The Route Napoleon, the Holy Grail for all driving roads, where EVO used to test their cars during the ECOTY of the past years, is just as spectacular as one would expect. A winding road which passes through ever-changing landscapes, starting from the arid mountains located north of Niece and Cannes, to the green valleys of Castellane, to the rockiness of the region of Sant’Andrè Les Alpes. If you love driving, you need to drive the Route at least once in your life: the Stelvio can wait another moment. The sheer happiness that comes corner after corner, view after view, it’s simply satisfying.
The Cote d’Azur is one of the ultimate places to drive: its beauty makes no sense in making noise in Montecarlo, and not to explore the region is a crime.
But why bringing a BMW i8 and not a Porsche 997 GT3, with a good ole manual ‘box? According to the Bayerische Motoren Werke engineers, the i8 is the sportscar of the future. It should be the kind of car that will anticipate what the next generations will love: in a way, the ECOTY’s of the future will be more likely to have cars similar to the i8 then to the GT3.
A showcase of impressive technology, the i8 is one of those rare cases where an actual prototype and show car is put on the road and made suitable for production. Seeing this car on the road feels not so distant from seeing the Stratos Zero passing by. As a matter of fact, the i8 IS a production concept car, descending directly from the 2009 Vision EfficientDynamics prototype, a futuristic diesel-powered plug-in hybrid which looked like it came from the future. Then in 2011 came the i8 Concept, a petrol-hybrid which anticipated the actual production car, which was released in 2013.
Claiming that the i8 is a very good sportscar is half a statement: in my own vision, such a car is not just the proof that hybrid electric vehicles can be fun, beautiful and thrilling to drive, but also a great conversation starters. Part of being a car nut is digging into these kind themes and exploring them: the i8 is probably the most interesting and important motorcar of the new millennium.
It is the best possible package where to showcase these new technologies, and a clever way into convincing conservative customers and enthusiasts that looking forward cannot be foolhardy. It is a mix of Eco details and supercar fashion: the crazy aerodynamic shapes of the full composite bodywork allow for stunning looks and efficient fuel consumption. The absence of sound when it starts up adds for the feeling of “special occasion” and the winged doors will strongly contribute to the “wow” factor when seeing one.
But the question is still being asked today: how does it drive? As proper escapists with a curiosity for the future we brought this car in one of the most awesome driving paradises in the world: South of France. What could easily be a proper, old school endurance race, the Route Napoleon will cover a huge distance of twisty roads. Starting from the lovely Montecarlo and taking the roads towards Cannes, the sights of the beautiful Mediterranean sea are covered by the modern and invasive tourist constructions. Once in Cannes, head towards the inside lads to reach the town of Grasse, and then move to Castellane and Digne. That’s where the fun really happens: perfect visibility, no crowd and some of the best sections of tarmac ever.
The i8 drives beautifully and it takes the corners with great speed and shows all the dynamic qualities that make a BMW a BMW. Although the suspension is a little too harsh over the bumps, but it is not bad overall. The steering has some feel but it is not exactly what you would expect from a sports machine. Both engines work brilliantly and with the artificial sound of the 3 cylinder 1.5 liter engine of the Mini it sure makes for a pleasant driving experience. The four driving modes, E Drive, Comfort, EcoPro and Sport change the different settings. While in full electric mode the car will do approximately 30 kms, the range will extend when using comfort and Sport. As a matter of fact, unless you’re using full boost from the electric engine, in sport the car charges the batteries, which will allow to pass thorough the slwwpy French towns in complete silence. The acceleration is quite impressive and although not supercar fast it is very satisfying.
The behaviour on the road is neutral, unless for a light understeer when settling the car into the corner: with a little lift of the throttle, it is easily dealt with and the i8 is stable as a rock. You can switch off the controls, but the car is so predictable that it won’t be difficult to handle at high speeds: of course, keeping that on is highly recommendable.
The grip levels are quite surprising, given the narrow section tires, which make the i8 look a little funny from behind. Nevertheless, the excellent qualities of the chassis will shine through, allowing for loads of fun.
From Digne, we took the road D900 up until the Serre Poncon lake which allowed to take the road to Briancon and the Sestriere. The fun in this part of the road is never ending and the changing conditions, from sunny to foggy to rainy and even snowy, put every driver and car to a serious challenge.
On the ergonomics side, the i8 is not brilliant: for an everyday sportscar it lacks the ergonomics which would make it absolutely perfect. The entrance is difficult, the door opening could be a problem when the car is parked and picking up tickets on the highway is not always easy. Nevertheless, the i8 is the perfect type of car to showcase the high level technology made by BMW: it conveys the performance and the feeling of a sports car, combining it flawlessly with a clever and low-environmental-impact package.
Usually, time is the only one entitled to tell the future and we’re only passive witnesses. However, this time, it almost feels the other way ’round: we cannot predict the future but we surely can build it the way we like and need it. The i8 feels like the fast forward button on our old DVD player: what we didn’t realize yet is that the future is already here.
Many thanks to Nanni Nember