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Performance is the first thing that comes to most minds when you think of BMW. So, when the Munich marquee decided to float an alternative fuel division – electric, in this case – our first thoughts were on that part of their character that leaves physicists bewildered. Yes, science defying dynamics. India has yet to see its fair share of electric cars. We are not alien to that concept, but whatever we think we know, this turns it upside down.

Eco-friendliness needn’t be boring. The BMW i8 is a fine example of this. There is nothing like it on our roads. It’s supercar proportions belie the fact that it doesn’t have a massive, petrol guzzling motor under the hood. It is almost like a concept car – but one you can drive around. The swooping, intermingling lines, highlights and low stance adds a bit of mysticism to the car. Although they are cumbersome and demand a certain level of fitness, the upward swiveling scissor doors is a cool design touch. Also is the part where the roof swoops into an extended mini-cape of sorts at the rear. Of course, a lot of these design elements are also to keep drag coefficient in check because this car has to lead the way when it comes to being frugal.

And quick.

Quick it is thanks to there being an electric motor in the equation. But make no mistake, this isn’t a pure electric car. Under the hood is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. Don’t be fooled by those humble specs. When it is growling at its loudest, there is 229bhp on call. Add the 320Nm of torque that will arrive first when you floor the throttle and you are looking at a 0-100kph time of 5.2seconds. Not much for a supercar that it looks like? True. But the i8 can go faster when electric power goes to the front wheel in tandem with the petrol engine. When charged, this brings an additional 130bhp and 250Nm to the party. Together with the turbo petrol, BMW claims it will slash another 0.8s off the time we got in testing. But do remember, BMW recommends only 97 octane fuel for best performance, which is what we tested it on. The i8 can touch 250kph. And in a manner that is sportscar-like. Well, almost. It isn’t shocking, the power doesn’t hit you violently although a meaty growl erupts from the exhaust everytime you show urgency. It all starts on a quiet note though.

Gallery: BMW i8

The i8 can start with electric power. So there is no roar from the engine. Just a small tinny noise with a lit up digital instrument cluster. From there on, it depends on the driver as to what power source it uses. There is an eDrive button touching the ignition that allows the car to be driven in pure electric power. Once the electric power is exhausted, it seamlessly switches to petrol power. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic. Internal systems make sure power goes quickly, and effortlessly to the desired wheels. Just in case you want to see the transition, the central multimedia screen can show you which wheel is getting power, all in real time. Pretty cool.

Of course that’s distracting and should be avoided when driving fast. The steering is, surprisingly, lighter than expected and the car can hold its line. In a straightline it goes like a bullet and can hold its line on a turn even at serious speeds. The steering wheel isn’t the most communicative one from the BMW stable but it weighs well, gives you confidence at turn-ins and is nice to grip. Braking is quite effective too. Of course it helps to have natural deceleration from the electric motors when you lift off your foot from the throttle pedal. Plus this also charges the electric motor, albeit just a bit.

BMW claims an electric-only range of 37km for the i8. In real world that figure hovers around 25-30km. But you can’t go over 120kph. For that you will have to dial help from the petrol unit. Together, however, they can give you a range of 400-500km, which isn’t bad for a fast car.

What could have been better – apart from a higher electric-only range, of course – is the interior of the car. Apart from the digital instrument cluster that gets futuristic display in sync with the exterior design, interior design is fairly simple. Lots of BMW bits and pieces used just adds to the familiarity. On the brighter side, ride isn’t too bad although it is advisable to plan an intended drive route as the i8 with its 117mm ground clearance is prone to bottoming out. Smaller rumbler strips or speed-breakers aren’t a problem though.

The i8 is a unique proposition. Much has been said about it being a rival to conventional sportscars. We don’t think it is a fair comparison. Because apart from entertaining the driver, the i8 has a ‘green’ agenda too. Something that makes it rein in its ‘sportscar’ just short of greatness. Instead, it makes a statement of having moved away from convention. It is a high for many, but not everyone may be ready for it. BMW has made it easier for an intended owner by pricing the car at a stratospherical ?3 crore (estimated, on-road). Something that will require serious intent to bow to in the wake of other delectable machines. The car is undeniably arresting to look at and has technology and performance to boost. It is a bold new way to look at performance cars. Not surprisingly, it asks for some courage from your side to make a choice.

The numbers
1499cc twin-turbo 3cyl, petrol, 229bhp, 320Nm, Electric: 130bhp, 250Nm, 0-100kph: 5.2s (tested only petrol)/ 4.4s (claimed overall), overall efficiency: 15-20kpl (estimated), range: 450km (approximately), ?3 crore (on-road)

The verdict

It’s a bold alternative to conventional performance cars. Looks like a dream, almost goes like one. Cost is a nightmare though.

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