Forming first impressions of a car from the passenger seat is intriguing as it reveals facets of the car's character sometimes invisible from the driver's seat when you're occupied with, er, driving. Immediately there's an inherent sense of stiffness from the car (a carbon body sits on an aluminium chassis), allowing even Sport mode to feel fairly compliant. You hear road detritus clanging around off the carbon in the arches and a total absence of wind noise that highlights some roar from the tyres.
Look what you're doing
Then you begin paying attention to the traffic more, witnessing the stares of incredulity from other road users. If the i8 looks fantastic in isolation, its avant garde style is then starkly exposed and admired in the real world. Combining almost sci-fi details with a fairly conventional supercar silhouette makes the i8 look futuristic but still really exciting and desirable in a conventional sense. Features from the beautiful M1 Hommage are incorporated nicely too. If the i3 sometimes appears almost wantonly awkward, the i8 could easily be categorised as bedroom poster fodder. It's a stunner.
The i8 defaults to electric power whenever possible. Pushing the gearlever across to Sport automatically starts the combustion engine and the 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo fires with an abrupt gurgle.
On the road the engine makes a myriad of noises, all six-cylinder like in some form or another. At low revs the sound has the character of a flat-six, quite uneven and offbeat. But then it revs round to a low 6,500rpm limit with something akin to a V6 howl whilst retaining the smoothness of an in-line layout. The noise is enhanced, yes, but the Mini Cooper lineage is discernable. It feels augmented rather than artificial, building on what is there rather than devising an entirely fake soundtrack.
A whole new ... oh
The six-speed auto is fine without ever feeling exceptional. The paddles are responsive and the manual changes are swift but it doesn't have the rapidity of a DCT or the consummate smoothness of the ZF eight-speed.
Torque the torque
Using fourth and that abundance of torque you very soon find a beautiful flow with the i8, minimal steering input guiding you from curve to curve. Ultimately it doesn't involve and engage in a similar way to something like a V8 Vantage, but it's far from unenjoyable. As has been echoed elsewhere though, to find a fairly unadventurous dynamic balance behind such bold design an engineering does disappoint a little.
The i8's brakes are particularly noteworthy though. Given the technology involved with recuperating energy, that the pedal retains decent feel and is responsive to minute inputs is a laudable achievement. Left foot braking is facilitated too; cover the pedal through slower turns and the sense of acceleration and great traction is even stronger when you exit. The i3's party trick of driving almost entirely with one pedal isn't possible though as the regen effect just doesn't feel as pronounced.
Ah yes, range. The sketchy phone pic will show you our return from a day's hard driving with two drivers. The average fuel consumption was 24.4mpg, the mean speed was 40mph, we had covered 171 miles and the display said both power sources had 28 miles left. Driving the V8 N430 in a similar fashion returned 15mpg. The i8's combined figure? 134.5mpg...
Is 200 miles from a fill good enough? The tank is only 42 litres which must contribute and driving in a less spirited fashion will of course make the claimed 343-mile range more attainable. BMW claims over 400 miles in EcoPro mode which would be interesting to investigate. The serenity of electric motoring is quite pleasant after a sustained period nearly flat out.
i3, the i8 will be offered with the full roster of BMW 360 Electric EV support services including chargepoint subscriptions, an app and reserved parking at charging stations. A wallbox charger can replenish 80 per cent of the battery charge in less than two hours and there's even a solar charging garage if you live somewhere particularly sunny.
But other than a small question mark over range, the i8 absolutely excels. To judge it by conventional assessment criteria almost seems a disservice to how innovative the car is. But those are the ones that exist for now and the fact the i8 performs so well against them proves unequivocally how well honed it is. The Vision Efficient Dynamics concept was a superb idea now executed in the i8 with great style, meticulous engineering and huge desirability. It's magnificent.
Engine: 1,499cc 3-cyl turbo plus lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 362 (combustion engine 231@5,800rpm, electric motor 131@4,800rpm)
Torque (lb ft): 420 (combustion engine 236@3,700rpm, electric motor 184@0rpm)
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,560kg (EU)
MPG: 134.5 (NEDC combined)
Price: £99,845 excluding Government ULEV £5,000 grant (£104,920 as tested including £1,150 20-inch BMW i W-spoke style 470 wheels, £1,490 for Driving Assistant - comprising rear view camera, surround view camera, high beam assist, forward collision warning, pedestrian protection, city collision mitigation and speed limit info - £295 for Anthracite headlining, £1,150 for Carpo interior world, £95 for Internet and £895 for Harmon Kardon loudspeaker system).