RE: BMW i8 | PH Carbituary

RE: BMW i8 | PH Carbituary

Friday 20th March

BMW i8 | PH Carbituary

BMW's plug-in sportscar proved Kermit's line: it's not easy being green



While it’s great to be first, there’s limited satisfaction in finishing a race before anyone else has got out of the blocks. Yet that’s what the BMW i8 seems to have managed, BMW’s carbon-bodied plug-in sportscar remains as futuristic in 2020 as it was when it was launched in 2014, but is retiring without any significant price-point rivals. Proof that you can be too far ahead of the curve.

This isn’t going to be a hatchet job, or an invitation to a spot of grave-dancing, because the i8 is a great car. But it’s also a confused one, something that has likely both held it back and limited sales success. It was created with the twin missions of showcasing BMW’s early move towards electrification and acting as a range-topping halo model for the whole brand. There was some obvious overlap between those requirements, but also big contradictions, especially to anybody expecting to find a successor to the BMW M1 or something that would better an M6 on performance or thrills.

There has never been anything wrong with the i8’s styling, which seemed to channel the design team’s ambition to make a full-on supercar, the coupe even featuring β€˜butterfly’ doors. Proving how much better BMWs look with compact radiator grilles - instead of chrome-plated manhole covers - it still looks both handsome and fresh as the car goes off sale. That’s even more remarkable when you remember the original EfficientDynamics concept which showed the recognisable fundamentals debuted as long ago as the 2009 Frankfurt motor show, with the near-production i8 concept shown at Geneva two years later. The first powertrain proposal was for a three-cylinder diesel engine at the back, but by the time of the Geneva unveiling that had been switched to the combination of a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo with an electric motor turning the front axle via a two-speed transmission.


It was very much the spirit of the age. The production i8 was launched just behind the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918 Spyder, electrically assisted hypercars using different levels of hybrid assistance. While the BMW wasn’t in the same performance league it did draw a greater percentage of its ability from the high-voltage side of its powertrain. Yet, despite the hype around the i8’s electric credentials, much of it from BMW’s marketing department, it was definitely a hybrid rather than an EV, with a mere 23 miles of electric range. The three-cylinder petrol engine made 228hp and the e-motor could add up to 129hp, but as this assistance could only be delivered to the front axle it meant that, under anything other than the gentlest use, electricity was only ever making a minority contribution.

BMW had put a huge amount of engineering effort into the i8, especially paring back its weight. It was determined to offset the mass of battery packs and motors for both i8 and i3 through the extensive use of carbon fibre reinforced plastic, the company going to the trouble and expense of building a (hydro-electric) powered manufacturing facility in the U.S. to make this. Being made from CFRP, the i8’s passenger cell was both light and hugely strong. But the need to haul the mass of two different powertrains and the substantial 7.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that led down the car’s backbone more than offset the savings made by the carbon structure. At 1,535kg the coupe was impressively svelte for an all-wheel-driven hybrid, but still over 100kg more than the 991-generation 911.

The driving experience was different from what you’d find in almost any other competitor, too. The instant torque produced by the i8’s electric motor gave properly impressive low-down acceleration, the i8 hooking up like little else and launching hard enough to make its official 4.4-second 0-62mph seem unduly pessimistic (a point proved when one U.S. magazine recorded a 3.6-second 0-60mph time.) Under gentler use the advanced powertrain felt less resolved, especially with the digitally augmented soundtrack given to make the three-cylinder engine sound more butch. A lowish 6,500rpm rev limit also didn’t feel very sportscarish, nor the less-than-scintillating changes of the combustion engine’s six-speed torque converter auto. Slowing down was less good, too – certainly in early i8s, which always struggled to smoothly blend regenerative and friction braking.


The sort of handling precision that buyers of top-flight BMWs expected at the time – less so since – also tended to get a bit blurred under harder progress. Driven at a rapid everyday pace the i8 felt impressively together, turning accurately and riding well. But pushed harder it revealed both a front-heavy handling balance as the limits of lateral grip approached, and also some inconsistent habits thanks to the split between petrol and electric power. You were never quite sure what you’d get – sometimes it all came together seamlessly, sometimes the two sides of the powertrain would seem to disagree. The best sportscars get better when pushed harder, but the i8 always felt happiest somewhere between seven and nine tenths.

Not that such niggles stopped it from receiving an effusive welcome at launch. Limited by production capacity, BMW reckoned it produced the first 10,000 cars – half of total production – in the first two years. In the UK its appeal was sharpened by some impressive tax breaks for canny buyers, including the ability of those who owned their own company to benefit frwrite-downs that offset a substantial amount of the i8’s cost against tax. For a while it seemed to be the car most likely to be parked in the β€˜boss spot’ next to the door of the sort of business keen to show progressive credentials.

