Press the start button and you’ll be greeted by silence. Drive is initially provided by a 129bhp electric motor that draws power from a battery pack mounted centrally in the car. It powers the front wheels and, when fully charged, BMW says it will allow you to cover up to 34 miles with silent ease. In real-world conditions, though, you’ll struggle to cover that distance using the battery alone, especially if you find yourself at 60mph or above.
When the batteries are depleted, you step on the accelerator or switch from Comfort to Sport mode, a turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine barks into life. This rear-mounted unit drives the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox and produces a substantial 228bhp and 236lb ft of torque. It sounds surprisingly good, adding some real theatre to the proceedings (albeit flatteringly enhanced through the car’s speakers), and provides seriously impressive acceleration. With both the electric motor and petrol engine working together, providing four-wheel drive and lots of traction, the i8 will sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.4sec, making overtakes effortless. The two power sources blend together smoothly, too; there are never any awkward transitions or odd pauses. It’s worth remembering that similarly priced versions of the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 are even quicker, especially at motorway speeds and above.
The i8 isn’t all about straight-line performance, however. It’s light for a car of its class and has decent front-end grip, so when you turn in you’ll find it changes direction quickly and in a controlled fashion; the i8 is not a car that enjoys playing the hooligan. The steering is precise and very light, making the i8 easy to manoeuvre, but it lacks the feedback and weight of the steering in a Porsche, which is still the more satisfying – and capable – car to drive hard.
The ride in the i8 is a little firm at low speeds, even with the standard adaptive dampers in Comfort mode, but it’s still impressively comfortable considering it’s a sports car, while the high-speed ride on the motorway is nicely planted and stable. Sport mode does make the ride stiffer, but not to the point that it’ll pogo you off the road. This is a car that will happily munch through the miles without breaking into a sweat. There is, however, quite a bit of road noise at higher speeds, but at low speeds when running on electric power only it is eerily but pleasantly quiet.