I test drove a BMW i8 recently. It was something I had been looking forward to doing for quite sometime. The i8 is a car that has intrigued me since it was launched and I personally believe it is the best looking BMW since the M1. Getting it set up though, was quite the saga. In fact, it was the single most difficult test drive I have ever tried to land. The ordeal started on a Saturday in June when I pulled into the local BMW dealer and asked if I could arrange for a test drive in an i8. As I had been out doing errands I was driving the Porsche Cayenne S and was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. This apparently did not impress to many of the dealership staff as I was ignored for about 10 minute before I was finally able to get the attention of one of the salesmen. I told him I was interested in the i8 and asked a number of questions none of which he had answers to. When I then inquired about scheduling a test drive, I was informed that they might be able to arrange one, but only after I had put a deposit down. I countered that I wanted to make sure I liked the car before cutting a cheque. At which point I was told that they don’t offer i8 test drives and in any event they already had a 2 year waitlist. And that was that. I then contacted BMW directly to see if they might be able to help arrange a test drive. No dice, BMW USA was even less helpful than the dealer.
Fast forward four months and I decided to give it another try. This time I pulled into the BMW dealership in something quite a bit more exotic which I had just collected from service. It was not a deliberate choice to bring one of Woking’s finest engineering achievements but what happened next was quite eye opening. As soon as I walked through the door I instantly had several salesmen approach me. Within minutes an i8 test drive was scheduled and I was on my way home. The difference in behavior created by my choice of transportation on the second visit was quite galling. It then took me a couple of weeks to decide to go ahead with the test drive.
In the end curiosity about the i8 won out and I went ahead with the test drive. As a technology showcase, the i8 is impressive. As a sports car, it comes up quite short in terms of “EVOness”. It feels and drives much more like a performance coupe than the supercar it resembles. Feedback is average and at times you have the distinct sensation that you are operating a computer that is then deciding how to drive the car. Would the i8 make a good daily driver, sure, but at this price point there are a lot of other more exciting options and with petrol at $2 a gallon the benefits of being a hybrid are significantly diluted. On the plus side, the i8 is easy to drive and visibility all around is good. The carbon fibre tub is remarkably easy to get in and out of and the seating positon is surprisingly high off the ground. On the less positive side, acceleration feels pretty average and so do the brakes. The rear seats look about as useable as a 911s and I am not really sure why they are actually there. A luggage shelf would make a lot more sense. At the end of the test drive I walked away feeling that the i8 was 3 cylinders, 300 bhp and a set of ceramic brakes short from being something really special. I was also offered the choice of several i8s that the dealer currently had in stock or I could place an order for a 2016 delivery. Apparently that 2 year waitlist had evaporated. As BMWs first attempt at a hybrid sports car, there is a lot that’s impressive about the i8. What I was not impressed with was BMW though. Would I clear a garage space for an i8 now? No, not yet but let’s see what the next generation of the i8 brings.
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