But it didn’t last. Life is always tough for middle-aged sportscars in a part of the market that wants the newest, shiniest thing – but the i8 also fell into the trap that often claims clever new technology. After the first wave of early adopters had bought them, it started to struggle to find buyers among more traditional sportscar customers. Nor did it help when faster versions of the Tesla Model S proved it was possible to have a four-seat pure EV with performance to whup the BMW’s angular behind. BMW tried to sharpen its appeal with a modest increase in battery capacity and electric range in 2018, but the only significant change was the arrival of a roadster variant in the same year.


Beyond losing the coupe’s plus-two rear seating, while gaining the need to pay a substantial premium, the open-topped car immediately became the one to have, the core carbon structure meaning it didn’t lose any significant structural strength through decapitation. But it arrived too late to be much more than a footnote as sales continued to fall.

Did it need to die so soon? Arguably not – but BMW itself has changed considerably during the i8’s lifespan. It was launched as the product of a forward-looking company keen to lay the corporate bath towel on a bit of the future, and to get a big lead on rivals. Six years later the marque looks much less confident and much less adventurous as other premium makers pile in with EVs and PHEVs. None of these are as daring as the i8 was when it was launched – something that looks likely to win it a following in future years – but BMW’s admission it won’t be building any more cars with carbon structures looks like a step back. There will be plenty more electrified BMWs in the future, but none will be as radical as the i8.


SPECIFICATION | BMW i8
Engine:
1,499cc 3-cyl turbo plus lithium-ion battery pack and electric moto
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: 1,535kg
MPG: 134.5 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 42g/km
Price: Β£115,105











Author
Discussion

Augustus Windsock

Original Poster:

1,968 posts

107 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
If the ONLY thing the i8 contributed to our collective consciousness was the diminutive kidney grill, then it could be deemed a success...

Edited by Augustus Windsock on Thursday 19th March 08:24

Augustus Windsock

Original Poster:

1,968 posts

107 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
If the ONLY thing the i8 contributed to our collective consciousness was the diminutive kidney grill, then it could be deemed a success...

Edited by Augustus Windsock on Thursday 19th March 08:29

VonSenger

2,026 posts

141 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
No mention of the 911 its excreting from its posterior?

I test drove one yesterday as a daily, not sure what to think of it really, left me a bit confused.

Aren't they also a little fragile or is that tinternet nonsense?

mat205125

15,787 posts

165 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
Had the pleasure of some time with an I8 Roadster last summer, and it's an absolutely wonderful machine.

Usefully brisk, and with a sense of occasion that only the most exclusive of hypercars manage to attract.

The fact that its solidly built, and economical on a day to day basis is just the icing on the cake.

I regularly check them out in the used classifieds, however their current high-£30k price point is just a little rich for me to sink into for a daily driver.

Given how rare they are, I've a nagging fear of how expensive they could be to put 20k miles on per year, and what relatively simple consumables could cost if they are specific to the model.

Need to take more brave pills and just go for it, maybe??

cerb4.5lee

14,146 posts

132 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
An engine from a Mini for £115k...bargain! hehe

I've always liked the road presence of these and I really like the way they look and they are nice and different. I've never really wanted to drive one though, and if I had the money I'd go for the Porsche 911 instead.

richinlondon

154 posts

74 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
I think it's quite an amazing car, but it's going to be nice to get past the styling clichés of electric cars needing to 'look electric' as it becomes more of a mainstream option.

swisstoni

8,772 posts

231 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
Both this and the i3 were a brave first go.

And when they were passing across the boardroom table, maybe 10 years ago (?) must have been a heck of a tough sell.

Reciprocating mass

5,764 posts

193 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
remember when the mini had a wire to open the door
Have a look how the bonnet and boot opens on one of these lol or was it just the i3 ? I can’t really remember as they were both totally forgettable

Triumph Man

6,299 posts

120 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
Bring it back with a straight 6 - ideal! I could forgive the Goatse'd 911 then.

shalmaneser

3,857 posts

147 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
I love these - will pick one up in a few years time I reckon. Only alongside a classic ICE motor though.

I think Tesla has got the electronic braking thing down and their strategy should be adopted by all where the accelerator controls the engine braking and regen when you lift off and the brake pedal only controls the brake calipers. Much simpler.

Is there much aftermarket support for these cars? How popular were they in the US?

