Cote d’Azur is for lovers, nostalgic romantics and viveurs. It’s a place which seems to be out-of-this day and age: forget Montecarlo, with its fabulous F1 street circuit and storming supercars, this place is where style and elegance have permanently taken up residence for almost a century.
“Discovered” as a tourist location by the British nobility looking for a more temperate weather in the early years of the 20th Century, the South of France has always been the land for those discerning individuals with impeccable taste. It should not come as a surprise that the “Jet Set” elected this region as their destination of choice during the 1950ies and 60ies.
Over the last few years, petrolheads have largely overlooked this part of France, thinking only about Montecarlo. Sure tough, the Principality has enough precious and exciting metal roaming around its crowded streets, but if you’re looking to find those rare and remarkable cars, you should travel further south, to Saint Tropez. Here, it has always been the playground of those open top and extremely civilized cars that you do not see very often around anywhere else. Here taste dominates on everything: If you have to get noted, it always should be done with discretion and elegance. Don’t shout your presence, but make it memorable for those who look as you pass by. It seems that the Cote d’Azur made especially to enjoy cabriolets and roadsters: this is a place where the smell of the sea meets the aroma of the local vegetation and where the panorama is enriched by the sight of the vineyards. It’s a land which needs to be savoured little by little, one step at a time, just like the fine wine it produces. The impact it has on the visitor is immense: just think that Rolls Royce named two of its models with names of Southern France’s locations, the Camargue and the Corniche.
Nowadays a large portion of the car world loves to have a competition for those who have the loudest exhaust and shoot the biggest flames. There’s a constant and almost insatiable lust for drama and attention: social networks have definitely given far too many people the opportunity to become selfish and senseless peacocks, splattering their prized possessions to everyone’s attention in the most uncivilized manner.
Not that we do not like the sound of a proper exhaust: a car’s rumble is what makes many fall in love with cars, including the person who’s writing these lines, but is always the case to have the volume turned up to 11? Let’s be honest here. We rather enjoy the sound of a great car on an empty road while actually driving rather than flooring the throttle incessantly, trying desperately to seek approval in our behaviour by the crowds of onlookers. A great car’s sound is best to be enjoyed alone and with no further distractions, just like listening to some great music. How many cars are currently for sale that will satisfy all the requisites for driving down in the Cote d’Azur? If you’re looking to something new, stylish and out of the ordinary to buy for around 200.000€, you’re maybe in for only one choice, the BMW i8 Roadster. Leave Rolls Royces and Bentleys for other times, if you want to savour the wonderful duality of the southern France’s roads, which offer a mix of both cruising and handling and still pass completely silent through old towns, the BMW i8 might be the right choice for you. So, when the opportunity to take a brand new “First Edition” came, there was only one place we could take it, which was Saint Tropez.
The i8 is the kind of car which is perfectly in-line with the spirit of the Cote d’Azur: it’s silent, thanks to its full electric E-drive system, has top notch technology, handles beautifully and it is a roadster, which is exactly what you want in this region. It incarnates that classic French Joie de Vivre spirit, where glamour and chic are put together impeccably.
The i8 is not a car which makes “extreme” its main theme, even if its futuristic and muscular bodywork might suggest otherwise. Driving it always feels like being in constant balance between the realm of supercars and electric vehicles, without having the flaws of none of them. The 1.5l 3 cylinder Twin Power Turbo engine emits a nice burble but it is never too loud. Maybe you do not know it, but it is because of the two pipes which are on the back of the car, only one is real: the other has a built-in speaker that emits an identical sound of the engine, which is amplified accordingly.
Like the coupe version there are three different modes, E-Drive, Comfort and Sport. The first speaks for itself as the i8 can travel silently up to 120kph and for 50km, while the second intelligently manages both the internal combustion and electric engine, tailoring the response to your driving style. The third mode uses only the combustion engine and uses the electric power as a boost, to increase the output under hard acceleration. The system is very fluid and both engines work in perfect symbiosis with each other: the electric power unit, mounted amidships behind the front axle, powers the front wheels, while the 1.5l twin turbo engine is mounted in a classic mid-rear engine layout. As a massive backbone, the huge lithium battery is positioned in the middle of the carbon-fibre chassis and powers all the systems in the car.
The i8 is an excellent, XXI century grand tourer. It’s gorgeous to look at and it is interesting to drive. It lacks the feedback that sports-car people need but this is not the kind of car which will push you to hunt for great roads: it’s enjoyable under every circumstance and it doesn’t make too much fuss about it. The ride quality is excellent for being a car which seats very low to the ground and the behaviour is remarkably neutral on a twisty road. Despite the front and rear wheels are not connected between each other, they work brilliantly, anticipating every possible lack of traction. Admittedly, the 195/50 e 215/45 front and back tires look too skinny for any sportscar but in this case they do a brilliant job in keeping the car firmly on the ground.
The folding canvas roof is what adds to this car. The fragrance of the plants entering the cockpit and the wind through your hair is what makes the i8 Roadster an ideal car for the Cote d’Azur. It’s both stunning to look at, discreet in its presence and it truly drives as an elegant car should. It can be a blast to drive through windy roads as a proper supercar yet it is also capable of gliding gently between the vineyards and the old towns by the sea. It provides that classic experience that is should never miss in any person’s life and it is perfectly in line with the spirit of the region.