BMW i8 test drive

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Tiff Needell reviews the BMW i8

The BMW i8 is the German carmaker’s latest green machine. It offers an exhilarating experience on long cross-country trips, writes Tiff Needell

Within a world of complex hybrids and 1,000 horsepower hypercars whose computers rarely let you have much more than half of that figure, the Chevrolet Corvette is a breath of fresh air for the driver who wants to do the driving. The Corvette name has been around since 1953 but only the C2 and C3 versions were adorned with the famous Stingray name, which is making a comeback after a break of nearly 40 years.

The joy of a BMW i8 starts before you even climb in via the stylish scissor doors as the car’s shape makes it look futuristic. The narrow, low-rolling resistance tyres are the complete opposite of the wide-profile rubber usually associated with GT cars. Everything about it shouts: “I’m different!”

You can drive the BMW i8 in one of four modes and you could cruise along for around 20 miles in electric-only fashion while having the ability to accelerate up to 75mph before the engine kicks in. The default mode is ‘comfort’, where just a gentle press of the throttle will see you set off in ‘electric only’ with a jet turbine-style soundtrack. Add a little more throttle and now the petrol engine behind you purrs into life, quietly at first but then with an increasing growl as it’s pressed into further action – your 129bhp front-wheel-drive car has just turned into a 357bhp four-wheel drive vehicle. But that’s not all the power you have on board as there’s another small 20bhp electric motor in the back, which provides power for various ancillary devices and to fill in any awkward dips in the petrol engine’s torque curve.

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But if you’re not in a hurry and you want to take that fuel consumption figure as high as possible, switch to ‘eco pro’ mode, which turns the power and speed dials bluer and makes the throttle less responsive to every twitch of your right foot.

On a trip into the countryside for slightly less frugal motoring, the city car turns into a roaring V8 sportscar as soon as you flick the gear lever to the left, engage the ‘sport’ mode and turn the dashboard from blue to red.

While the BMW i8 might have less power than the Porsche 911 and Audi R8, it has much more torque and – helped by much use of aluminium and carbon fibre to keep the weight down – will launch to 62mph in almost exactly the same time.

The BMW i8 cabin is airy and clutter-free, the steering light and responsive, and there’s excellent all-round vision apart from the rear three-quarter view. The experience is exhilarating.

You’re not going to be able to take the car to a track, light up the rear wheels and do long, elegant powerslides, with the four-wheel-drive system only supplying various degrees of understeer, but you will be able to enjoy long cross-country trips with half of the drama and twice the style.

About author

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell is a former Grand Prix driver who spent most of his professional career racing in the World Sportscar Championship including 14 Le Mans 24 Hour races where he had a best result of third in 1990. He is however perhaps better known as a former presenter of Top Gear throughout the nineties and then helped to create ‘Fifth Gear’ which enters its 14th year in 2015. Tiff recently wrote his autobiography Tiff Gear, is Director magazine’s columnist, races whenever the opportunity arises and has now rejoined Clarkson, co-presenting at Top Gear Live.

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