Revolutionary. Ground-breaking. All-new. When the automotive press receives yet another press release, odds are it will be littered with these terms. As a result, we barely even notice them anymore.
Yes, yes, you made a new car, well done.
Revolutionary? Well, apparently it still has 4 wheels and a steering wheel, so maybe not so much.
But, BMW’s new i8 is one of those cars to which these flattering terms may actually apply. First of all, it looks... different. The kind of 'different' you saw in the latest Batman movie.
Car manufacturers like to take crazy looking concept cars to car shows. It shows off the skill and boldness of their design and engineering departments. It gives the brand a sort of hipness which their regular products fail to deliver. Of course, by the time these concept cars turn into actual production cars, most of the flair and boldness has disappeared in order to avoid scaring old ladies in the street and actually sell the things.
Much to everyone’s surprise, BMW has now broken with that tradition. The i8 looks almost just like the i8 concepts, which is to say it looks like no other car out there. Mad Max meets Star Trek. It’s an extraordinary looking car, there’s no better word for it. But making a car look like that isn’t the hardest part. Making a car that actually does things differently is a much bigger task. And it looks like BMW has managed to pull off precisely that.
BMW i8 Concept Car
The i8 is essentially billed as the sports car of the future. It’s not a super car, nor is it a family car unless you have a really small family. It has a very small engine. A 1.5 liter 3-cylinder engine to be precise. Even with a turbo, it doesn’t sound like an engine you’d usually find in a sports car. But it produces nearly 230 horsepower all by itself, and there’s another 130 horsepower electric motor to help things move forward more quickly. All in all, this is a 360 horsepower car with lots of torque. But the story doesn’t end there. Advertised fuel consumption can reach as low as 2 liters per 100 kilometers. Expect to use a fair bit more than that in the real world, but the efficiency still remains staggeringly high.
And it’s fast, too. Because the electric motor can deliver a good amount of power at any RPM, the car performs as well or better than BMW’s own 650i. Which has an engine 3 times as big and uses 3 times as much fuel. Plus to all of this, the 3-cylinder engine has a genuinely good sound to it. It sounds powerful and sporty, and at no point do you feel that you are driving a car with a very small engine. Of course BMW are doing some of the usual trickery with adding some sound through the speaker system, but you wouldn’t tell the difference if you didn’t know. In terms of going around corners, the i8 holds its own. It will not upset a Porsche 911, but it comes close enough to thoroughly deserve the sports car tag.
The interior of the i8 continues where the exterior left off. High quality materials in a futuristic setting. There’s no sign of classic gauges, only LCD panels. The car operates in several different modes depending on whether you want more fuel economy or more performance. The software development necessary to make this car work as well as it does must have been staggering. You can drive the car in electric mode only, which means it won’t be very fast but it gives you plenty of range to get around a big city in silence with almost zero emissions. Put it in sport mode, and the car becomes a different animal entirely. Unless you pulled up next to a Bugatti Veyron at the red light, you wouldn’t have much to worry about.
Perhaps the most interesting new feature are optional laser headlights. This is an entirely new technology which is likely to replace conventional headlights within a number of years. Laser powered headlights are more compact, more efficient and much more bright than any other method used so far. In the dark, the road ahead will be illuminated much farther than current headlights can, which means increased safety and comfort for the driver. In order not to blind anyone else on the road, the system will automatically cut them out of the light beam. BMW and Audi have been having something of an arms race to try and launch the first cars equipped with these kind of lights, showing just how important they think the technology is. Personally I can’t wait to try it.
What BMW has made here is a car which will become the template for future car designs. It takes a giant leap in terms of efficiency, using very little fuel without sacrificing performance. It’s the first real sports car of a new generation of hybrid cars. The price? List price in Europe is about 165.000 dollars. Nobody said living on the cutting edge was cheap. And remember, you might be buying a real piece of history.
Today I’m starting a one man campaign
Few brand names
are more recognized than those of cars. Even people who do not possess an irrational affection for the inanimate objects otherwise known as automobiles, will have no problem explaining what kind of cars Lamborghini makes, or Bentley, or even FIAT.
Everybody knows these names because, love them or hate them, cars are everywhere — not least on TV or in movies. Few people are likely to remember which manufacturer won the 1977 Formula One world championship, but if you ask them instead what car Don Johnson drove in Miami Vice they are likely to remember it was a Ferrari.
In more recent times however, things have become a bit more complicated. As car manufacturing became more large scale, and the global economy more open, some brands started to struggle in the ultra-competitive environment. Many went bankrupt, got sold, went bankrupt again, and so on and so forth. In the process, the big sharks of the industry only got bigger as they decimated the guppies. Some brands died altogether, but others were kept alive by their new owners, in an attempt to diversify their lineup and target different types of customers. Few played this game better than Volkswagen.