Driven: BMW i8

Behind the wheel of BMW’s masterful piece of design and technology

There has been quite a prelude to this day. The i8 is BMW’s first plug-in hybrid performance car and expectations are running high. The initial Vision EfficientDynamics study caused such a visceral reaction when revealed almost five years ago. The design was fresh; it challenged the conventional vernacular and introduced non-automotive materials and applications. With its overlapping and interlocking surfaces, and aerodynamic flourishes, the production car we’re about to drive retains much of the drama, enough to command attention anyway and certainly be noticed on the road.

Much of the exterior design has been governed by aerodynamics. Benoît Jacob, head of BMW i design, explains that he encouraged the team to study gliders and sailing boats – ‘objects that move with natural energy’. The car is, he says, ‘designed by the wind not the team; it is dictated by nature’. And there are certainly some intriguing features to keep us amused, such as the sight of the rear fender on the wheel arch from the wing mirrors as we drive. The LED lights at the front and back are slender and sculptural – more like on a show car than a production model. The exterior looks and feels beautifully executed.

The scissor doors that open playfully forwards and upwards, coupled with the raised door sills, can make gracefully entering the i8 a bit of a challenge. Once inside though, we are cocooned in a spacious, delicate cabin that continues the layered exterior theme. Here the team have excelled at translating the feeling of lightness to the interior environment. The notes are almost perfect.

In BMW fashion, the cockpit tilts towards the driver, for a sportier and more controlled driving position. Occupants – possibly two as the rear seats are far too small to be used much – sit pretty low in the narrow lightweight seats. There are no gimmicky gadgets on-board. Instead the digital instrument panel exposes two large simple displays, and all other functions are controlled via the iDrive in the center console.

All three trim levels – Neso as standard and Carpo and Halo as optional – employ naturally treated leather with subtle contrast stitching. The material covers the seats, extending to parts of the center console, the overlapping instrument panel and interior door panels. The touch, feel and smell are at once premium. Apart from the sensation of lightness, there is little indication that you are driving an eco car. On all models elements of the carbon-fiber passenger cell are exposed as you enter and exit as a reminder of the advanced engineering that lies beneath.


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