Marty can fly
Known as much for its celebrity owners as for its space-age tech, the BMW i8 has been the poster boy for mainstream electric supercars. Launched a couple of years ago, BMW has managed to create a stir in India, being the only high-end manufacturer offering the option of a hybrid. You no longer have to resort to the half-assed Reva or the belated Honda Civic Hybrid to up your eco credentials - there is a proper option available now.
Sure, at an ex-showroom price of Rs. 2.29 crore, it’s more than spare change in sticker price, but hey, it’s meant to compete with serious sportscar faculty like the Porsche 911 and BMW’s own M family of cars. Of course, it does come with its own quirks, like skinny front tyres and a puny (on paper) 3-cylinder turbo motor, but you soon forget about all the potential pitfalls the moment you set your eyes on it. The scoops and swooshes on the bodywork make it look like a prop from the sets of Star Trek gone astray, but they’re also functional in making the car as aerodynamic as possible. Regardless of form or function, it turns more heads than Nargis Fakhri in a Ferrari.
Insides as good as out
Step inside and the interiors are in tune with the bodywork. Sure, there are enough buttons and parts that are lifted from other BMWs lower down the hierarchy, but overall, the textures, shapes and materials are distinctive enough to earn it the ‘car from the future’ moniker. Unlock it after dark and the cabin welcomes you with a cool blue hue and, depending on whether you drive in E-Drive mode or Sport+, the instrument cluster will change from blue to stark red and the speakers come to life with an engine soundtrack recreated by very smart electronics. The sounds may be artificial, but the effect is very real. It’s comparable to any AMG or Jaguar-R car and that is no mean feat. While making our video for this review, we also realised that it’s equally loud on the outside too, allowing it to sneak into the V8-revellers club, if there were any.
All the tech that sits under the carbonfibre body works seamlessly and flawlessly. The electric motor out in the front produces 129bhp while the turbo-petrol-three-pot makes a whopping 228bhp at the back and both merge seamlessly with their own transmissions and a not-so-insignificant 570Nm of total torque. As a driver, you don’t feel the shift of power from one to another at all, and since the batteries are all mounted low and centrally in the body, the dynamics stay true to BMW’s promise of 50:50 weight distribution. Pottering around in town in E-drive mode, the all-electric i8 sounds suspiciously like a Tron bike and could prove risky in our trafficked cities that rely on sounds to avoid collision.
That said, you could carry out your entire commute to work and back in electric mode if your office is less than 15km away. Switch to Sport+ mode and suddenly its muscles tighten up and throat opens wide, causing an instant ruckus, and the car slithers away to 100kmph in less than 5 seconds, all the while charging the batteries. You could go without ever plugging in the charger to a wall outlet if you drive with both the motors in tandem, but if you wish to save some trees and want to drive only in E-drive mode, make sure you have access to a 15-ampere wall outlet (yes, that’s the kind used for your refrigerator or microwave oven). The cable is only 2 metres long though, so plan your parking spot ahead.
There is an app that shows you vital info about the car before you set off, but oddly enough, it’s only for partnering Samsung Smartwatches. Even the key fob was almost like a regular BMW, but the newer models have a much more tricked out fob like the new 7-Series, with an integrated display.
Made for Mumbai
For all its swoopy lines, low roof and compact cabin, the inside of the i8 is a very comfortable place to be in. The front seats provide great support and I also managed a 50km round trip with fully grown adults at the back without much complaining. The underbody didn’t scrape its belly even once on the lunar-like surface of Mumbai in the monsoons and the width of the car wasn’t a deterrent to traverse even the narrowest shortcuts to avoid the traffic. The controls are all familiarly iDrive-oriented, but the instrument cluster is all digital and all-new, showing info about the remaining fuel and battery charge.
There’s even a Head-Up Display so you can keep your eyes on the road while vital info gets projected onto your line of vision. Harman Kardon takes care of the tunes and makes everything feel as normal as any other car. There’s even USB, Bluetooth and BMW Connected Apps. What there isn’t is much of storage space. Thanks to the outrageously cool scissor doors, water bottles don't get any resting place. And don’t even think of travelling with American Touristers in tow.
Sneak peek at 2025
As far as practicality goes, the i8 is a mixed bag. It is very easy to drive and maintain, but not very easy to live with. Getting in and out isn’t the most elegant of ways to arrive at a party, you can’t take it for an overnight journey and if you plan on wearing green medals, you’ll need plenty of juice close at hand. And yet, nothing makes a statement like a car from the future. BMW isn’t trying to change the world with this car, but one drive in it and it is certain to change your world and ideas of hybrid cars for sure!