Beauty with brawn and brains

Beauty with brawn and brains
BMW i8.

Driving a sports car says a few things about you. The obvious would be that you are wealthy, you love life in the fast lane and you value performance.

The unspoken messages are less flattering. The worst include you do not really care about energy sustainability, your carbon footprint or the fate of the polar bear. After all, driving a single big-bore V8 and V12 supercar is equivalent to driving three or four modern compacts when it comes to fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions.

These cars are as delicious as they are decadent, and sublime as they are sinful. If only you could have your cake and not grow fat.

Enter the BMW i8, a plug-in petrol- electric 2+2 sports car with butterfly doors that promises to take the guilt out of your high-octane trip.

The car has three means of propulsion: a rear-mounted 1.5-litre three-cylinder highly turbocharged engine driving the rear wheels, a front-mounted 96kW high-performance electric motor driving the front wheels, and a starter-generator that provides momentary boost (over 100Nm) to the combustion engine.

There are many things that make the i8 special but here is one worth mentioning: The car's lithium-ion batteries that power its electric motor can be recharged via a household electrical socket.

When fully charged, the i8 can travel for about 35km on battery mode alone. That is, it does not emit a molecule of carbon dioxide from the tailpipe when it is in this mode and yet allows you to hit 120kmh.

Like most other hybrids, the i8 lets you drive with just its combustion engine, or a combination of the two power plants. But unlike ordinary hybrids, its electric-only mode is actually usable and fun.

In real life, the BMW demonstrates a fine balance between all the modes, resulting in a performance you would associate with a sports car, and a fuel efficiency no worse than a subcompact. What we are talking about is a 0-100kmh of 4.4 seconds, a regulated top speed of 250kmh and the economy of a moped.

The latter is less believable. BMW declares an astounding figure of 2.1 litres/100km, which Life! reckons is possible only if there is an extension cable stretching 50km - the average distance a motorist drives in Singapore.

What is more realistic is a consumption figure of about 8.5 litres/100km, which is what the car achieves during a five-hour drive here. That puts it in the same ballpark as a VW Golf or Honda Civic in the real world.

The figure includes one full charge and one partial recharge over lunch break. In Singapore, two full recharges will cost $6.12 at today's power tariff rate, or what you would pay for 2.5 litres of premium petrol. In battery mode, that works out to 28km per equivalent litre.

In all likelihood, the i8 will be significantly more economical in Singapore. Unlike most cars, its economy does not deteriorate in city driving. In fact, if your commute is less than 30km each, you may not have to call upon its combustion engine at all.

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