If something should ever go wrong with your BMW i8, don’t even think about trying to fix it yourself. The hood doesn’t pop up easily to show off the electric motor, and the mid-mounted plastic shroud behind the rear seats does not come off quickly to expose the Mini-derived engine. Need to change a spark plug? Better book it in!
This is too bad, because I’m damned if I can figure out how BMW’s engineers managed to screw 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque out of the i3’s little 1.5L, three-cylinder engine. Those are the exact same figures Mini engineers are so proud of producing from the brand-new 2.0L, four-cylinder John Cooper Works edition. How did they find that power after chopping off a pot? I asked the BMW rep and he shrugged. “There’s always more to be found,” he offered, mysteriously.
BMW’s been looking for more since it began developing the i8, which is intended as a flagship for its new “i” brand of electric vehicles. The i8 is the flashy, expensive one, while the i3 is the flashy, compact one that’s more practical and a third of the price. There’ll be other i models coming down the pipe, maybe even an Mi8, though nothing’s yet confirmed. They’ll all be variations on a theme of electric propulsion and ultra-light weight, thanks to carbon-fibre body tubs and other clever stuff.
There are a handful of i8s in Canada now, sold since last fall, and the one I drove recently was equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires. This was curious, since the i8’s usual narrow tire is a carefully-developed blend of rubber that’s more about low rolling resistance than sporty traction. Blizzaks, however, are all about sticking to ice and frozen asphalt and care little for fuel consumption. I was happy, though: a storm dumped 10 centimetres of snow on the roads the first morning I walked out to the car.
A good deal of that 10 centimetres slid down onto the driver’s seat when I opened the clever aluminum door, which flipped up like a scissor door from its A-frame hinge, and then turned like a gull-wing to save height. Very fancy and very impressive, and everyone who saw them in operation cooed over the doors; everyone except me, who had to climb through the bloody things into the car. It’s not a graceful procedure, lifting one snowy boot over the sill while ducking down to slide through the low, narrow opening. You will hit your head several times, and when you do, there will be people watching.
But who really cares? You didn’t get an i8 to be subtle, or discreet. You got an i8 to tell people you’re a forward-thinking early adopter who cares about the environment, while also appreciating zero-to-100 km/h acceleration of 4.4 seconds. If you want to be really clever, you can switch the car to EV mode and accelerate from zero-to-60 km/h in 4.5 seconds without using any gas at all, except nobody will notice because the car will be pretty much silent, save for those Blizzaks slapping the asphalt. (When the engine’s running, the sound system pumps artificial growling noises through the door speakers to make it all more butch.) It’ll keep going all the way to 120 km/h on just the electric motor, too, whipping you down the highway with only the noise of the radio to show for it.