Good: crowd-stopping looks, sci-fi tech, simply brilliant.
Not so good: tiny rear seats, not as engaging to drive as some might expect.
To this day, the BMW i3 is one of the most attention-grabbing cars I have ever driven through the streets of Dublin. Wearing its electric car innovation on its sleeve, it looks like little else on the road. While it's more 'BMW' than any other electric car, it's still, at heart, an efficient city car that has limited appeal, and though its instant torque and standing start acceleration are addictive - and yes it sends its power to the rear wheels - it's not exactly engaging from an enthusiast's point of view. So can BMW extend the whole idea to a sporty two-door coupé?
In fairness, one look at the new BMW i8 and most buyers will forget all about engaging driving dynamics - and electric propulsion for that matter. It's an astounding looking car, with little changed in the transition from motor show concept to production reality. The i3 still grabs attention, but this i8 stops traffic and gathers a crowd every time you stop. Once past the dramatic scissor doors and over the side sill the cabin is surprisingly familiar. There's plenty of standard BMW switchgear - which is no bad thing - mixed in with a cocooning design and loads of bespoke touches - like the digitally rendered instruments and unique steering wheel. Peer over your shoulder and you'll find a couple of more seats, but I use that word loosely, as they're best treated as an extension of the luggage space. In fairness, they're not much worse than you'll find in the Porsche 911 and nobody buys a sports car like this for its practicality.
So is it a sports car? Beyond doubt, yet not like any other at this price level. It competes with the Porsche mentioned above, yet its technology is more like that found on the latest crop of hyper-cars, such as the LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder. Behind the cabin is a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and up front is an electric motor. Its battery pack can be charged by plugging the car into a charger or by using the engine itself.
There are remarkably few driving modes to worry about though - especially if you're used to a BMW M car and its wide range of driving options. The toggle switch on the centre console is for Comfort and Eco Pro settings, while Sport mode is selected by slotting the gear lever left. And that's where you'll want to leave it, as it dramatically alters the i8's personality. The petrol engine is always on in Sport guise and you'll have a job convincing anyone it's a three-cylinder unit; it sounds as good as any six-cylinder unit from BMW - and that's saying something. Thanks to assistance from the electric motor it feels like there's a 3.0-litre engine pushing the car along too. The integration between the two is seamless, acceleration is never-ending and it's just such a polished product.
There is a small 'but' coming here, and really it only applies to the sort of driver that buys BMW M cars to take on track and hone their skills. The i8 has a 'safe' chassis, built to be fast, but predictable. It's fun at normal speeds and by any measure, but push beyond that and it's lacking in a degree of communication and feedback. Not enough to dock it any stars in our book, but it's worth remembering if you're weighing up buying this or a new BMW M4 Coupé for instance.
That aside, the i8 is astoundingly competent, fast, more comfortable than you'd expect, of exceedingly high quality and just about as jaw-dropping as production cars get. Want one.