It was only a short drive into town, but I’d already had several looks, and numerous double takes by the time I reached my destination. Then, popping open one of those ‘look-at-me’ dihedral doors and awkwardly clambering over the fat sill of the carbonfibre tub, a stranger walked over to compliment this other-worldly looking car.
The BMW i8 may have been kicking around for four years now, but it still prompts a more enthusiastic response from Joe Public than anything else this side of a supercar. Had I been popping to the shops in a Porsche 911, no one would have batted an eye.
This updated version looks much the same as the old one, but you can hardly blame BMW for messing with the recipe - it still looks fresh. The only outward changes are new front and rear light clusters, an ‘air shutter’ in the front bumper, new wheels and ‘Coupe’ script on the rear three-quarter, where the new Roadster version says, erm, ‘Roadster’.
Upgrades to the powertrain are similarly subtle, with power from the electric motor now at 141bhp - up from 129bhp - while the inline-three turbo engine pinched from the Mini Cooper develops 227bhp. All told, you’re looking at 369bhp, an increase of 15bhp. 0-62mph takes 4.2 seconds.
As a result, the i8 feels much the same to drive. It’s still impressively quick rather than shockingly fast, with that welcome electric punch making the car feel nicely responsive, even if it can’t entirely counteract the lag from the 1.5-litre internal combustion component of the setup.
To my ears, it sounds ever so slightly throatier from the outside, but the fake noise piped into the speakers in sport mode is still there, and still annoying as hell.
When it comes to handling, the thing that stands out is how soft the damping is. This isn’t an ultra-stiff, ultra-focused sports car, its remit is a bit more broad than that.
Despite the softness though, body control remains exceptional - the damping is really well sorted here. It changes direction nicely despite a relatively porky 1539kg kerb weight, and with the engine powering the rear axle exclusively and the less powerful motor taking care of only the front wheels, it does naturally want to power oversteer if you get greedy with the throttle on the corner exit.
Carry a little too much speed on entry though, and the i8 has a tendency to understeer - we’ll level a big chunk of the blame on those relatively lithe 215mm-width front tyres. Another grumble related to the dynamics is the steering - there really isn’t a whole lot of life to it.
A Porsche 911 the i8 is not. As with the old one, it’s intriguing and satisfying rather than thrilling to drive quickly. If it was a Christopher Nolan film, it’d be Interstellar, not Batman Begins. But there’s something quite refreshing about that - it’s happy to just be a little different.
It does - like the Panamera ST Hybrid we drove recently - introduce a constant internal conflict of whether you deploy the hybrid system to go as quickly as possible, or to increase economy. But nearing the end of my one-week test drive, I was just about reaching a decent balance - plugging in at home so I always left with a full charge, using full electric power when possible to save fuel, and then enjoying burning up a load of unleaded on more interesting roads, safe in the knowledge that I’d saved pennies on the duller drives.
The electric-only driving is enjoyable, too. It’s still reasonably quick, you have a potential range of up to 36 miles to enjoy (although 20 is more realistic), and you can even drive up to 75mph without the engine having to kick in. It’s all extremely relaxing. Too relaxing, in a way - you get so used to the lack of noise and the smoothness, that when the engine coughs back into life, the vibration in the cabin from the three-pot is pretty conspicuous.
You’ll need only three hours to fully charge it from a three-pin plug, and less than two if you stick one of BMW’s wall box things outside your house. The 158mpg official economy figure is - of course - nonsense, but in mixed driving that included quite a bit of less-than eco-friendly driving, we were still in the mid-40s. Over 60mpg is possible in day-to-day driving without really trying, and if your commute is less than 20 miles and you won’t get fired for commandeering a plug socket for a few hours, you’ll be winning at life.
BMW’s annoyingly good new iDrive setup (seriously, why are so many manufacturers struggling to make a slick, easy-to-use infotainment system?) round off a left-field sports car that’d slot into your life very easily. So long as you have a spare £112,735 lying around.
That’s enough for any 911 Carrera of your choosing, and getting on for Audi R8 money. You’d have to be mad to go the way of the BMW? Well, no, not really. It can’t compete for excitement or loud noises, but that doesn’t stop the i8 being a tempting alternative for the way it looks and its more relaxed attitude when you’re driving hard. Whether or not the new i8 Roadster tempts you away from the coupe is another matter…