BMW i8 Coupe review

The BMW i8 defined the plug-in hybrid sports-car class, and a few years on from its launch it still delivers striking looks and a thrilling drive

£115,105
Plug-in hybrid

Pros

  • Thrilling to drive
  • Futuristic looks and style
  • Efficient and fun

Cons

  • Could sound better
  • Very pricey to buy
  • Not fast enough by rival standards
Car type Electric range Economy CO2
Plug-in hybrid 23 miles 135mpg 49g/km

The i8 highlights just how early BMW was to the plug-in hybrid performance-car market; it was launched in 2014 and yet there are still no plug-in hybrid or electric alternatives on the market to offer direct competition.

For now, if you want something that offers this kind of performance and quality, you’ll be looking at the Honda NSX – this mid-engined hybrid is even faster, but you can’t plug it in so there’s more limited electric-only driving capability. The Lexus LC 500h is also a full hybrid (or 'self-charging' as the Japanese brand calls it) – this means you can’t plug it in either, but it does offer stunning coupe looks, quality and a 2+2 seating layout like the i8, plus more practicality.

The i8 is defined by its driving experience though. The combination of a small petrol engine and electric motor is a technological tour de force and means it’s easy to drive – and easy to drive fast – thanks to the sophistication of that futuristic powertrain.

The i8’s 228bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine mounted in the middle of the body drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox, while there’s a 141bhp electric motor mounted in the nose driving the front wheels, so the i8 also has four-wheel drive capability.

The total combined power output of 369bhp is impressive given the i8 only weighs 1,535kg, this figure being kept quite low thanks to the lightweight aluminium and carbon fibre construction offsetting the heavy battery pack.

Despite its environmentally friendly credentials that mean it’s not only kind to the planet, it’s kind on your wallet too, thanks to incredible claimed efficiency of up to 158.9mpg and CO2 emissions as low as just 42g/km – as long as you plug it in regularly. This means the i8 is also congestion-charge exempt if you’ll be travelling into London, while a claimed all-electric range of up to 23 miles on a full charge is a useful boost.

As a result, the i8 delivers performance to match conventionally powered sports cars without troubling your conscience or your bank balance quite as much.

If you’re buying a 2+2 low-slung car like this, there'll inevitably be some practicality drawbacks, which we’ll cover in detail later on in this review. Boot space is on the small side at 154 litres, the interior is tight and visibility isn’t the greatest – but then this is true of most sports cars, and its rivals don’t boast the same level of technology as the BMW.

Part of that is due to what the car is made from and how it's built. The passenger compartment is constructed from carbon-fibre, while the 11.6kWh battery pack is located low down in the centre of the car for the best weight distribution. These features mean the i8 is strong, so the handling is impressively sharp, while the structure and location of the battery mean it’s also safe.

Ease of use is key to the i8 ownership experience as well. It’s barely any more difficult to drive or live with than a conventional car, although sliding into the low-slung seat over the broad sill can be a less than elegant process.

The interior matches the advanced powertrain, with four different trim combinations to choose from, while all cars are trimmed in luxurious leather and feature the level of quality and kit you’d expect from a high-end BMW.

The highlights include BMW’s brilliant iDrive infotainment setup that’s been refined over so many years. It’s intuitive and simple to navigate around, while a digital cockpit display gives readouts on electric-only range, efficiency and other functions to do with the hybrid system. The infotainment’s connected services also show you charging points across the country overlaid on the sat-nav map.

Plugging in to charge is a simple process (there’s standard three-pin plug charging and fast-charger capability with the cables supplied) and recharge times realistically vary from around four and a half hours from a standard three-pin wall socket to less than two hours for a home wallbox.

If you’re looking for a car that combines performance, advanced technology, driver enjoyment, style and efficiency, then the BMW i8 really is without a rival.

A round of updates in 2018 to coincide with the arrival of the i8 Roadster gave it more power and greater electric capability, so we’d definitely recommend one.

For a more detailed look at the BMW i8 Coupe, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.