The Convertible version of the BMW 18, the world’s best-selling hybrid sportscar, is just as good as you might think
Usually, when you drive a supercar, you hear an obscene number. No, it isn’t the millions of dollars it costs, or the hundreds of man hours that were needed to stitch the seats – it’s usually the amount of horsepower the car produces, numbers like 900, 1000 or even 1500 horsepower (which, in the case of the Bugatti Chiron, is actually a real number and not a random integer thought up in the head of an engineer). And then you have the BMW i8, which you can argue is not quite a supercar, but more of a vision vehicle or ‘future demonstrator’ – but it isn’t, because since launching it in 2014, BMW has managed to sell 14,000 of them, and for a car that costs over 125,000 euros, that is an impressive number.
The i8, in its latest avatar, has ‘only’ 374 horsepower, a wee bit more than before, thanks to a bigger and better battery – but the i8 is not BMW’s most powerful car, not even close. Last November, I drove the utterly batshit latest-generation BMW M5, which has 600 horsepower. The M5 is pretty much the ultimate machine an executive sedan can be, but here’s the thing. The M5, utterly crazy and downright terrifying as it is to drive at full bore, is a hat tip to BMW’s past. The i8, particularly in its new convertible Roadster iteration, is a vision of BMW’s future. It has less than two- thirds the power and two less seats, and when it comes to India, it will likely cost a crore of rupees more than the new M5’s seemingly reasonable Rs 1.45 crore price tag, but at the same time will be more fuel efficient than a small hatchback.
You see, the i8 Roadster, even when driven in full ‘Sports’ mode with the 1.5 litre engine (yes, you read that right – it has a 1499cc three- cylinder engine) delivers a bit under 40 kilometers to a litre. And because it is a top of the line hybrid, and because it proves that not every hybrid need look like a Prius, you can, in the eco-est modes, get the i8 Roadster to give 50 kilometers per litre of petrol. Therefore, technically, the BMW i8 will have a fuel economy comparable to a bog-standard 125cc commuter motorcycle.
And here is the other thing – the i8 Roadster does not accelerate like a bat out of hell. It cruises from a standing start to 100 kph in a sedate 4.6 seconds, compared to the new M5’s 3.4 seconds. But show it a few corners and the i8 becomes a thing of pure joy. It’s a mid-engined supercar, and I call it a supercar despite its lack of horsepower, because it performs like one and it is certainly priced like one. This is why the drive through the spectacular Tramuntana mountains, on the island of Mallorca, was so memorable.
Cruise control, automatic
Emergency Call system
These mountains form the northern spine of this Mediterranean island, and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As an Indian, you tend to treat all mountain ranges not called the Himalayas as ‘meh’, but the Tramuntana aren’t just visually stunning as they suddenly drop away from a couple of thousand feet to the sea, but because the Spaniards cut some pretty nice roads through them. Now, they’re so nice that they attract hordes of cyclists, from teenagers to septuagenarians, and also professionals preparing for the European summer full of ‘Grand Tour’ races, like Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.
ON THE INSIDE:
Scissor doors, HeadsUp
Kardon audio system
The problem is that while the hill roads are fantastic, they are very, very narrow at times, and the i8 Roadster (like any self-respecting supercar) is very, very wide. Add cyclists to the mix (this is Europe, where cyclists rule the roads) and you have to give them right of way, or puddle along behind them at 10 kilometers per hour. In the i8, you can do that very quietly, in ‘e-Drive’ mode, and then when you see an opening and silently blast past them (the all-electric mode allows you to travel at 120 kilometers per hour), you see a look of shock on their faces, when they realise they had no clue there was a car behind them.
There were some lovely, empty-ish stretches of mountain road, where the Spanish had sensibly (or ridiculously, depending on your point of view) put a 90 kilometer per hour speed limit. Here, you could see the other side of the hill and cleanly attack the corner. The i8 just felt right, and was balanced perfectly, and the four-wheel drive – the electric motor powers the front and the internal combustion engine the rear wheels – gave me the perfect lines out of corners. Sure, one could induce a little bit of slip here and there, but if you want a BMW that tests your driving skills, stick to the new M5 in rear-wheel mode. If you want a BMW you can genuinely have fun in, the ‘ultimate’ driving machine, this is it. It is a piece of engineering beauty, and the scissor doors (which on the roadster took an immense amount of engineering chops) and the 3D-printed pieces on the roof mechanism that look like a wasp’s nest are remarkable.
Rs 2.5 CR
This is not a perfect car, mind you, and not just because it will cost a bomb. There are a couple of things that happen when the roof is taken off a car. The first is that because structural rigidity is lost, under-floor stiffening is added, which makes all convertibles slightly heavier than their coupe versions – between 30-80 kilograms, depending on the materials used. The other problem, while not unique to the i8, is the A-pillar’s design. It has led to a massive blind spot through corners, which is particularly irritating if you’re in a left-hand drive car. And while the doors are fantastic, I can guarantee you that you will not look elegant getting in and out of the car, unless you’ve really worked on your abs and thighs. Ladies, if you’re wearing a skirt, well, please don’t go commando.
Hybrids and electric cars are a reality, and while the aggressive timelines set by some politicians for a zero-emissions future might be a bit ridiculous, the fact is, it will happen. Cars like the M5 are the past, and will (unfortunately) not necessarily be a part of the automotive future for the next generation. However, the i8 Roadster proves that the future of automobiles needn’t be dull and sanitized – it can be fun, it can be exciting and it can be good looking.