November 08, 2014 @ 03:43 PM

Feature: BMW's warp factor 8

The future is here and it has just been driven. But where are the option boxes for lasers and pulse cannons? By Donald Cheah

Words: Donald Cheah
Photography: Donald Cheah & BMW

The future is here and it has just been driven. But where are the option boxes for lasers and pulse cannons?

My transformation from a motoring hack to desk/meeting-bound dweeb is complete. To be honest, it was completed a few months back. But I saw no benefit from announcing the regrettable regression to all and sundry. Wait for the book, “From cool to curdle in 24 months” for the complete blow-by-blow.

Hence while I watch wistfully as the world drives by, I dream of “the good old days” of carefree travelling in predominantly the spheres of Business-Class and accompanying lounges. Jet-setting all across the globe, with my trusty Nikon camera and Toshiba laptop, the only tools of my trade that never leaves my side.

Truth be told, as much as I enjoyed my previous JD, travelling, in any form will get to you eventually. I do not miss it at all – the endless wait in airports, sleepless nights in different time zones, falling asleep with my face planted on a plate of hot spaghetti Bolognese in Italy… the fun dies off pretty rapidly. Too much of a good thing, you know?

But every now and then, the sun breaks out from the gloominess called the Land of Middle… Management. The sheer desperation to break free from the shackles of sitting on my green yoga ball 24/7 builds to a crescendo that threatens to squeeze out my very last breath… until an invitation that is hard to resist appears in a very normal looking email, to test the new BMW i8.

Having traverse across mountain ranges, through appendage-shrinking cold and 500 kilometres of road, we arrive in Milan, Italy. The sunshine was the best welcome anyone could ask for, strange considering we get sunshine all year round in Malaysia. Trust me, sunshine beats gloomy and wet weather any day.

Typically, we have the customary presentation plus dinner that introduces the hero of the trip. The white i8 stood before me and I must say… I was impressed. 

The next morning, we get to drive the i3 to the holding area of the i8. And having never driven the i3 before… I was impressed. This is looking like a very good trip.

I feel like a feral cat, circling the spot several times before I lay down and make it my home for a season, however short. The i8 looks simply stunning. It is sleekness personified, with an edgy cut straight from a Manga clip. I could not help but circle the BMW a few more times, resisting the deep urge to tap the rubbers with the tip of my pointy shoes; what else do you do when you are stunned by something that looks like this?

Another short presentation ensues with rather interesting facts like the four modes of drive in eDrive, Comfort, Sport and Eco Pro. The eDrive for instance is a full-on electric mode with a maximum speed of 120kph and up to 37km in range. The Sport mode leaves both the electric and fuel engines switched on for maximum boost at any instance. 

The drive concept is stated as “Hybrid-specific all-wheel drive, combustion engine driving the rear wheels, electric motor driving the front wheels”. The combustion engine is a “BMW TwinPower Turbo with High Precision Direct Petrol Injection with VALVETRONIC fully variable valve control and supercharging” and the BMW eDrive technology consist of a “hybrid synchronous motor with power electronics, integrated charging module and generator mode for recuperation” 
We are next ushered out into the surprisingly biting sun to view the BMW I Solar car port which is a charging station made up of renewable materials like bamboo. It harness the sun light and transfer that energy into the BMW i car of your choice.

And finally, we get into the i8. It is historic in many ways, more so when an entity that is hell-bent on outright performance and feel. A car that blends both performance and eco-friendliness? Let’s take a look shall we?
First, the not-so-good news. If the interior was seemingly designed under shrooms-induced stupor to look the part – and it does! – then the interior must be penned at the tail-end of shrooms’ session. You know… when the magic is wearing out.

To be fair, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the interior, but it’s a little bland when you have a stunning exterior. They should have at least used fewer parts from the BMW general-bin. But yes, I am difficult to please in that sense.

On the other hand, the idea of a light, eco-centric, efficient and future-looking car must include a certain Zen-like quality and treatment in its execution. So if you interpret this as a minimalistic and frugal approach, the BMW i8 should be perfectly designed.

As expected, it glides off ninja-like, so there is more to the Manga connection than I first thought. It is a head-turner, obviously, more so with highlights in black and blue. Personally, I absolutely love the way it looks, but as with most things in life, there will be detractors.

