BMW I8. NOW IN MZANSI

So growling 1.5-litre turbo engine can be heard echoing across the mountain cliff as I pull back the gear lever for an upshift. Bam! Brrr! Klink! Steering past my own shadow. A glance at the speedo says we are doing a pedestrian 80km/h but around these mountain passes, that’s a hell of a lot. One slip and it’s all downhill. Literally. This is the all-new BMW i8 and it’s finally in my sticky hands.

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Took BMW long enough to bring their first-ever hybrid sports car to Africa. Having delayed the launch by about a year due to heavy North American and European demand, the i8 can now finally be seen on our roads. And boy does it beg for that attention. Those sleek four eyes in full LED flanking the signature double kidney front grille give the first impression of speed. No slits on the grille. The bonnet is sculptured, with a scoop for much-needed air.

BMW i8 South Africa launch 3

My sojourn through the scenes is peppered by onlookers who obviously have never seen the car in the metal, though some may recognise it from media pictures and videos. For them it’s only a fleeting moment, but one that plays out in slow motion and will do so over and over in their minds long after I’ve left them behind.

BMW i8 South Africa launch 4

They will not forget the rear end either, with its highly complex lines of all sorts, wings and shapes that only can be from some alien space ship or some futuristic movie. And yet I’m really behind the wheel, accelerating, braking, turning, accelerating, laughing. The soundtrack comes through the speakers and although it’s obviously enhanced with some technological trickery, I don’t care. The real thing cannot replace this.

BMW i8 South Africa launch 5

Hybrids aren’t supposed to be fun. They only are supposed to kickstart our consciences as motorists, help us realise the folly of our gas-guzzling ways. They are also relatively expensive, heavy and not as spacious as their fossil-fuelled counterparts, thanks to battery packs taking up storage space. While it’s 4.68 metres in length, 1.9m wide and 1.29m tall, the i8 isn’t that big of a car actually. Only two people of serious height are allowed inside, otherwise you can pack two small children behind you.

BMW i8 South Africa launch 6

Getting into the car is not so easy, not because of the sexy scissor wing doors, but because the cockpit is so low on the ground and the carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) monocoque so deep. The whole thing just seems to hug you though once you are in. BMW ConnectedDrive is available with features such as Surround View, Speed Limit Info display, Real Time Traffic Information, High Beam Assist, and a rear view camera, depending on which package one chooses.

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While the i brand is totally new, the i8 and many of its parts are known BMW. Some bits are instantly recognisable from other BMWs. That’s not a bad thing for familiarity’s sake, and also for cost-cutting on BMW’s side. But the layout is outstanding. The cockpit follows some unconventional design cues, with lots of curvy, rounded elements normally seen only in high-end household items. The dashboard itself is slanted towards the driver, and as does the 26cm full colour screen. Said screen is the visual manifestation of the iDrive touch system that accesses all sorts of information, including satellite navigation, climate control, entertainment and fuel consumption.

BMW i8 South Africa launch 8

Speaking of fuel consumption, BMW says the i8 will average only 2.1 litres per 100km in petrol, which is quite incredible. And probably unrealistic. A more realistic figure was attained by us during the drive, which came to just under 6L/100km. Still excellent though for the performance you get. Remember the car has a 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine that works with a lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor to deliver a total system output of 266kW and 570Nm of torque, which is said to translate into a 0 – 100km/h run of 4.4 seconds, or 0.2 seconds slower than the M4 Coupe.

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You may gawk at the price. Remember as you gawk, that there’s currently no direct rival to the BMW i8 in the market. No other car can claim to achieve what it can; a complete sports car package geared towards the future. Hybrids are by nature, an intermediate solution on the way to full electric cars. If this is the path BMW has taken then the future can only be sparkling bright.

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BMW i8 Price

R1.755 million

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