We don’t dole out five-star reviews here at Examiner Motoring willy-nilly. In fact, I can only remember a handful of these terribly prestigious gongs being awarded during my tenure, writes Declan Colley.
But — and a bit like the clichéd number 10 bus — you wait ages for one to come along and then two of them arrive simultaneously. Last week the VW Golf Clubsport received the top honour.
And this week the rarely seen five stars are getting handed out again, but on this occasion it goes to a horse of a completely different colour. This time it goes to the astonishing feat of design and engineering that is the BMW i8.
Interestingly enough, there is something of a question mark as to why the BMW PR department is so actively pushing the i8 once more — just a few short years after it was introduced to the Irish market. Indeed, one car dealer of my acquaintance expressed astonishment when he found me driving the BMW.
“Why are they plugging that thing again,” he queried. “Sure didn’t they get their pound of flesh out of that yoke just two years ago.”
His voice had that melancholy quality of a man who wished the brand he peddles had something — anything — like the technological wonder that is the i8 to offer their clientele. I could understand his wistfulness, because the crowd he is with will probably never build a masterpiece like that which is on offer here.
Personally, if I were working in the BMW PR department I would have an i8 permanently on the press fleet just so the befuddled hacks I had to work with had fairly constant access to a car which is widely regarded as an instant icon and a nailed-on classic.
To have at hand a car which is so manifestly staggering in every regard — looks, ability and a this-is-the-future-now wowness — that is not matched anywhere other than in the top-end supercar genre (at the price), would be a gift from the gods for any PR department.
This is not a car for the masses — the near €160,000 price tag ensures that — but it is a car which the masses can ogle and salivate over. And dream about. And that is why BMW built it and that is why they are extracting as much positive PR as they can muster from it.
Thus it is a technological showcase like few others produced by mainstream manufacturers. Sure you can get similar looks, performance and desirability from Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Pagani and a couple of others, but few of those car makers offer that sort of product at this sort of price.
Sure Audi have their race-bred R8 (which costs quite a deal more than the i8, incidentally) and there are various AMG Mercs and while these machines may cause a frisson of interest among petrolheads, it is nothing like the impact the BMW has on a crowd.
I’ve driven many show-stopping cars down the years, but I have never had a car which attracts people like this. It will cause mild hysteria at the shopping mall, a near stampede outside a pub and force normally sensible people to jettison their usual practiced reticence, knock on your front door and beg, on bended knee, for a closer look at it.
Such people know, simply by looking at the i8, that they are in the presence of something special; something remarkable. They intuitively know that its weirdly contoured but beautifully eye-catching lines cloak some sort of mad engineering wizardry which propel it to places only ever found in sci-fi movies. And they’re right.
Astonishing looks aside, the i8 is also a thing of extraordinary capability. But how can this be? After all, the engine is only a 1.5-litre three-pot petrol and yet the 0-100 kph dash is achieved in under 4.5 seconds and the top speed is limited to 250 kph. What dark arts are being unleashed here?
Well they are mainly electrical jiggery-pokery and while many will know that hybrid cars are far from top of the Examiner Motoring wish-list, this thing is as different from a Toyota Prius as it is possible to be.
It is different because it is a visionary thing. Most humdrum hybrids are nothing more than a vision of what can be done to lessen CO2 emissions utilising a small petrol engines and a Duracell battery. This is a car which great minds have designed and which can be seen as a template of what is possible.
It was like the BMW R&D department were told to go off and design a hybrid concept for display purposes and, having done so, reported back to an astonished board of directors who immediately recognised that not only can they use the project to highlight the company’s expertise, but they can sell them too. Unlikely scenario, I know, but that’s how it seemed to play out.
From the scissor doors to the carbonfibre reinforced plastic tub and sub-frames (which makes the car 50% lighter than if it had been made from steel and 30% lighter than if made from aluminium), everything about the i8 smacks of high-end manufacturing.
Although the interior is very BMW and very BMW M at that, there is nothing too radical on offer in there that might frighten anyone with lesser credentials than an astronaut, but the manner which it has been created and presented makes it feel like a very special place indeed.
Once you’re moving, however, things get very radical very quickly. The noise you’d expect to generate from the diminutive engine might be akin to that from a Suzuki supermini — a sort of modest thrum. But it is not; it is the roar of an unrestrained wild animal and it comes from just behind your ear — mid-engined and all as it appears to be.
That little ‘thrummy’ engine, in combination with its electric allies, actually produces a united output of more than 360 horses and thus the blood-draining performance we mentioned earlier. It is pretty astonishing.
Allied to four wheel drive and a six speed ’box (not to mention specially designed low resistance tyres and a host of other devilishly clever stuff) also give it the sort of eye-popping driving characteristics even hypercars aspire to.
And so, the i8 is a showpiece like few others on offer in our modern world — again factoring in the price.
This is a car of the future before the future has arrived and it is probably something which will eventually reside in museums across the globe as a car which signposted what and where the future is.
No wonder then that it gets the not-often-awarded Examiner Motoring five star rating, or even that the BMW PR department is keen on reminding us just how talented their engineers are.
This indeed is a very special piece of kit.
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