BMW i8 long-term test review: would you take one over a Porsche Panamera?

BMW i8 long-term test review: would you take one over a Porsche Panamera?

Pondering its merits against the competition from Porsche

It’s been a Porsche Panamera-intensive month, which may seem like an odd thing to say in a report on a BMW i8, but bear with me.

The one pictured above is the 4S Diesel, and with 4.0 litres of twin-turbo V8 power at its disposal, it gives a similar level of performance to that offered by the BMW’s 1.5 litres of three-pot single-turbo hybridised petrol power. How? Because once you’ve offset the Porsche’s extra power and torque against its half tonne of additional weight, they actually stack up pretty closely.

I’m a huge fan of both powertrains. Truth is, I’ve never driven a V8 diesel I didn’t like, and the Panamera’s velvet wallop is something to behold. But the i8 counters with a deliciously snarling soundtrack, despite some sneering at its synthesised nature.

What I like best about these cars are their iconoclastic natures. I’d rather drive the i8 on an open road and sit in traffic in the Porsche, but the important point is that both demonstrate that there remain different ways of getting the job done, and you don’t have to subscribe to the jelly-mould norm prevalent in other areas of the market.

The more relevant Panamera, of course, is the E-Hybrid. Apologies for not having a picture of it next to the i8, but I was on another continent when I drove it. It uses a 3.0-litre turbo V6 petrol engine boosted by electricity and offers a 30-mile electric range. It’s a lot more affordable than the BMW, Porsche having slashed its price so, curiously, it’s now almost £10k cheaper than the less powerful, non-hybrid petrol 4S using the same engine. But even though it costs half as much again, the i8’s pint-sized powertrain is in a different league to the Porsche motor.

Porsche says it’s a car bought more by head than heart, and for a certain kind of user the running costs are compelling. But the i8 has both bases covered (albeit for a different customer) and, hypercars aside, it remains the only hybrid so to do.

Price £104,540 Price as tested £108,615 Economy 43.2mpg Faults None Expenses None

PREVIOUS REPORTS

Why it can beat a Porsche 911

Recently, I met a man who actually owned a BMW i8.

Spent his own money on it – or at least his company’s. Broke a Porsche 911 habit measurable in decades to do it. Did he buy it for its looks, its CO2 emissions, or its carbonfibre construction? Did he hell. He bought it because, as a taxable company benefit, he said it saved him thousands relative to his last car, a 911 Turbo. Did he not miss the extra punch of the Turbo? Not in the least. What about that flat six howl? No, again. But surely he missed its grip, agility and the intimacy of the Porsche driving experience? Thrice nope. 

Truth is, he bought the car because, over the three years he will have it, its total costs made it a damned sight cheaper for him than anything else that kind of money might buy. But that’s not why he loves it. He loves it because he feels good about driving it.

No, that’s not what you’d call a deep-dive assessment based on forensic analysis of the facts, but that doesn’t make the judgement any less valid. You don’t need to be a grizzled road tester to appreciate a car’s look or get pleasure from that little bit of theatre every time a door flips open and you settle down into those superb seats with that perfect driving position. Its ability to make every journey an occasion distinguishes the i8 from the others, even cars I’d rather drive fast, such as the 911.

In fact, I love driving the i8 slowly, taking the kids to school, knowing I’ll get there and back while using no fuel at all. Saddo that I am, I’ve taken to photographing the trip computer, just because so many of the numbers displayed are at such apparent odds with a high-performance coupé.

So I asked the bloke the acid question. In three years, will he trade in the i8 for another? “There’ll be a new 911 by then, so I’ll wait to see what that’s like. But if I had to decide now, I’d do it in an instant.”

BMW I8

Price £104,540 Price as tested £108,615 Economy 43.0mpg Faults None Expenses None

Read our previous reports here

Read our previous reports:

First report

Voyage of discovery

From supercar to zero-emissions

The Autocar team’s thoughts

600-mile road trip



Source: Autocar Online

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