It is that time of year when some manufacturers lay out their latest and 2015 model year cars for motoring writers to sample ahead of another year of competitive business.
BMW have done just that with the test drive must-do being their i8 lightweight petrol-electric £99,845 supercar. As they are all sold in the UK until September next year it might be my only chance to drive one.
Piers Scott, BMW’s UK General Manager for Product and Internal Communications told the UK media that the brand’s 8% growth this year with 113,520 sales so far had been due in part to the expansion of their range entering new segments of the market with 2, 4 and 6-Series. In addition there was the introduction of their first front wheel drive BMW – the 2 Series Active Tourer models and the launch of their i sub brand with the i3 hatchback and now the arrival of the i8 Coupe supercar.
He said that 10 years ago BMW had 18 distinct models and they sold 102,200 cars. In 2014 there are now 36 distinct models with sales for the first nine months of this year reaching 113,520 registrations. The biggest selling range is still the 3 Series Saloon with 18,865 UK sales so far this year.
The i3 electric and petrol electric five door five seater hatchbacks have sold 10,000 units globally with 1,000 of them in the UK. Around 60% of customers have chosen the petrol/electric Range Extender version. So far 80% of UK i3 customers have bought a bespoke BMW i Home charging unit, 57% of customers have taken up the BMW ChargeNow credit card payment system for charging elsewhere but the majority of customers charge their cars at home with the public charging facilities used mainly as a back-up.
He said there is already strong demand for the i8 plug in petrol electric hybrid sports coupe priced at £94,845 after the Governments £5,000 low emission plug in vehicle grant. They are all sold out until September next year. Around 350 units will be available in the UK this year and around 700 units are available next year due to production restraint and the global demand for the new 2+2 supercar.
Natasha Newman, BMW’s Product Operations Manager for medium cars added that the refreshed X3 mid-sized SUV with its increased specification and Euro 6 engines, including the 18d, 20d modular turbodiesel engines and the 35d, now has a six month lead time for delivery. The 20d unit will be chosen by 75% of UK customers
She added that the M4 Convertible now joins the recently introduced M3 Saloon and M4 Coupe models. Next year around 300 M3 Saloons will be sold in the UK, 1,200 M4 Coupes and approximately 600 M4 Convertibles. The new 3 Series M models use a lightweight TwinTurbo 3.0-litre, straight-six cylinder petrol unit with 431hp and 550Nm of torque. This new unit offers 38% more torque, it is 14% faster for the zero to 62mph acceleration time for the Convertible which is 4.4 seconds and CO2 emissions are 25% lower at 203g/km.
All versions have a higher level of specification than the outgoing models. The M3 Saloon now costs £56,190, the M4 Coupe £56,650 and the M4 Convertible with its folding hard top roof is priced at £60,745. Around 90% of customers will choose the 7-speed automatic transmission option available on all models.
On to the main event at the BMW media day, my very brief and likely one-and-only test drive of the i8 lightweight 2+2 Coupe plug-in electric petrol hybrid supercar.
The i8 was officially launched for sale on 19 July and 350 units will be allocated to customers by the end of the year. Forward orders in the UK have the i8 sold out until September 2015 with a total of 700 units restricted supply for next year.
The i8 is priced at £99,845 on the road but with the Government’s low emission vehicle grant of £5,000 this softens the financial blow to a mere £94,845. BMW say desirability is a key buying feature but every UK purchase is being validated by the company to ensure sales go to non speculative buyers. In the UK the BMW has appointed 47 of their dealerships as i-specialised agents to sell the vehicles but their entire network can service the i8.
The lightweight supercar, the most adventurous production car ever made by BMW, uses their EfficientDynamics technology both in body construction and hybrid power. It marries a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, 231hp turbocharged direct injection petrol engine and a 96kw electric motor for prolusion. The electric motor drives the front wheels via a two-stage automatic transmission. When the petrol unit chimes in it drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission so in Sport mode all four wheels drive the car along. There is also the added facility to charge the high voltage, liquid cooled lithium-ion battery pack from the electric mains supply. From a dedicated BMW i Wallbox a zero to 80% electric charge can be achieved in two hours or via a 240V, 13amp three pin socket zero to 80% taking over three hours. The battery can also be recharged via the electric motor on the overrun. The high-voltage starter motor is used as a generator which is powered by the petrol engine. All the on-board charging modes during driving are seamless and fully automatic.
