CAR 20 Most Wanted of 2014: BMW i8

Published: 12 December 2013

There's no more exciting way to start our top 20 most wanted countdown than with a BMW supercar. This is no petrol-powered M1 successor three decades late, but a sexy hybrid capable of a 4.5sec 0-62mph sprint, or a fairy-tale 114mpg.

The i8 started life as a finger-in-the-air 2009 concept; in 2014, the mid-engined 2+2-seater goes on sale with its layout intact, the only big change being the loss of transparent bodysections.

The engine is small – a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo – but perfectly formed, to kick out 228bhp and 236lb ft. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic. This is boosted by a 131bhp compact electric motor, which spins the front wheels via a two-speed gearbox. At speeds of up to 75mph, the i8 is front-wheel drive and solely electric powered (for 22 miles max after three hours on your home charger). But floor the throttle and the petrol triple chimes in, and the i8 becomes four-wheel drive. Sailing along on the NEDC fuel consumption test, the i8 scores 114mpg and emits 59g/km of C02. That means the i8 will be road tax and congestion charge-exempt, and is theonly the second performance car to get a £5k government grant (after the Porsche Panamera S E-hybrid). That will reduce the i8's price from the £99,895 RRP to £94,895.

BMW’s silver bullet to realise the i8 (and its sister model, the i3 city car) is adopting carbonfibre, which makes up the cars’ passenger cells, before they’re mated to aluminium backbone chassis. BMW has set up a carbonfibre factory in the USA, and worked out how to mass-produce it. This stiff, lightweight material restricts i8 mass to 1490kg (about the same as the new M4), despite 220kg of batteries, electric motor and electronics.

It’s not all roses, though. The 4.5sec 0-62 time is in supercar territory – circa 1983. Porsche’s 918 Spyder, with its V8 and ballistic performance bias, nails it in 2.8 sec, and hits 211mph compared with the i8’s 156mph. But the Porsche costs £666,000, and returns a lesser 85.6mpg and 79g/km. 

The Porsche is an out-and-out supercar, the i8 makes a statement – that eco cars can be sexy, punchy and dynamic – that will reach a far wider audience. All car makers admit cars have become too heavy, but it’s BMW that has the engineering nous to take exotic carbonfibre and make it cut-through to four-seat, more mainstream cars than the supercar norm. That gives the i8 a depth of ability that makes it the outstanding performance car of 2014.