The story’s told of a French visitor who ventured into the UK in his new Jaguar XJ220. Even in the heady world of supercars, the epochal 220 made a bold statement, akin to the new F-Pace also featured in this edition.
All was well until he hit the M6 near Preston; cue mounting attention from scores of drivers who insisted on getting up close and personal with the 200 mph beast; this was back in 1992 when they were a real rarity.
And as he danced from lane to lane trying to escape their unwanted attentions, mounting frustration for monsieur saw him put his foot down to hit 100 plus, much to the chagrin of a motorway cop who pulled him over and proceeded to impound the car…
There was a diplomatic incident of sorts (plus ca change, plus ca meme chose), the matter was raised in Parliament by one local MP and one Lancashire PC could boast he drove a Jaguar XJ220 even if it was only back to Preston police station; if memory serves the culprit was let off with a slap over the wrist.
And the moral of the story?
Supercars can bring out the worst in people, be it envy, jealousy or naked aggression. Paradoxically, I’ve been driving a supercar that does exactly the opposite (well, apart from the envy). The BMW i8 is a real game changer, and judging by the curled lips of folk from Audi, Porsche and Mercedes, has really set the car among the pigeons.
It’s been universally acknowledged as revolutionary – and no wonder; which other rival can hit 60 in 4.4 seconds yet boast the frugality of a family hatchback?
To find out more, I met Ben Cornwell at Bowker, Preston where he rejoices in the moniker of ‘i genius’. Only certain BMW retail centres sell the i8 and its smaller cousin the i3; you can write down on the back of a very small envelope what Ben doesn’t know about both cars…
That training has seen him visit the bespoke factory in Leipzig here handcrafted i machines emerge for markets all over the world; in a dismal Preston he proved the perfect host for my afternoon’s driving.
Even standing still the i8 – with its eye catching ‘stream flow’ design – dazzles. Open the large dihedral doors which swing up to around 90 degrees, ease yourself into the tub – anyone who’s manhandled their way into a Lotus will know the procedure – and then allow the door to lock and you’re in a different world.
The i8 ‘knows’ its driver and with my foot on the brake, a precise click of the transmission saw me proceed ever so quietly off the forecourt. It progresses (as my police driving instructor once eloquently said) with all the smoothness of a silkworm breaking wind.
It’s little wonder the newcomer – launched around 18 months ago – has ushered in a new genre of sports car that’s dumbfounded rivals and impressed hard bitten motoring writers in equal measure. Those Dan Dare looks make rivals seem so last century; a friend with an Audi R8 says the looks may grow on him but I think he’s simply jealous…
Whichever angle you look at the i8, it’s an intriguing car. The 21st century styling clothes a clever hybrid power train that offers all-wheel drive in extremis yet can waft you along on electric power for 20 miles or so.
I began to empathise with the aforementioned Jaguar driver as I tootled round the environs of Preston to get a feel for the car. The word Grand Tourer lost a lot of its currency a long time ago but this is one of the few cars you feel could be driven to France, Italy, Germany or further afield and never bore you.
Away from the confines of pesky 20 and 30 limits, it showed its real mettle. There are three driving modes tailored to bring out the best in the car; engage Sport and its really is a case of ‘charge’ as the electric motor kicks in with the 1.5 three cylinder petrol turbo engine; now the i8’s driving through all four wheels and the effect is amazing with fantastic grip allied to a composed ride as the car slung itself towards the horizon, a marvellous turbo whistle an intoxicating soundtrack and standard head up display relaying the speed.
Back in the real world, Eco Pro ensures everything works as efficiently as possible while Comfort melds petrol and electric power imperceptibly to the best effect; Ben is keen to stress that the measure of this car isn’t its mpg but range – you can drive over 350 miles in the various modes without stopping for fuel – try that in you average Ferrari, Lambo or Maserati…
Today’s supercars have survived and adapted in a politically charged atmosphere over the past few years; BMW always had a reputation of evolution rather than revolution – until now. It’s changed in one fell swoop; all hail the BMW i8!
*If you’ve set your heart on an i8, a new limited edition model might just seal the deal. BMW says its new Protonic Red Edition puts a new angle on the supercar; its paintwork, created exclusively for this model comes in a Protonic Red finish with Frozen Grey metallic accents. The colour scheme is complemented by BMW W-spoke 470 light-alloy wheels painted in Orbit Grey metallic with hubs painted in Aluminium matt and mixed-size tyres (front: 215 R20, rear: 245/40). Inside, the special edition i8 comes with high-class red double-stitching and exclusive carbon fibre and ceramic trims. It’s being produced at BMW Plant Leipzig from July onwards and officially on sale from September, priced at £112,535 OTR.