It wasn’t a surprise that the gorgeous BMW i8 hogged the headlines, which incidentally is the first ever plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) to be launched in Malaysia. But there were two other new models that had us wagging our tongues.
Just shy of RM1.2 million (sans insurance). For that kind of money, you can have a Porsche 911 GT3, or a nice condo, but either one won’t be as cool as the i8.
What is a PHEV?
Imagine a hybrid vehicle able to accept charging from an external power source. Relative to full electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf, the i8’s lithium ion battery pack is relatively modest in size (5.2kWh against the Leaf’s 24kWh), so it takes only two hours to full charge, assuming the battery is near depletion. This is where a PHEV differs from an EV in that the i8 is able to recharge its batteries via an on-board generator powered by the combustion engine while on the go. If you must know, BMW says it’ll do up to 37km on electric power alone.
What does the i8 represent?
The i8 is a statement of intent, it encapsulates what BMW engineering is capable of and paves the way for its technologies to be incorporated in future models. One example being its carbon-fibre reinforced plastic passenger cell (the i8 weighs just shy of 1.5 tonnes), this weight-saving tech will see action in the upcoming 7-Series. And if there ever was a modern rendition of the legendary M1, the i8 would be it.
How fast is it?
It won’t trouble the hybrid hypercars like the McLaren P1 or the Porsche 918, but it’s still plenty quick (0-100km/h in 4.4sec, 250km/h top speed). The catch is that the i8 does it with a highly-strung 230PS/350Nm 1.5L three-cylinder turbo engine (driving the rear wheels) along with a 131PS/250Nm electric motor turning the fronts, which also makes it a four-wheel drive. It is claimed to return close to 50km/l and only exhales 49g/km of carbon dioxide.
BMW 218i Active Tourer
Is this the first front-wheel drive BMW?
Nothing is sacrosanct anymore. The new Ferrari 488 has gone turbo, the Porsche 911 GT3 ditched manual transmission altogether, which makes BMW going the route of front-wheel drive less of a shock. If anything, it makes perfect sense because they want new buyers, and that means offering products in new segments. Besides, Mercedes-Benz already has an entire FWD platform doing just that.
It must be the most affordable BMW then?
Curiously, it isn’t at a eye-watering RM218,800. A quick check on the post GST revised price list sees the 116i, 118i and even the 316i being more affordable than the 218i in base trim (!), with rear wheel drive, bigger engines and more gears (gasp!). Having said that, the 218i’s RWD cousins are assembled locally while the Active Tourer is fully imported, so import duty is a factor (10% for CKD, 30% for CBU, before “killer” excise is applied on top), but in terms of model hierarchy, the pricey 218i is simply playing out of position.
OK, it is priced similarly against its direct rival, the Mercedes-Benz B200, but the latter offers more standard equipment that can only be matched if you choose the 218i with the Luxury Line package, a RM30,000 extra. And for RM248,800, you can get a 320i with spare change. Makes you kind of wonder how much the rumoured F52 front-drive sedan will cost when it arrives.
Doesn’t it look a bit like the Mercedes-Benz B-Class?
In profile, the 2-Series Active Tourer (no relations to the RWD 2-Series Coupe) isn’t far off the Mercedes, it is less upright and have tauter lines, but clearly the overall take is more about being pragmatic than stirring the soul. A quick check of the interior shows the advantage a FWD (with a transverse mounted engine) has over a RWD layout in terms of space, particularly the ease of egress and ingress as well as legroom.
Does it still drive like a BMW?
BMW promises so, and the key ingredients are all there. After all, they have been producing fun-handling Minis for a while now, and the Active Tourer is based on the same platform. It even shares the same 136bhp/220Nm 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged engine and six-speed automatic transmission found in the MINI Cooper.
MINI John Cooper Works
The MINI to rule them all
Presented in a sinister “Rebel Green” hue with fiery red painted roof and trimmings, the latest iteration of the ultimate MINI looks much more at home in a hoonigan’s garage and less so in a hairdresser’s forecourt. Understated it isn’t but this might well be the most purposeful-looking JCW since the beginning of the BMW era. The switch to a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (previously a 1.6-litre) finally gives it the serious numbers (231bhp and 350Nm) hot hatch aficionados covets. Bottom line is, it’s faster every which way compared to the old one, with 0-100km/h done in 6.1 seconds (did we hear you say torque steer?). Price is up slightly too at RM288,888.