The BMW i8 is like no other car on the road. Kids see it and think the Millennium Falcon just arrived. Adults think they've time traveled. So how is the Millennium Falcon at some good old fashioned snow drifting? That's what we found out on the second episode of Neat Stuff In Cool Cars.
(Full Disclosure: BMW loaned us the i8 for a winter test, which involved going on up to Lime Rock Park and participating in one of their winter autocrosses. It was a lot of fun, though it wasn't that fast. Not that it matters.)
When we first drove the BMW i8, it impressed us in every single way. It became the highest rated car that we'd ever reviewed and to this day we still talk about how much attention it attracted while driving through New York.
But that led me to wonder if perhaps we were smitten with the i8 not because it was gloriously good, but because it had more it-factor than 1983-era Christie Brinkley. I started to think that perhaps we had been too kind to BMW's supercar of the future and it wasn't as mind shattering as we initially said.
Those thoughts go out the narrow windows as soon as you get back in the i8. It has a great seating position, it can stealthily glide in electric mode, the interior is clever and intuitive, and best of all, it's fast and just plain fun to drive. The vanilla, feel-less steering is the only problem here, but everything else is so dynamically enticing that I'm still willing to give it a pass.
However, there was one thing that nobody has been able to make an i8 do, and that's drift. Yes, it will slide if you drive it like a madman, but I'm talking about controlled power oversteer moments that make people on YouTube think you aren't just a blithering doofus with hair that looks like Donald Trump's.
That's why we took the i8 to Lime Rock Park's snow autocross, which is basically a short course on Lime Rock's infield that has been specially prepped for snow autocross. It's smooth and fast, and best of all, it's the perfect place to drift a car with basically no consequences.
Put the i8 in sport mode, turn off the traction control, add snow, and you get a drift machine. Most of the time it feels rear wheel drive, with the 1.5 liter inline-three sending all its power out back. But if you get into an oversteery moment and put your foot down further, the front wheels start to go too, which makes for a car with changeable handling characteristics.
It's surprising when you start, but not that hard to get used to. In fact, it can hold some ridiculous and long slides. The only issue is the six-speed automatic gearbox, which will upshift automatically no matter what mode you're in. So a great slide in second gear will suddenly become dull when it shifts to third and you lose all your torque. Then you lose all your slide.
You don't want to lose your slide.
The other problem comes when the slide goes into a snowbank and the front end gently climbs over top of some snow. In a normal car with rear or all-wheel drive, you just shift into reverse and back it on out.
It doesn't work that way in the i8.
If there is electric power in the batteries, it defaults to electric power only on the front wheels in reverse. That does not get you out of a snow drift. What it does do is embarrass you and get the guys pulling you out to make jokes about never seeing a space ship stuck in snow.
But those are minor quibbles. Get used to how it drives and you can get incredibly sideways and recover with no issues. It's a total transformation from its composed and unflappable behavior on the roads. There is a hooligan hidden within, in fact, it's nearly impossible to keep the i8 in a straight line on the snow, yet you never really feel out of control. No, it's not the fastest car in the world on the snow, sideways antics will do that, but it is one of the most fun.
All it needs is a surface change to become a tail sliding wild man. And that means that BMW — or someone (you reading this Caswell?) — needs to build an i8 rally car.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove
GIF Credit: Nick Stango
Video Filmed by Raphael Orlove, edited by Nick Stango