Hybrid cars may have been around since the turn of the millennium, but they are now starting to really take off, with more and more buyers steering clear of diesel models and opting for petrol hybrids instead. The reason why? Petrol-electric hybrids offer the smooth running and high refinement levels of a typical petrol model with impressive claimed fuel economy and low emissions.
Not all hybrids are the same though. Unlike the economy-focused Toyota Prius and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, for instance, the BMW i8 is one of a new breed of hybrid that puts the emphasis on rapid acceleration and an exhilarating driving experience, with the very impressive official fuel economy – 134.5mpg – being merely a pleasant side effect of the car’s hybrid setup.
Claimed emissions are also very low, with the car emitting a meagre 49g/km of CO2 – less than half the threshold needed to warrant free annual car tax. Run it on pure electric mode and the i8 should be able to cover around 20 miles on a full charge, meaning emission-free town driving if you can top up the batteries at home.
While its eco credentials are impressive, it’s the i8’s performance and sports car roadholding that make it stand out – this machine can sprint to 62mph in a supercar-rivalling 4.4 seconds and keep going all the way to 155mph. Thanks to its turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine, which churns out a substantial 228bhp and a 95bhp electric motor, acceleration is vivid, with the small engine producing a sporty Porsche-esque noise.
Helping to get the car noticed on the road is its radical, sharp-edged styling that makes it look like the type of machine you’d expect in a sci-fi film. Unlike many modern sports cars which have become commonplace on the road, the i8 really manages to turn heads when on the move, while clambering in and out itself is an event, courtesy of the upward-folding ‘butterfly doors’ that expose the car’s high-tech, lightweight carbon fibre structure.
In a nod to practicality the i8 even has two rear seats – albeit seats only suitable for children and potentially the shortest of adults – similar to its key rival, the Porsche 911. The boot, however, betrays the i8’s billing as a supercar, with room only for a few small, soft bags.
While the i8’s £100,000 price tag means that it is the preserve of only the richest of drivers, many more affordable models are likely to follow in its footsteps, as the addition of electric motors helps car manufacturers to create ever more rapid and economical performance cars. And this is a very good thing.
Though in reality the economy we got from the i8 with fast driving fell far, far short of the official figures, the proliferation of performance-focused hybrid cars offers a combination of power and frugality that would otherwise not be possible.
In the case of the i8 this machine looks like nothing else on the road and manages to match the thrill and spectacle of many more conventional sports cars. Supercars often shape the style and features of more affordable cars, and we look forward to a raft of i8-influenced models in years to come.
April 10, 2015