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No apologies for driving BMW’s i8 hybrid roadster

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I write this with apologies to the lady who stopped me as I was coming up the aisle after Mass last week. She urged me to write about cars ordinary people could afford. I politely undertook to do so, not wishing to brook debate by detailing how most of the cars I have reviewed this year were for families.

This week's is most definitely not for families: hence my apologies. It is BMW's i8 petrol/electric plug-in hybrid roadster. My test version costs €185,000.

I think every now and then when something like this comes along, practical relevance goes out the window somewhat. I say that even though I have not been the i8's biggest fan. Yet carping about price risks reducing the concept of driving something of this calibre to its mere mechanics. There's more reason to it than that - just as there are the trickle-down benefits of F1.

The i8 is a supercar you can plug in to charge (2/2.5 hours) so you get around 30kms on electric power only. Another apology: I didn't get a chance to do so.

The Coupé version has been around for years. BMW more recently decided to make a soft-top as well and upgrade both versions to, primarily, improve handling and performance.

The roof sits snugly and worked well when rain threatened (my luck to pick one of the wettest days of a long, dry summer). I reckon it took 15-17 seconds to put up.

With the previous Coupé I'd complained about the difficulty of getting in and out; the doors open out and up 'butterfly' style. I managed with minimum fuss this time. It's all about swivelling your bottom on the door sill, getting the legs in; the rest of the old body followed naturally. Once ensconced I luxuriated in the Copper leather upholstery.

Victims of the electronic roof (whose mechanisms help add 60kg to the car's weight) are the Coupé's 'back seats' which had to make way for rear roof stowage. They were never seats but were handy for lobbing a bag or coat on. The lovely thing about starting off in electric mode was the quietness as the motor drove the front wheels. The 1.5-litre 3cyl petrol turbo engine (drives the rear axle so i8 is all-wheel-drive) kicks in when warranted.

We are talking about a small 1.5-litre in a supercar here. But when it and the electric power joined forces this was a formidable performer. Battery capacity is up 70pc (you get an extra 12hp - to 141hp), giving a combined wallop - engine, electric motor - of 374hp. That amount of power in a car this light (lots of carbon fibre) fairly shifted it - claimed 0-100hmh of 4.6 secs.

Onto the motorway I cruised, choosing Comfort mode. The engine kicked in when I nudged the gear-shift (6spd auto) across to Sport. That's when I got the full lock, stock and barrel of hybrid power.

On a mixture of roads, I found this more engaging than previously. I won't say the stiffer chassis and firmer steering have transformed it but it certainly had me enjoying it more than I remember in the Coupé. The i8 was a straight-line star; now it's appreciably better on undulations and bends too.

And so I zipped down through the Midlands, into Galway, wheels and heads turning - especially when I stopped to visit an old haunt - 100 metres from where that nice woman told me to write about affordable cars and two youngsters insisted on being let sit in.

I eventually slipped away to head back, noticing it stayed in electric-only mode for a while longer (they claim around 50kms: make it 30kms).

I also parked in a couple of tight spots to see how I'd manage those over-and-up butterfly doors. No problems.

A few negatives (even at €185,000): There was a soft feel to the brakes, so often the case with regenerative braking on electrics and hybrids. And luggage space is ridiculous.

An even larger fuel tank would be helpful, though my 'Touring' version had a combined range of 470km (I could have added to that with charging).

Minor matters aside I enjoyed it a lot. This is technology and design of a high pedigree. I'm sure there are other big-name/price supercars to out-gun it. But a great thing with this is you can savour the novelty and knowledge you are driving something properly 'special'.

Items included: 8.8ins iDrive interactive screen, Harman Kardon hifi, heated seats, ConnectedDrive services, special BMW i Blue brake callipers, mobility kit, 'driving assistant', sat nav, DAB digital radio. Options: Accaro interior, 20ins alloys, eDrive exterior sound.

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Post time: May-08-2019