive in any way though.

For much of the drive I stayed in “sport mode”. In this mode the petrol engine is always on, and the car is always in 4WD. Throttle response was noticeably sharper, the ride firmer and the engine much louder. When I switched to full manual mode, my favourite mode, the engine noticeably blips on gearchanges and the engine sounds very much like a big flat 6, rather than the massively turbocharged 1.5 litre 3 cylinder it actually is. It sounds great, but not too loud. However, my frame of reference is quite skewed here as I am comparing it to McLaren and Ferrari engines – both of which of course sound a lot better and louder.

The car accelerates very quickly indeed, and there is no sense that it is 4WD, or indeed hybrid. If I hadn’t known, I would have assumed it was a mid-engined supercharged 3 litre six cylinder. There is no hesitancy or lag whatsoever, and the engineers have clearly performed miracles in marrying the three engines to work together (there is a small second electric motor in the rear, assisting the petrol engine, to avoid turbo lag).

I pushed the car (safely) to its adhesion limits, and it understeered. It would not respond to attempts to control attitude via the throttle, with its electronic stability systems curbing any excesses smoothly but effectively – unfortunately. I imagine I could only get it to oversteer if on a track or similar, and severely provoking it. Grip levels are high, but not as high as 911, McLaren or Ferrari cars I have driven. It is very easily controllable and tame when the limit is exceeded, unlike the others though – and especially unlike an Elise or Exige.

On narrow, very twisty roads, the car was a lot of fun and easy to drive. Very responsive and precise, and reminiscent of an Esprit, but without the turbo lag. It was extremely quick through bends and felt every inch an exotic sports car. It corners completely flatly and inspires confidence. It is of course nowhere near as communicative, fun or fast as my Exige – but its broad range of capabilities far exceeds any Lotus, or indeed any other car I know of.

Only the LaFerrari, McLaren P1 or Porsche 918 are superior overall – I assume, not having driven them. However, one could buy six i8 cars for the price of one LaFerrari, and the i8 is a daily usable car just like a 911, so there is really no comparison. I felt the rear seats were actually usable, albeit not suitable for long distances for adults. It has slightly more rear seat space than a 911.

The car has regenerative braking, and the best compliment I can pay the i8’s brakes is that the system is transparent, and the driver does not sense its presence. The lift off drag effect feels the same as it would in a large engine conventional car.

Visually, the car drew crowds everywhere. An even bigger effect than I have previously experienced in other exotic cars, perhaps matched only by the attention the F40 drew. Some of that is due to its gull wing doors. Doubtless some of it was due to it being so new and cutting edge, and this will lessen as people see more of them. Not that very many will be built – I recall reading that BMW are making only 600 per year globally.

It has faults, and the one that annoyed me most was that the gear indicator is rather small on the dash. I like that to be displayed big. The car has a HUD (head up display) which only the driver can see, projected on the windscreen just under the driver’s sightline, but this does not display RPM or gear. I made a strong recommendation to BMW to effect a software update to add that facility.

The understeering on the limit is a small negative, but can be adjusted just like the Elise S2 with wider front wheels if an owner was determined to change that behaviour. Grip levels are high, but could easily be increased with softer tyres, as the ones on it are designed for economy. Storage space is low overall, but infinitely greater than on my Exige!

The car does not feel, or look, like a BMW. Nor does it drive like one. Only the badging and grille lets you know it is a BMW.
Having driven many far more expensive cars, I am still surprised at how little the i8 costs. It genuinely feels and looks like a £200k exotic sports car, and I honestly believe that had this exact car rolled out of Maranello sporting Ferrari badging, it would have sold like hot cakes at £300k.

I have driven faster cars, and more exciting cars – the very best being the Radical RXC last year. But the best overall car I have driven, considering its range of capabilities (speed, acceleration, handling, power delivery, technology, and efficiency) is the BMW i8, and by quite some margin.

It is so good I am severely tempted to buy one in fact, which is an odd turn of events as I have never looked twice at any BMW or considered owning one in the past. The car drives, feels and looks like it is ahead of its time, and has driven in through a time-warp from the future.


UPDATE FROM SECOND TEST DRIVE:

I went on a second 3-4 hour drive, on all sorts of roads, all modes and speeds. Mostly full manual mode, blipping gear changes etc

Overall mpg was just over 32mpg, which I considered excellent considering the type of driving and performance of the car. It still had 9 miles full electric range left at end, but this was clearly down to it regenerating during the drive.

Overall obviously nothing has changed since the last drive. I still thought the car handled impeccably and very much like a sharp sportscar - like an Esprit, or perhaps like a McLaren MP4-12C albeit with less power and grip obviously. Those are the cars it felt closest to. I have a lot of time behind the wheel of the MP4-12C in particular, and feel the comparison is very accurate. The i8 however has less body roll when cornering hard than either of those cars.

