- About Us
Words: Ouseph Chacko
Photography: Gaurav S Thombre
I have finally managed to slide my backside into the low but snug seats of the BMW i8. Two months of chasing it around North India and the time has finally come to get into the hot seat. The first time we were supposed to drive it, a long story about a flat bed truck, a flat tyre and a cycle pump put a spanner in our works.
Fast forward to today and photographer Gaurav and I are here in Delhi for round two with the i8. This test is even tougher for this space station on Bridgestones because today is a typical Delhi summer day with the BMW i8 on Rajpath. The heat is searing but we’re too excited to get cooked. Gaurav’s excited about the chance to shoot that seductive shape again and I’m excited about torque fill. I’ve heard so much about the stuff (LaFerrari, P1, 918) and yet, I’ve always been suspicious of hybrids (Prius? No thanks). In my experience, electricity feels less than electric when applied to cars. It tends to make appliances of them.
Not here. In the i8, the electric motors (there are two) play the starring role because without them, the i8’s mid-mounted, three-cylinder turbo-petrol motor and its modest 228bhp, 320Nm won’t outrun a boosted Octavia down Rajpath. And that’s just not done is it? Not when it looks like this and not when it costs Rs 2.3 crore.
So, BMW has filled in the blanks with torque. Three turbo-fed cylinders (good for 228bhp and 320Nm) drive the rear wheels while an additional 129hp electric motor and its 250Nm of torque at the front axle drives the front wheels. Do the math and you have a total of 357bhp and 570Nm of torque and it’s that torque that makes all the difference.
The real genius of the i8 is in the oily bits of its complex driveline. It has two separate gearboxes – a six-speed torque converter drives the rear wheels while a separate two-speed auto drives the electric motor up front and allows it to deliver its 250Nm of torque at much higher speeds than otherwise possible. This complex powertrain is fed by a 42-litre petrol tank and a giant lithium-ion battery that sits between the seats. It all works so seamlessly and, dare I say it, normally, that the i8 is no more complicated to drive than a Maruti 800. In fact, because there’s no drama to the way it goes, to the common man, this starfighter-shaped carbon-fibre and aluminum piece of seductiveness could be just another flash supercar.
There’s no way to keep your dignity intact when you enter it, so, after you’ve embarrassingly contoured your way under the A-pillar mounted dihedral doors and over the wide-ish carbon fibre sill, you’ll find a leather-filled interior, lighted accents that glow at night and a sufficiently futuristic and yet familiar place if you’ve driven a BMW lately. The i8 is a 2+2, but the rear seats are so cramped, you might as well call it a 2+luggage. There’s not enough boot space to hide ill gotten gains (of which there seem to be plenty going around in this part of Delhi) but then again, sports cars aren’t about space are they?
No, the i8’s magic comes after you’ve thumbed the engine start-stop button. It’s when you can really marvel at what BMW has achieved here. If you have enough charge in the batteries, it’ll let you drive away in pure electric mode and it’s a revelation. Gliding along at 120kmph (that’s the max speed it will do running only on batteries) in total silence makes you feel like you’re blazing along in Anakin Skywalker’s pod racer. The energy takes you by surprise and because electric motors have instant torque, throttle response is immediate; urgent. It’s incredibly cool and futuristic in the way it moves and you almost expect a light sabre to be part of the i8’s standard features list.
Acceleration in eMode is quick enough – it takes about 9.9 seconds to 100kmph (4.6sec if you ask for everything) and that’s more than enough to slice through South Delhi’s evening traffic. Ask for a bit more performance by pushing down on the throttle and the petrol motor joins the party with engine noise. Well, most of its intake-rich soundtrack is piped in through the speakers and this along with a snort from the exhaust at every gearshift is so good, a policeman flags us down.
He knows what it is. He says it’s that Sachin Tendulkar car. I give him a quick ride in exchange for a couple of hours of uninterrupted shooting around India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan. Don’t you just love the way Delhi works?
I love the way the i8 works. As long as petrol and electricity are working together there’s no surging, no turbo lag, just uninterrupted thrust. It’s magic even though it doesn’t have the muscular kick of an AMG. But, with all that weight down low and that long wheelbase, it really corners. Its all-wheel drive system won’t allow oversteer and Porsche-type hooliganism but with its sharp, accurate steering, modestly high levels of grip (the tyres should have been broader) and torque assisted boost, you can really get a kick out of driving it hard.
The ride is firm, even for this politically manicured (is that an oxymoron?) part of Delhi’s roads, but it’s no worse than what you’d expect of any sports car.
Oh, and you can plug it in or drive around in ‘sport’ mode, where it will charge the batteries effectively. Other ways to get a top-up is to lift off the accelerator and let the motor in front generate electricity during deceleration. You could also pushing the brake pedal and doing so adds more regenerative braking. Keep pressing and the friction brakes begin to bite but there’s a chink in the i8’s armour – modulating the regenerative brakes smoothly is difficult. It’s a small chink though.
So where does the i8 fit? For the same money, you can go much faster and make a lot more noise in a 911 Turbo, or an Audi R8 V10 but, looking at the i8 like that, is missing the point. The i8 is not about numbers and top speed and no, I don’t think it’s about being green either. I think the i8 is all about being unique and high-tech and fun. It’s about pulling up next to a Lamborghini at a signal and still knowing you’re in a special car. I think it is electrifying.