WonkeyDonkey

783 posts

55 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
Probably the only design BMW have got right in the past 20 years.


Hungrymc

4,377 posts

89 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
Another car we should celebrate for trying something different.

I enjoy the way i8's drive. They may not be the most resolved sports car at the ragged edge, but they work really well as a quick and enjoyable GT type sports car.

And I enjoy the fact that they're dramatic / different.

I really nearly bought one Christmas 2017 but it was the fear of depreciation put me off. It is a car I would take a punt on with the lower used prices.

sidesauce

1,198 posts

170 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
VonSenger said:
No mention of the 911 its excreting from its posterior?

I test drove one yesterday as a daily, not sure what to think of it really, left me a bit confused.

Aren't they also a little fragile or is that tinternet nonsense?
Been running one as a daily for the last seven months and it's been pretty solid, no fragility here!

flukey5

65 posts

12 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
The real reasons nobody bought these things is summed up quite easily in the article:

"digitally augmented soundtrack"

"torque converter auto"

"three-cylinder petrol"

I like the styling and the doors though, too bad about the above.

Edited by flukey5 on Thursday 19th March 09:22

Hungrymc

4,377 posts

89 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
flukey5 said:
The real reasons nobody bought these things is summed up quite easily in the article:

"digitally augmented soundtrack"

"torque converter auto"

"three-cylinder petrol"

I like the styling and the doors though, too bad about the above.

Edited by flukey5 on Thursday 19th March 09:22
The way they drive really did challenge my perception of if a car with the "features" you list could really be a serious premium / exotic GT... Its even worse than you describe in some ways with the electric motor driving the front wheels and the petrol engine / torque converter the back.

They drive far, far better than the spec sheet would indicate.

Shnozz

21,226 posts

223 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
I would have been very tempted but BMW never replied to several requests for a test drive and test park - I have an underground parking space and have heard many say its a wide car and the doors mean a "normal" space is not great for egress.

Given the dealer is just over a mile from my apartment that was a bit disappointing. Could have made sense to me in many ways.

DaveTheRave87

1,638 posts

41 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
Still would.

RDMcG

14,607 posts

159 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
I thought it was a gorgeous car but would love to have had the glass doors of the concept car.
Having had many BMWs I was eager to try it.

I found the interior underwhelming and the driving experience to be ok but not as exciting as I thought. Probably my inability to get over the artificial soundtrack.

It wAs a car that I thought would bring me back to BMW but in the end I passed. I also thought the narrow wheels seemed out of place on a sports car but just an appearance thing.

speedy_un

242 posts

157 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
I've been running one for the last 3 years.

Amazing car, in terms of the design and reaction it gets, whilst at the same time costing next to nothing to run. You don't get treated like a pariah as you can with other vehicles, and it seems to attract positive reactions from pretty much everyone apart from committed petrolheads (see comments in this thread from 'supercar experts').

I'd hesitate to call it a supercar myself, but if that is determined by the broad reaction you get when driving it, then maybe it is?

Reliability has been far better than my previous two 911's - I've had the fuel flap issue and a new rear screen after a couple of heating elements failed - both covered by warranty, and that's it. In my experience the service you get from BMW dealers is also significantly enhanced as an i8 customer - and I bought mine (2015 Pure Impulse) for a significant discount outside of the main dealer network at just over a year old.

The biggest issues has been associated with the practicalities of the doors in tight spaces and I wanted to improve front end grip/narrow tyre look.
I've added a set of AC Schnitzer wheels to improve the grip and improve the narrow tyre visuals (although you can fit wider rubber to the standard wheels to improve the grip).

It's been that good that I haven't even looked at another car. I was loaned an M8 for two weeks whilst the rear screen was being fixed, and was quite happy to give it back and keep the i8 - the family agreed!

Benny55

19 posts

32 months

Thursday 19th March
quotequote all
Sad Day

Really sad to see this brilliant car axed. I owned a coupe for a couple of years and loved nearly everything about it.
The MPG was not as advertised, the power was good, the looks were stunning and the cabin was fantastic.
Disagree completely that the Roadster was more beautiful, it simply wasn’t.
Had BMW decided to develop the coupe further, with a more powerful engine, and improved battery pack, this vehicle with its carbon tub would have been a Mclaren eater. Reliability was NEVER an issue for me.

In some ways a bit like my PUG 205Gti way back then, a car with the chassis so sorted that you could easily have dropped another 100bhp under the bonnet.

As a mega BMW fan I deplore you to keep building beautiful M cars, not with ugly jaws......please