As soon as he appears in my rear view mirror I know I have no chance against him. He’s in a BMW M5, and as a local he has internalised every bump, hairpin bend and nuance of the road ahead of us. He sticks to my rear bumper as I negotiate the 2121m high Gardena Pass in the rugged Dolomites in northeast Italy. In the next switchback I indicate and he roars past. Let the fun begin, I smirk, as I take up the chase, keeping my eyes trained on his brake lights. In sport mode the i8 is an exhilarating ride, display lights switching from a cool blue to an aggressive red. On my last downhill pass, the lithium battery pack had recharged to its max, resulting in 266kW of system power and a combined torque of 570Nm. It’s now job-sharing between the two engines: the electric one above the front axle and the 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo powering the rear wheels, though the petrol engine is still the main player. Who would have thought that a BMW super sports car would be equipped with a 3-cylinder engine? But in the hybrid it makes sense, accelerating to 100km/h. in 4.4 seconds.
In 2009 the i8 was a concept named Vision Efficient Dynamics. Nobody really anticipated that it would be road legal 38 months later, looking much like it did in concept mode. I found that getting into the eco sports car gracefully takes some doing due to the wide door sills of the carbon fibre cell. I just hope that nobody was watching as I tried out my coolest entry and exit moves. Nothing kills the effect quite like opening those spectacular wing doors and kissing the pavement.
The car makes a tender whistle as it leaves the parking garage. The change between electric and petrol power is unnoticeable, though the engine’s tune is unexciting. The body-hugging seats are comfortable, and the cockpit has a cool digital Captain Future feel to it. But when I glance in the side mirrors, I instinctively hit the brakes. The boot lid appears to be wide open; but no, the ragged rear flanks had me fooled. The massive A-pillars also obstruct the views to the side and front, but in the i8 you should always look ahead. In the meantime our BMW race up the Gardena Pass comes to an end, and the Italian driver gives me the thumbs up.
An espresso in the crisp mountain air adds another layer of perfection to the moment. Will I ever top this invigorating Alpine experience, I wonder? Well, in 2018 BMW plans to introduce the second generation of this high-end super hybrid. Expect not only an upgraded petrol-electric powertrain and an even more powerful car with a revised battery pack and a longer range, but a topless version, too: the i8 Spyder. Oh, the anticipation.