On paper, the BMW i8 offers the best of all worlds – impressive performance, a fashionable hybrid powertrain, and low running costs. We get behind the wheel and put it to the test.
What is it?
Anybody who thinks BMW's styling has become stale and samey need look only at the electrified 'i' range. The i8 and its upright and quirky smaller sibling, the i3 are some of the most recognisable cars in the German brand's range. But it's not all about the styling.
Underneath the i8's swooping bodywork sits a hybrid powertrain that theoretically returns 135mpg, while being capable of sprinting to 60mph from rest in just 4.1 seconds.
So out on the open road, the i8 certainly has the chops to thrill, while its electric motors make it serene and effortless to drive around town.
The i8's been around since 2014, but it's yet to be facelifted or updated. It still looks fresh, of course, and elements like the satellite navigation will have been kept up to date. There have been a few special editions, but these are only visual updates – like our Protonic Frozen Black Edition.
The i8 is still an oddball even in the supercar sector by virtue of its advanced carbon construction. The CFRP (carbonfibre reinforced polymer) frame contributes to the car's super-light weight, and looks cool in exposed areas on the sills and around the door frames.
There's only one powertrain in the i8. It's a hybrid system which combines a three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor driving the front wheels. That might sound underwhelming – it's actually the same engine as used in the Mini Cooper – but the 357bhp power output gives the i8 good performance, especially with the lightweight body. It goes to show that you don't need a storming 500bhp power output to achieve exceptional performance figures.
The hybrid powertrain also gives the i8 excellent official economy figures. The EU testing cycle says the i8 will return 135mpg, but in reality that depends entirely on how you drive. The i8 can cover around 20 miles on electric power alone, so if you're just bumbling around town, you shouldn't need to use any petrol at all. Head out onto the motorway with a flat battery and economy will tumble.
What's it like to drive?
Open up a theatrical butterfly door, slide yourself across the wide carbon sill and you'll find yourself settling comfortably into the i8's sporty driver's seat. The driving position in general is excellent, though visibility round town and pulling out of junctions is hampered by thick A-pillars.
When left to its own devices the i8 will revert to its most efficient mode. That means usually pulling off and performing low-speed manoeuvres on electric power alone, though the engine will cut in if necessary.
Slide the stubby gearlever into Sport mode and the engine immediately engages, working with the electric motor to maximise acceleration rather than minimise fuel consumption. It works, too, with the instant torque provided by the electric motor helping the i8 feel a lot quicker than its 4.1-second 0-60mph sprint would have you believe.
Head onto the twisty bits and the BMW i8 doesn't embarrass itself either. No, its steering isn't as light and direct as the Porsche 911's, but it's still a sharp handler.
If there are any complaints with the i8's driving characteristic it's noise. A lot of tyre roar is generated, making motorway trips tiring. More irritating and unforgivable is the artificial-sounding engine noise, which is electronically piped in through the stereo in an attempt to give the three-cylinder unit some character.
How does it look?
The i8 is the kind of supercar that will get you noticed. The sheer theatre of its air-tunnel-honed bodywork and eye-catching doors certainly pull more admiring glances than any Porsche 911 or Audi R8.
Our car was finished in Protonic matte black paint, which was suitably stealthy and added to the car's Batmobile credentials. Other, brighter shades are available.
What's it like inside?
Though the low-slung cabin and trick doors are new and exciting, slip into the i8's interior and you won't find much to surprise and delight. Rather, you'll find dials, gauges, switches, and infotainment all poached from the remainder of BMW's car range. Exciting it is not, then, though everything does feel high-quality and hard-wearing.
Practicality is a weak point even by supercar standards. There's a small boot behind the engine – good enough for a few shopping bags at most – but that's it. The i8 doesn't offer the front boot of some of its competitors.
We suspect owners will use the i8's back seats as a secondary boot, and we wouldn't blame them. You certainly don't want to put people back there anyway, as it's very tight for all but children.
And you'll need somewhere to store oft-accessed bits and pieces, as the i8 suffers without a glovebox or door bins to keep clutter contained.
What's the spec like?
Spending £100,000 on a car, you have a right to expect a certain level of standard equipment. The i8 delivers, packing the latest iteration of BMW's iDrive infotainment system.
It also gains a digital dial pack and a head-up display, which relays key driver information without requiring you to take your eyes off the road.
You also get electrically adjustable leather sports seats as standard. Most of the cabin is trimmed in leather, in fact, adding to the high-quality feel.
Buying a hybrid supercar doesn't just have to be an eco-conscious decision. The i8 proves that electrical assistance can be sexy, just so long as it's wrapped up in a sleek two-door body that looks straight off a concept car.
That the i8 delivers on the road as well is just the icing on the cake, and the ability to beat a Porsche 911 away from the lights while still returning excellent fuel consumption.
Though cruising noise and a lack of practicality are two issues, the i8 trades on its positives – and it's got plenty.
Model tested: BMW i8 Protonic Frozen Black
Engine: 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol, electric motor
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 4.1 seconds
Fuel economy: 135mpg
Emissions: 20 miles (est)