The two sources of power combine to produce 362hp with 570Nm of torque giving a restricted top speed of 155mph with zero to 62mph taking just 4.4 seconds. Emissions are just 49g/km and the official EU Combined Cycle fuel consumption is 135mpg. As well as providing a power boost to assist the petrol engine during acceleration, the electric motor can also be selected to power the vehicle by itself giving up to 22 miles at a top speed of 75mph.
The ultra-low emissions means there is no road tax to pay, the London Congestion charge is free, company car executives will only pay 5% Benefit-in-Kind tax but the insurance rating is Band 50. As for real-life fuel consumption, my short test drive didn’t come up with a realistic figure as we were trying all the driving mode options on rain-soaked Cotswold narrow roads and lanes. However from the experience of one BMW technology guru around 60mpg is quite possible on a long run but around the mid twenties if full power is used for track-day use, but these are unofficial figures.
The i8 always starts off in Comfort mode with the electric motor and petrol engine combining to give the most efficient mix of power supply. Move the auto gear lever left to activate Sport mode and the petrol engine rapidly surges into life and it sounds like a V6 engine as well so you get the full experience of rapid power delivery. With so much torque there is huge pulling power and immediate overtaking speed with huge grip through the four wheel drive system. The steering is curiously light and feels out of keeping with the i8’s performance potential but the 50-50 weight balance of the Coupe is impressive. Generally the car rides well, on the firm side as you would expect, but not that uncomfortable despite the use of 20-inch aerodynamically design alloy wheels.
The most uncomfortable element is getting in and out of the Coupe. With its twin, lift up scissor style doors opening them is always going to be an issue in car parks. Once open how do you get in? The solution is to back in bottom first, negotiate over the high side-sill and locate yourself down into the low height snugly fitting sports front seats and watching your head on the low roof. Next function is to drag the legs in and over that high sill of the carbon-fibre reinforced plastic bodyshell tub. I didn’t venture into the two sculptured rear seats as they looked suitable only for small children and the effort of getting into the rear was for me a struggle too far.
Once inside the front section i8 feels like most other high performance supercars. The standard leather trim extends beyond the seat surfaces to parts of the centre console, instrument panel and interior door panels. Exposed carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic elements of the passenger cell are visible around the entry apertures when the doors are opened and they are totally in keeping with the lightweight supercar nature of the i8.
The instrument panel uses BMW’s horizontal lines and layered design emphasising the width of the interior. The centre console is home to the gearshift lever, the controller for the iDrive operating system, the Auto Stop-Start button, the eDrive button and the Driving Experience Control switch. The iDrive system includes a freestanding 8.8-inch display with Professional Navigation as standard.
The i8 offers the driver scope to adjust the drive and suspension settings of the vehicle to meet their individual preferences. As well as the electronic gear selector for the automatic transmission, the driver can also use the Drive Dynamic Control or eDrive button. It gives the driver five operating modes to choose from: COMFORT, ECO PRO, SPORT and eDrive for pure-electric driving – in combination with COMFORT or ECO PRO modes.
It all seems very technical but in reality after some brief tuition and a short drive the systems and functions are logical, enjoyable to use and it’s easy to drive.
Using fusions of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic and aluminium body components the kerb weight of the i8 is just 1,490kg which is reflected in its performance and fuel efficiency. The aerodynamic design is instantly recognisable as a BMW product but with a 2+2 seater layout. The overall length is 4,689mm, width is wide at 1,942mm but it has a low height of just 1,299mm. In true BMW sports style there is a long curvaceous bonnet, low height twin kidney front grille, low air intakes, deeply sculptured side panels blending into wide wheelarches.
The BMW i8 is the picture of the future for performance cars but underneath the carbon-fibre skin is some of the hybrid technology that will become common for many more conventional family cars in the future, but obviously less costly than this pioneering showcase example.
MILESTONES: BMW i8 2+2 Hybrid 2-Door Coupe. Price: £99,845 (£94,845 after Government plug-in grant). Drivetrain: Plug-in electric petrol hybrid system, 1.5-litre, 231hp, three-cylinder direct injection turbocharged petrol engine, 96kw/131hp electric motor, combined max output of 362hp, 570Nm of torque, 6-speed automatic + manual mode transmission, all wheel drive. Performance: 155mph (restricted), 0-62mph 4.4-seconds, 135mpg official Combined Cycle figure, CO2 49g/km, VED road tax £0, Benefit-in-Kind company car tax 5%. Insurance group: 50. Warranty: 3-years/unlimited. For: Stunning looks, mind-boggling technology, easy but thrilling to drive, rarity and high tech ownership proposition, low taxes. Against: Hard to get in and out of it, light steering, high speed road cruiser rather than a track-day supercar. Miles Better News agency