It corners virtually completely flat and inspires confidence. Steering is extremely precise and highly geared, but lacks any true feedback of the road.

It accelerates instantly, with huge linear torque, and feels extremely quick.

Full manual mode gives a very nice engine blip on gearchanges that is not apparent in other modes, including Sports mode.

The very fancy electronic dash does make seeing key information less clear than with a traditional analogue dash, or AIM dash. I disliked the small gear indicator on the dash for example, and the RPM counter, whilst large, could be clearer. This information should also be displayed on the HUD but is not.

I tried parking it in my garage to see whether the gull wing doors would hit the electric opening mechanism or the ceiling, and there was no problem. However, by parking it there, it was also apparent how big the car is! It is huge next to the Exige (obviously), but also much bigger than my Ferrari 348 Spider. Much wider, longer, and surprisingly also taller - as it feels very low otherwise.



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The overhangs at the front are very long and the car struggled with a very steep driveway with a dip (I tested at a friend's house). It was fine with all speed bumps I tried, and I did search out the highest I could find.

Emergency braking showed the ABS was completely stable and effective. Front and rear seatbelts auto tensioned when I tested this. Accelerating from standstill was rapid and urgent, but without any traction loss, due to its 4WD.

In narrow lanes, the car feels very wide indeed and that is the thing that limits how quickly you can sensibly drive it. It is also wider at the rear than front.

Build quality feels impeccable, and the car feels very stiff with no rattles on any road surface, including cobbles. Lotus could learn a thing or two here.

I am surprised to learn of the lengths the engineers went to, to reduce weight. As well as the carbon fibre passenger compartment, and aluminium chassis, the car has a carbon fibre roof (I could see the weave when I inspected it closely). Body panels are composite.

The engineers have even used foam plastic climate-control ducting (lighter and quieter), lightweight aluminium wiring (instead of copper), aluminium bolts and screws (instead of steel) and chemically hardened glass on the rear window and all the lights, that is thinner, lighter and more durable than laminated glass. This is the same gorilla glass as on premium smartphones.

At 6', I can sit in the back and there is enough legroom, but insufficient headroom to sit up straight. My wife and children did have enough headroom in the back seats though.

The i8 could easily be used as a daily driver, and is completely relaxing to drive, especially in e-drive or comfort modes.

It is like having 3 cars in one. e-drive gives a completely electric silent vehicle, able to exceed the average petrol car's acceleration, but limited to short hops. Comfort mode gives a hybrid with no range limitations. Sports mode genuinely gives an exotic, sharp, impeccably handling sports car.

On top of those 3 key modes there is eco-pro (more economical) and full manual mode. 5 very usable modes, and I believe I would make use of each one if I had the car. I tried them all yesterday.

Overall, I still believe it to represent the future of the sports car, and considering its overall capabilities it is overall the best car I have driven yet.



And for the geeks among us

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      07-28-2014, 04:43 PM   #2
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Wow, excellent write-up. Glad you got the posting thing sorted, it would have been a shame to not read that.

It is, I think, more substantiated given the breadth of experience of various exotic cars that you've driven, that the i8 has made such an impression on you.

I have seen one in person several times, but have yet to drive one.

I am not at all surprised that the i8 has attracted so many new potential and realized customers to the brand. Quite a few Ferrari guys in particular, I seem to notice.

Really enjoyed reading this, thank you for taking the time to post your extensive thoughts.
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      07-28-2014, 05:52 PM   #3
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Thank you for your very kind words. I will in fact be selling my Ferrari, should I decide to place an order for the i8. The Lotus stays It is too good

In case you are interested, here is a clip of my in car footage shot from my Lotus last summer at Brands Hatch. Should give you some background to my reasonable level of driving experience.

The YouTube video may not be watchable in USA, or on mobile devices.

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      07-28-2014, 06:26 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JasH View Post
It has faults, and the one that annoyed me most was that the gear indicator is rather small on the dash. I like that to be displayed big. The car has a HUD (head up display) which only the driver can see, projected on the windscreen just under the driver’s sightline, but this does not display RPM or gear. I made a strong recommendation to BMW to effect a software update to add that facility.
Blimey, your thoughts and comments are almost the same as mine from when I did my test drive early last week.
And I'm glad I'm not the only one to find the lack of gear indication in the HUD and/or a considerably larger display in the dash a real oversight by BMW. As that was probably one of my biggest criticisms too.

T
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      07-28-2014, 10:57 PM   #5
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Excellent post, and I don't just say that because you liked the car and I am buying one (okay, maybe just a little). I echo ddk632's comment that your experience with driving some of the best exoticars around certainly adds to your credibility and the value of your assessment.

Thanks for taking the time to share your valuable insights.
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      08-03-2014, 03:30 PM   #6
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Thanks Glad you both liked the review. Please do make your views on the HUD (RPM & gear info missing) known to BMW. It should be an easy software update to fix this.

