I‘ve never quite understood the phrase “To have your cake and eat it too.” I mean I understand the meaning of the phrase and its usage, just not the proposition. Surely the point of having delicious cake is the eating of it, ergo the simplified state of just having it is pointless? Supposedly the phrase is the offer of two favourable outcomes and the having of both of them but one is by my deduction undesirable, well you see where I’m going with this. Or am I over-complicating the simple?
I digress and I apologise, because the article on these pages is about the BMW i8, not the philosophy of baked confection.
And what a car to be writing about! The BMW i8 cuts a striking figure no matter where it is – be on our showroom floor here at Doncaster BMW or parked on supercar friendly Lygon Street, it stands out. Its barely removed from concept car styling drops jaws all around, the upward-swinging scissor doors never fail to illicit tones of “ooohh” and “wow!”
It gets better, because the beauty is more than skin-deep. Despite the gorgeous exterior and rockstar persona, the swoopy body of the i8 hides a revolutionary drivetrain. It is powered by a turbocharged 1.5L 3 cylinder engine, which in true supercar style is mounted amidships, behind the driver. With 170kW and the help of the electric motor powering the front axle to give a total output of 266kW, the i8 rockets from 0-100km/h in just 4.4 seconds!
Beyond the looks and the technology, the appeal of the i8 really lies in how usable it is from day to day. The tyres are not massively wide, so they don’t grab the road and tramline like a supercar normally does. The seats are supportive and comfortable. The suspension is NOT from the M division. All of the BMW technology that we know and love is there, making driving and parking a breeze. This is the supercar you could genuinely live with every day and that’s the point.
As a hybrid car, the i8 is ruthlessly efficient. The computer intelligently balances the need for petrol and electric power to give you the best that is technologically possible. The i8, however, is also a Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle, or PHEV, meaning the battery is big enough to be able to do away with the requirement for petrol for a little while. When you plug the i8 in and give it a full charge it can be driven for up to 37km without the need for any petrol at all.
The question I’m regularly asked is ‘Why only 37km?’ and therein lies the genius of the i8. It’s light. Weighing in at only 1485kg, it weighs as little as a supercar should despite having to carry around both electric and petrol powertrains. Facilitating this is the extensive use of Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic, the wonder material that is 50% lighter but 5 times stronger than steel. So that 37km range is all about having a battery that is the right size. Not so big that it adds performance-killing weight but big enough to handle the daily commute, which in Australia averages out at just over 31km. This is a car you could drive daily and charge up overnight without the need to ever visit a petrol station. Want to drive it around the map? Well it is still a petrol-engined hybrid.
Click the transmission selector left into Sport and the balance of the i8 changes. The electronic dashboard cluster changes from cool blue to racing red, with clearer presentation of performance information. Pull the left paddle and the downshift from the 6 speed automatic is whip crack quick and is accompanied by a delightful blip of the throttle from the rorty 3. Response to the accelerator pedal is instantaneous, the electric motor not needing to wait for mechanical things before it gives you its best. The initial moment is an ever so slight understeer and then the turbo comes on and balances out the power delivery from the rear. It feels unusual at first but trust starts to build after only a couple of corners. The payoff is boundless traction, the four wheel drive making the i8 a very effective way of dispatching a twisty back road.
If all this sounds complex, you’d be right, the i8 is a beautifully complex machine. The real triumph is that once you experience the i8, it doesn’t feel complex at all. All of the i8’s systems work in perfect harmony behind the scenes to create a wonderful whole that feels organic and special, yet is brutally fast, exceedingly comfortable and cannily efficient. You might say it’s much like having your cake and eating it too.
Authors note: This is a short review I wrote for the now-defunct Doncaster BMW magazine, Evolution. Unfortunately it was never published as the magazine was wound up just prior to printing of the edition this article was destined for. The original draft had a more critical edge to it, however this was toned down for the promotional nature of the publication.