Once we are on the highway, I give the gas a tap, and it displays why it does 0-100 in 4.4 seconds via a 6-speed auto transmission for the combustion engine and a 2-speed unit for the electric motor. Soon, we are being tailed by a convoy of cars and bikes. One curious biker, on a BMW Motorrad no less, swings to the right and left behind me, checking out the i8. Eventually, he rides next to me and gives me the thumbs-up when we make eye-contact. Ahhh… the freshly brewed aroma of approval.

The highway falls into a Tron-inspired space of blackness and blue lines… I knew I should have skipped the mushrooms for breakfast. The “normal” cars around me disappear and it is just me in my i8, cruising effortlessly and in complete silence. This is rather surreal.

As I navigate the i8 across the barren Italian streets, I feel invincible and in complete control. The black and beige cabin, complete with the recognisable dial and gear knob, feels all too familiar. But the stylised steering wheel gives the interior a bit of a futuristic zing.

Seated behind the wheel, it does not feel like a normal BMW. It feels too light, and a little… distant. I do not find the kind of connection I used to with a “normal” BMW. Don’t get me wrong, the performance is all there and the real world matches the spec sheet. 

It takes off like a rabbit pursued by rabid hounds, silently almost floating across the tarmac with perfect ease. In the i8, you hardly feel anything and apart from the visual blur at the periphery of your vision, there are no clues to the acceleration you are experiencing. This can be both a good and a bad thing.

Much like a nimble-footed rabbit, it handles the natural terrain with a disdain that should match the owners’ bragging rights and attitude. Unfazed by man-made undulations and natural Italian curves, the i8 seem to conquer the roads with supreme ease. 

The lightness of the car minimises mass-induced delinquencies, so the i8 owns practically every corner I throw it around. Grip levels remains optimised in the sunny Milan and there are no reasons to doubt its acumen in the rain.

The corners are deliberately more exciting than the massive accelerating power of the i8, simply because there is only so much you can do to hide the effects of physics. Regardless, I always feel in control even at speed through the twisty roads of suburban Milan.

We were warned that speed limits are enforced but true to their nature and passions, the local LEOs are more interested in the car than giving us a ticket, so we could push the envelopes of speed more than usual.

It is difficult to pick a weak point in terms of outright performance because it is such an extremely well made car. Acceleration, corners, braking, NVH, looks, etc. are all rated at high levels. Any grouses would lie in the i8s clinical execution of said attributes. It lacks the typical BMW “feel”. In its defence is the fact that this is a completely new range of products by the German marque. I am certain a “fee” can be dialled in if need be in this or future models. While the interior looks the part, it feels less than the (potentially) seven-figure RM one would need to part for such a car. 

If this is true for you, the future owner of the i8, bear in mind that it is as it should be simply due to the fact that this new BMW intends to change the way and, yes, expectations of drivers and owners alike. It shouts “future”, “efficiency” and “performance”. Plus it aces all other departments and pushes the performance envelope into a new dimension.

And that’s just it; the i8 is designed to bring motoring into a new dimension, through the performance-oriented lenses of BMW. Forget for a moment that you are driving the future now, and you will still be able to appreciate the real-world performance and supreme attributes of the i8. 

How many owners will actually buy one based on a green-conscience is anyone’s guess. But does it even matter? The numbers in the spec sheet alone should justify its existence, and let’s not forget the curves on this puppy. It’s simply beautiful with a new angle for your appreciation every other day. More is the pity then with a (potentially) pricey price tag for the BMW i8 in Malaysia.

With a top speed of 250kmh and a 600km range in the optional 42-litre tank, what is clear to me is the i8’s relevance in these times and supreme performance all round. There is no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ in my mind. The future is here, now. And it is looking bright.

For more photographs click here.
BMW i8
1,499cc, 3cyl, BMW TwinPower Turbo, High Precious Direct Petrol Injection, VALVETRONIC, supercharged, 231bhp @ 5800rpm, 320Nm @ 3700rpm, plus electric motor 131bhp at 4,800rpm, 250Nm @ 0Nm, total 362bhp 
6-speed automatic transmission, plus 2-speed automatic transmission for electric motor
0-100kph 4.4sec, 80-120kph 2.6sec, 250kph (electronically limited), top speed electric 120kph, 2.1l/100km, 49g/km
Length/width/height (mm)

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