Last edited by JasH; 08-03-2014 at 03:37 PM.
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      08-03-2014, 06:12 PM   #7
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Fantastic review thanks!
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      08-04-2014, 04:33 PM   #8
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Great additional post. I particularly like how you cover some details that the auto journalists failed to address, but which are important to future owners. BTW, looking at the limited side clearance in your garage from the i8 to the Ferrari, I'm curious if that presented any problems in opening the driver's side door. Also, have you decided to buy the i8?
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      08-04-2014, 05:00 PM   #9
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Thank you both

I parked the i8 slightly too close to the Ferrari, as there was enough space to have placed it a few inches further away. In that position I had to fold back the Ferrari's wing mirror (per the photos) to enable the passenger door of the i8 to open. There was then enough clearance. So, no real problem at all.

In fact, the gull wing doors probably need one third less side clearance than conventional doors would.

And, YES I placed my order for one today. ETA 2 March 2015.

Fully loaded with all options except laser headlights
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      08-04-2014, 05:12 PM   #10
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Congrats!

What exterior color/wheels did you choose?

So what's the story with the Huayra that visited your garage? Did you drive it?

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      08-04-2014, 05:24 PM   #11
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Thank you

I ordered the Pearl White car, blue highlights, with Caparo Light interior and Turbine wheels, in the wider size.

Not sure what Huayra you are referring to? ...confused...
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      08-04-2014, 05:26 PM   #12
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My i8 configuration

http://bmw.com/i8visualizer?configID=x7x6t0y8
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      08-04-2014, 05:35 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JasH View Post
Thank you

I ordered the Pearl White car, blue highlights, with Caparo Light interior and Turbine wheels, in the wider size.

Not sure what Huayra you are referring to? ...confused...
It was 3 photos over on photobucket from one of the images you posted earlier.

http://s183.photobucket.com/user/Bla...6d296.jpg.html

I thought that was your Lotus and the same garage as the i8 in the other photo; sorry for any confusion if I got it wrong...

Looking again, it's not the same garage, either, and yeah I did get it wrong - it's a Zonda. I always confuse them from the front.

Nevermind!
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Last edited by ddk632; 08-04-2014 at 05:42 PM.
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      08-04-2014, 05:42 PM   #14
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Oh, that was the garage at Brands Hatch last summer. It is the Zonda F that I tussled with on track in my Lotus, in the video I posted

I did not drive it But I did beat it
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      08-04-2014, 05:44 PM   #15
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Niiiiice! I watched some of the video earlier (wish it wasn't sped up) but don't remember if the Zonda was in there or not, didn't watch whole video though. Beautiful cars, I am a fan.

Only cost as much as 10 i8s so, different league, hehe.

Nice choices on your i8 build, btw.
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      08-04-2014, 06:09 PM   #16
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The video is 100% normal speed. It is not at all sped up. My Lotus is heavily customised, and just IS that quick A better driver would be quicker still.

Thanks, glad you like the build
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      08-04-2014, 06:49 PM   #17
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The camera mounted really low to the ground gave me that perception; my mistake.

This was this the Indy configuration, not the full track, right?
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      08-04-2014, 06:58 PM   #18
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Yes, it is a pretty low car, and the camera was on the front.

You are quite correct, it is the Indy circuit. Brands Hatch is unfortunately restricted in how many days they can run the full GP circuit annually, due to noise controls, as the longer circuit runs close to houses.
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      08-04-2014, 07:12 PM   #19
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Great pace, man. Well done.

Shame about the noise regulations.

I found the Zonda F in the video. My work here is done...
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      08-05-2014, 03:48 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ddk632 View Post
Great pace, man. Well done.



I found the Zonda F in the video. My work here is done...
ROFL

Thanks
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      08-05-2014, 06:32 AM   #21
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Exclamation Email (extract) I sent to BMW - please feel free to copy and send if you agree

I do have a significant complaint about the car however, and I am not alone amongst i8 customers in voicing it (online). Can you please ask the i8 software engineers to look into updating the car’s software to fix this.

For a fast sports car, the gear indication is extremely small and hard to see when in full manual mode. Ideally, the gear the car is in should be displayed centrally in the RPM dial when in full manual mode, and perhaps also in Sports mode. Related to this, and equally seriously, the HUD should be able to be configured to show the RPM and gear when in Sports mode. This would be infinitely more valuable than speed for example.

These are the most serious flaws with the i8 in my opinion, yet they should be relatively easy to fix.

Something similar that would be “nice to have” would be if the interior lighting would automatically switch to red when engaging Sports mode.

Please do pass this to the software engineers and the i8 development team, as these flaws otherwise detract from what is a ground-breaking car.

Last edited by JasH; 08-05-2014 at 07:08 AM.
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      08-10-2014, 06:29 PM   #22
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Talking Picked up my i8 at the dealer yesterday....

...but sadly just a radio controlled 1:14 model





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