BMW i3 and i8 First Drive

OHP 4910

The gradual transition towards electric cars is happening, albeit at a slower pace than the green activists would like. The BMW i3 and i8 are two different ways of implementing electrically-powered vehicles. The i3 is the typical everyday city car that grinds through traffic, while the i8 takes the performance sports car to another place using a small capacity engine paired with electric power for added shunt.

Two Versions of i3

The i3 has landed in SA in two formats, the first being a pure electric model and the second with the addition of a petrol engine used as a generator to charge the batteries. The pure electric model claims a range of around 130-160km on a single charge. There are three driving modes to choose from that obviously affect the range, ECO Pro Plus is the most efficient mode, ECO Pro the middle mode and Comfort mode gives you all the power you want and doesn’t skimp on ancillaries like the air conditioner.

Our drive in the pure electric model showed that the i3 is a step ahead of the Nissan Leaf in terms of power delivery and feel. It’s quite rapid as well with 125 kW and 250 Nm of torque. You really feel that instant shove electric vehicles give as all the torque is available from the moment you touch the throttle. The electric motor is responsive and will cruise at 120kph with ease on the freeway. The range will drop dramatically on the freeway however as the i3 recoups a fair amount of charge from coasting and braking so it’s more suited to city driving where it is constantly recharging under braking.

The Range extender model, called REX is able to nearly double the range of the i3 to 300km thanks to a 650cc two-cylinder engine that keeps the batteries charged as you drive along. The petrol engine is equipped with a tiny nine-litre fuel tank that gives it the boost in range.

How to Charge

As for charging the i3 you have three choices. First there’s the DC fast charging method that BMW has installed at various dealerships around the country, these will fully charge an i3 in 30 minutes. The second option is a home charging unit that BMW will install at your house for about R25k that will charge the battery in three hours. The final method is a standard wall socket charge from any plug you can find, but this charge takes around eight hours to charge fully.

The i3 is a fun car to drive, it overtakes rapidly thanks to the instantaneous torque, has loads of gadgets to play with and is surprisingly spacious in the front, rear and boot. In keeping with the green theme, much of the i3 is built from sustainable materials and recycled products to give the owner more guilt-free driving pleasure.

BMW i8

The BMW i8 is an amazing looking car, it’s been ages since something that looks this much like a concept has made it to production. BMW doesn’t really do supercar design like Mercedes AMG or Audi does with the R8 so this is a step in the right direction for a new line of sportscar design for them.

Dual Power

The i8 subscribes to the philosophy of pumping up the power on a small capacity petrol engine – in this case, the 1.5-Litre three-cylinder petrol and then harnessing the electric motor to deal with the low down grunt. It’s a fantastic idea and it works so well on the i8. The 1.5-Litre petrol pumps out 170 kW and 320 Nm of torque while the electric engine helps with a further 96 kW and 250 Nm. The total power works out at 266 kW and 320 Nm in a car that will set you back R1 755 000.

Ride and Drive

With the figures cast away into the back of my mind I decided it was time to unleash the power of the i8 over some of the best passes in the Cape. You’re seated low in the i8, but not so low that you have to stretch to see obstacles out of the window. It’s extremely easy to drive at low speed and the ride is plush over bumps unlike many hard-sprung sportscars. Wind up the revs and the augmented sound fires back through the speakers, despite it being a synthetic or manipulated roar, it still gives you a thrill.

The i8 holds on in the bends brilliantly, there’s so much grip and the balance is sweet so it never feels on edge. The power is delivered instantaneously, but once you start to push on a bit harder you’re left wanting more power, under 100kph it has great acceleration, but after that it tapers off and leaves you wanting more. I began to wish that BMW had used the Mini’s 2-Litre turbo motor instead as that would have given the added power I was craving.

In a car that looks this amazing you almost expect it to come with supercar credentials and terrifying performance figures but it doesn’t. For the price you can get all those thrills in an R8 or Nissan GT-R, but neither will turn as many heads or claim to be the future of the sportscar that the i8 can.


BMW i3 BEV (full electric) – R525 000

BMW i3 REX (range Extender) – R595 000

BMW i8 – R1 755 000