I felt like I was on the set of a remake of Back to the Future as I tentatively approached the supercar I was about to test drive. The BMW i8 being part electric was receiving its top up charge. I was shown how to open the stunning handle-free dihedral gullwing doors. It was a little fiddly but once I had found the door release it unconventionally opened upwards.
Getting into the car was touch and go, an additional manual would have been invaluable, or perhaps I could just go to the gym more. Getting out was going to be even more of a challenge, I thought.
Two onboard screens lit up in various shades of blue when I depressed the start button. After ignition there was no engine noise to speak of.
I was given instruction to the four driving modes which were Comfort or Eco Pro, where the car will try and run on electric power alone, which it can do for about 22 miles and at speeds of up 45mph. The eco-friendly eDrive setting gives you pure electric running for the same range, but raises the maximum speed to 75mph. Then there’s the Sport mode by shifting the gear stick to the left. In Sport mode you get the petrol engine running all the time, and the full output from the electric motor. Selecting reverse, I gingerly and silently manoeuvred around and out of the car park assisted by front and rear cameras displayed on the dashboard. Various beeps and distance warnings were heard and displayed as I emerged unscathed. It even had what appeared to be an onscreen overhead camera which I could not fathom out.
After a quick test drive amounting to ‘around the block’ I was left to my own devices. I took the short trip back to Norseman Travel where I was met a few minutes later by a photographer. After taking some photos he took the car away to a pre-reserved parking place at the Metrocentre. I hoped that he would remember to leave at least half a metre on each side to avoid damaging the doors or taking off someone’s wing mirror. Three and a half hours later he returned the car with a smile on his face. Seemingly this i8 was the only one on the road in the North East and unsurprisingly drew a crowd of several hundred people keen to have a look at this futuristic and once conceptual car.
With a maximum speed of 155mph restricted electronically, what I really needed was a private road somewhere to put it through its paces. The runway at Newcastle International Airport would have done nicely but visions of a police escort, copious yellow flashing lights, additional insurance, and a very unofficial slot time meant I thought twice about asking. I would have to stick to conventional public roads and be ...sensible.
The first thing I learned about the i8 was the fact that its passenger cabin is made of resin injected carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) which is 50% lighter than steel. The car has two engines. The first is a reworked 1.5 L turbocharged petrol three cylinder engine similar to what you would find in a mini cooper. This drives the rear wheels. The second which drives the front wheels is a “hybrid synchronous” 7.1kWh battery powered electronic motor. When combined they have an output of 357bhp and 420lb ft.
There is no road tax to pay due to its low carbon emissions and, if I had one, I could park it for free at Newcastle battery charging points.
After work I collected my eldest daughter. She did not really need a lift at all but elected to leave her car there so she could have a lift home with me. I was, however, asked to pick her up at the back and not to park anywhere near the main door. When I arrived I encountered a staff member who tapped on the window and started to ask me lots of questions about the car. I am sure he knew more about the i8 than I did 24 hours prior.
Mission accomplished, we drove home on the central motorway using the A696 and then onto Ponteland Leisure Centre where I dropped my daughter off at the gym where she wanted to sit in on a session as part of her lesson planning for the following morning.
On arrival back home I put the car on the drive and asked my wife to come and have a look. It was a surprise to her as I had not mentioned it at all. Her first reaction was to ask what I was doing with a car like that, followed by “how do I get into it”. The manoeuvre to get in was explained and we went for a short drive in Edrive under electric power. The on screen displays were so full of information including 3D maps and a heads up display which projects not only the road speed limits directly onto the windscreen but also the Sat Nav display highlighting upcoming road names.
The i8 has a small boot suitable for a small bag only. The back seats are perhaps suitable for two children or for storage of the bags that will not fit in the boot rather than two children. When I offered to take my next door neighbours for a drive it took a while to work out how to move the seat to accommodate them in the back. Once squeezed in, one
said she couldn’t stay in the car as it was too claustrophobic. This was despite being a previous BMW Z4 driver.
Although now dark, I drove out on the A69 across to Corbridge and then back home. The drive was exceptional and so smooth. I tried the Sport mode and once engaged the display speed indicators changed from blue to red. The speed of acceleration from a standing start was simply breathtaking and can only be compared to my experience in an Audi RS6. Whilst I may not have been getting the i8’s official figures of 120+mpg and 49g/km, I am sure that the MPG would be massive in comparison to similar cars in the same class. Even driving hard you might expect in excess of 40mpg and combined with the battery power at lower speeds I believe that savings are inevitable. The running costs will, of course, depend very much on how you use the car. If you use the car for a short daily commute and have access to a charging point, then you could save thousands at the pumps.
The following morning was perhaps not the best day to take my wife to work for her first day in a new job. She asked me to drop her round the corner so that she would not be seen making an entrance!
In summary… a fabulous drive with amazing gadgets and futuristic technology at a price
tag that very few can even contemplate.
The BMW i8 driven by Alastair costs £105,680 and was supplied by Lloyd BMW, Fenham Barracks, Newcastle, NE2 4LE. With special thanks to Intu Metrocentre for the location.