BMW i8 Roadster review: Tron’s new car


The BMW i8 is the future of motoring, and it certainly looks – and drives – the part.

It took only 20 litres of petrol to drive the BMW i8 the 300km from Johannesburg to Dullstroom. Not being a petrolhead, I didn’t know why the BMW guy who delivered made such a fuss of it having a 40-litre petrol tank. But after a three-hour drive that showed me what a remarkable car the i8 was; especially as I know that it used to take me two tanks of petrol in my old VR6 to make the 400km to Bloemfontein.

I know nothing about cars, never having been interested in changing spark plugs or adjusting carburettors when we were teenagers. But I do like to drive, and have driven enough high-end cars to know that the i8 is something special.

Hey there, good lookin’

You can tell that just by looking at it. It’s as futuristic to look at as it is to drive. I was to find out later that the engine is only a 1.5 litre with three cylinders – after the guy in the office next to me told me. And it only took 20 litres to drive 300 kilometres. Easily at 120km/h most of the way.

It is, to use that old marketing phrase, sheer driving pleasure.

Made from carbon fibre, it is light enough to get away with such a small engine and such laughably light fuel consumption, but it is also the electric engine that helps. It gives the i8 frankly insane torque (I do know a few technical terms, but again I overheard them at motoring launches).

This acceleration is exactly the kind of blow-your-hair back joy you’d expect from such a futuristic-looking supercar. The gullwing doors swing up in a pleasingly sci-fi way. The BMW Connected app lets you control the car from a distance and a variety of other functions. When you drive into the basement, or at night, the car interior lights up with Tron-like blue lines on the door and console. It adds a coolness to an already cool car, especially if you’re a fan of that Eighties iconic film.

Making a statement

Everywhere I went in the three days I drove it, I had to factor in an extra 15 minutes for people to take their selfies with the car. It started when I stopped at that huge Petroport outside Middleburg, a petrol attendant showed a picture on his phone of how Metro FM DJ MoFlava had Facebooked the same car. “Whose car is this?” he asked, showing me the same number plate. I had to break the news that it was BMW’s. Sorry, Mo.

There were crowds of people who came to take pictures, and have their picture taken standing in front of it. In 18 years of being a technology journalist, it’s the most enthusiastic response to any technology that I have ever seen.

Pure hybrid power

And it is more a technology marvel than it is a car. This hybrid engine combination gives you the raw power of petrol (with the added grunt of torque from the electric engine) and the electric engine gives you 37km of pure electric driving. That is in itself wondrous, driving without the sound of an engine.

There is a second flap for the electric plug, which I noticed as many people taking pictures of as the car itself. You can plug it straight into the wall, and the electric engine reclaims otherwise lost kinetic energy when you brake.

BMW i8 Roadster Verdict

At R1.8m it’s not just a luxury car, but a statement of what is possible with new technology and the combination of clever engineering (the carbon fibre shell that makes it light enough to allow such performance from a 1.5l engine) and forward-thinking. This kind of car shows what is possible, and hopefully with economies of scale will filter down to other vehicles in the future.

Even though I was booked in to stay at Dullstroom, I turned around and drove back to Joburg. For the sheer driving pleasure of the i8.


The BMW i8 Roadster is the future of motoring, and it certainly looks – and drives – the part. Stuff took the hybrid out on a trip.

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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