BMW i8 Roadster and coupé: Something old, something new
Expect to be noticed in the BMW i8 Roadster and coupé. The streamlined shape of both cars shouts ’performance’
Sometimes it’s hard not to take things personally. I was driving BMW’s latest i3 plug-in electric vehicle from Johannesburg to Pretoria, obeying route instructions from the pre-programmed satnav, when it directed me off course and up to the gates of an Irene old-age estate. My (also mature) co-driver and I laughed it off as a technical glitch.
But that afternoon, while driving the new i8 Roadster convertible, we were pulled over by a traffic policeman who suspected the car might have been stolen. Then he looked inside: "Oh, it’s old people. That’s all right, you can go."
Twice in one day. Someone’s trying to tell me something.
The reason for the constable’s suspicion was that we were in the dusty outskirts of the East Rand — not where you’d typically find a R2.3m sports car.
One positive: I can state categorically that the i8’s soft-top closes as quickly as the manufacturer claims and that acceleration from zero is very fast.
It was my fault we were there. My navigation skills weren’t as good as I thought and by the time I realised my mistake, we were hopelessly lost. Through technology and guesswork, we eventually found our way back to where we should have been.
BMW SA has introduced two new i8s. Besides the convertible, there’s also a coupé. With due respect to the worthy i3, they were the real drawcards for the launch event.
Both i8s are hybrids, drawing power from a three-cylinder, 1,500cc petrol turbo engine, in concert with an electric motor. The latter allows the cars to boast fuel consumption of no more than 2l/100km but appears to have had no impact on performance. Top speed is 250km/h and claimed acceleration is 0-100km/h in just over four seconds.
As you would expect with BMW and for the price — the coupé is R2.1m — designers have not stinted on the i8 package. Deep, embracing seats, leather steering wheel with shift paddles offering the choice of either manual or automatic gearshift, and an aircraft-style dashboard display all make an elegant interior.
Expect to be noticed. The streamlined shape of both cars shouts "performance". In case onlookers are deaf, the Roadster’s gullwing doors remove any uncertainty.
The prices are high, even if they’re not out of the ordinary. Unlike many countries, SA does not offer tax incentives to buyers of electric or hybrid vehicles. As a result, they are considerably more expensive than their traditional cousins. For example, Porsche’s "ordinary" Panamera Turbo Executive costs R2.5m. The hybrid version is R2.9m. This price disparity is the main reason hybrid cars don’t sell well in SA.
As a result, most manufacturers don’t bother marketing them here.
There are five drive modes in the i8, among them comfort, sport and eco. Safety measures abound, including high-beam headlights with a range of 600m.
And to drive? I was surprised by the amount of road noise but otherwise there was little with which to quibble.
I’m not going to nail my opinions to the mast based on a brief launch acquaintance but my experience was of a car that’s comfortable, responsive and utter fun.
It will also boost your image.
However, that may not be a positive move.
One of the BMW dealers helping with the i8 launch told how he allowed a loyal customer to borrow a Roadster demo for a wedding. It worked too well. The customer was surrounded by fellow guests congratulating him on his obvious professional success. They queued up to be photographed with him or sitting in the car.
Overwhelmed, he couldn’t lose face and admit the car was on loan.
So when he returned it to the dealer next day, he insisted on buying it outright.
"I think there’s a very good business strategy there waiting to be explored," said the dealer. I think he was joking.