With Sport mode now activated (and the centre screen accordingly turning red), the difference in performance is quite extraordinary. The eDrive electric motor now takes a backseat, priority instead being given to the TwinPower Turbo. Combined, and now in Sport, the hybrid powerplant produces a sizeable 357bhp and 236lb ft, and while all that tech has left the 1485kg BMW a little bit on the porky side, it certainly hasn’t dinted the straight-line performance. Off the line the i8 hits 100kph in just 4.4 seconds, and thanks to almost immediate torque from the electric motor, the pull from start-up in Sport is simply unbelievable. Sharp and aggressive, power thrown through all four wheels and the six-speed automatic gearbox makes for quite superb pick-up. Fascinated locals in SUVs and saloons following close behind are soon left for dust.
Even the noise is back with slightly more a vengeance: the i8 may miss the full-throated growl of its six-cylinder/V6 engined sisters, but the three-cylinder still offers a full raspy soundtrack without sounding overly whiney or forced. It’s an impressive achievement, so too is the steering as we head deeper into Mullholland’s twists and turns. In a car so hefty with tech, it would have been a shame to find wooly, over-assisted steering. Fortunately BMW engineers have thought that through, good weighty steering allowing me to place the front wheels where I want them, apexes falling by the wayside and being ticked off with satisfaction. Even though it’s not felt under acceleration, that 1485kg kerb weight had concerned me a little once we were underway, but solid progressive braking through the middle pedal allows me to scrub the speed early and keep the car balanced through the corners. Of particular note are the rear wheels which – thanks to the grippy rubber – refuse to budge out of line, sticking to their rails all the way round. The BMW i8 will certainly not be a drift weapon of choice in the future.
Ironically, the sports car might not be the track weapon of choice in the future either. So far our dynamic run has been a stone’s throw from ‘the limit’, proving amazingly well-balanced and nippy. Push on a little harder though and the i8 soon creeps out of its comfort zone. Take a corner at ten-tenths for instance and whilst the braking still keeps the balance in check, those rear tyres still refuse to step out, all momentum now being thrown through the front wheels, which can do nothing but understeer wide and insert a crease in your momentum. The optional 215 front tires and 245 rears are not exactly supercar sizes and these also attribute to the lack of grip at the limit.
It would be so easy to plaster the i8 with a ‘close but no cigar’ label if we placed undue emphasis on this last point, but the truth is that would be missing the point of the i8 entirely. It’s a point that keeps coming back to me as we begin our cruise away from Mullholland Drive and back through town, Comfort and Eco modes once again being put to good use. Revelling in the silence, it occurs to me just why the i8 may have fallen out of the hybrid limelight in comparison with the Porsche 918s, McLaren P1s and LaFerraris of this world: models arguably designed to spank the Nürburgring rather than handle everyday life. BMW meanwhile has chosen to emphasise this point more clearly with the i8: while you can take your supercar to town or for a leisurely highway run, you can also pull its hair down and take in a mountain road at (almost) full chat. For BMW, it’s not about showing that hybrid can be ‘cool’: it’s about showing it can be premium.
I honestly do believe that with the i8, BMW has hit on a design model that so far other manufacturers have shied away from. Today I feel I have seen a snapshot of ‘the norm of tomorrow’, and I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to do so. It’s not often you get to experience the future first-hand, regardless of what colour the screen is.
|Inline 3cyl / TwinPower Turbo / 1500cc / plus 96kW electric motor
|357bhp @ 5800rpm
|420lb ft @ 3700rpm
|Six-speed automatic transmission
|Aluminium double track control arm with anti-dive / separate lower level with wishbone and tie rod
|Aluminium five-arm geometry / directly connected
|Four-piston fixed calliper 340mm x 29.2mm (front) / one-piston floating calliper 340mm x 19.2mm (rear)
|7J x 20 (front) / 7.5J x 20 (rear) / forged aluminium
|195/50 R20 (front) / 215/45 R20 (rear)