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BMW i8 Driving Experience: is electric drive suitable for snow drift?

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BMW i8 with plug-in hybrid in winter
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B was one for April 2011 Driving a Ferrari on snow is just as clever as swimming in swimming trunks in the Arctic. Can be done, but it hurts. Above all, it doesn't take long to become completely unable to move.

But the Italian luxury manufacturer knew exactly what it wanted to demonstrate on the 2275 meter high snow-covered Kronplatz on the edge of the Dolomites: How good the first all-wheel-drive Ferrari FF itself works in winter. We have now got used to such images in supercars. Hardly a winter test goes by without a Nissan GT-R drifting through the optics. But let's be honest: A BMW i8 on Snow? Then it reappears in your mind's eye, the swimming trunks, the ice and the pain.

Sports car with all-wheel drive in fashion

Here is the i8 not just a hybrid sports car, but also an all-wheel drive. One which, like the Ferrari FF, has no direct mechanical drive connection between the front and rear axles. But while the Ferrari organizes four-wheel traction via what is probably the most complicated combustion engine all-wheel drive design in the world with two separately operating dual clutch transmissions, the i8 - completely hybrid - relies on a purely electrically powered front axle and a hybrid rear axle. Nice thing in common on the side: Both the FF and the i8 use a two-speed automatic on the front axle. Which is a specialty for mostly only directly geared electric motors. With this, BMW ensures that the front 96-kilowatt electric motor produces a lot of thrust underneath and also rotates diligently at 250 km /h.

But back to the snow, this time in Tyrol: BMW offers every i8 Buyers an exclusive driving event of the so-called BMW i Pure Impulse Experienc program to explore the winter capabilities of the i8 - and those of an M2, X5, three, five and sevens. The happy owners from all over the world respond to this call for the Driving Experience in Sölden in Austria. Raymond Soh even came from Seattle /USA for the winter course, which auto motor und sport was allowed to accompany. There is a lot of driving experience and a little theory for the 20 participants. We'll start with this first.

BMW
Before the start, the 20 participants get another briefing.

Electric all-wheel drive is lighter and faster

In theory, electrically controlled all-wheel drive systems have a noticeable speed and control advantage over mechanical combustion engines -Solutions. With conventional combustion all-wheel drive vehicles, the developer is faced with a dilemma: If the drive connection between the axles is rigid (no center differential, direct through-drive), the car produces traction on all four wheels without delay. However, this is associated with high friction losses on a non-slip road surface and such a car prefers to drive straight ahead. In curves, massive tension in the drive train shows the inflexible design. All common all-wheel drive systems are designed so that either the driver engages them and activates the differential lock, or that they independently sense the slip or the dynamic driving situation and then engage automatically. The latter in particular is the most common solution chosen by BMW. The problem with this is that it always takes a moment before the system has recognized that the wheels are currently spinning at one point, the lock is activated mechanically and the entire system takes effect.

The system has to be done with electric motors too recognize which traction problem is currently present, but then things move very quickly. Since no mechanical clutches or differential claws have to be closed between axially separated e-motors, but only the current flow is varied, the control takes place within milliseconds and - just as importantly - extremely sensitive.

Traction thanks to e-all-wheel drive - BMW i8 faster than M2

With a Mercedes SLS AMG E-Drive with an electric motor for each wheel, the finest torque vectoring, i.e. wheel-selective power distribution, can even be achieved without any clutch. An i8 has two electric motors, with the rear one supporting the three-cylinder in developing power. Since the turbo engine needs a certain speed for full boost pressure, but the electric motor already pushes from zero revs, the i8 is almost a purely electric car even on all four wheels for a short moment when starting off.

There it chisels a wide oneA grin on the face of an i8 owner when the i8 flies off on snow on a level road like a ski star at the start on the Streif. 'I never imagined the difference so blatantly,' said Beat Christoffel from Switzerland happily when he blew the author of this article, who was sitting in an M2, in a comparative race. Neither does the author.

BMW
When drifting, the BMW i8 just flies over the snow.

While the purely rear-wheel drive M2 Even in its DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) mode, which was optimized for traction on loose ground, it could only be moved to a faster start with very sensitive use of the gas, the i8 snapped away as if fired from a twin. The lightning-fast axis control can only be guessed at from the outside. You need a slow motion camera to see it exactly. On a steep incline, the M2 comes to a standstill, the i8 doesn't really care.

At the wheel of the i8, you don't notice the regulation. The sports car pushes smoothly and smoothly over the snow. Pushing is a good keyword here. The participants were allowed to perform the next snow exercise with the ESP switched off on the large circle according to the motto 'only a sliding rear is a good rear' with the M2.

Power and rear-wheel drive alone is not enough

Things are diametrically opposed in the i8. The i8, which is designed for safety and tends to understeer, can only be forced to drift on normal asphalt. The driver has to unpack all the hitching tricks so that the BavarianDrift bitch finally comes across. On the other hand, on snow, a short burst of gas is enough and you are in the Fährste-across-see-more mode. Whereby it should rather mean ferryman-cross-dusty-it-more, because the i8 builds up significantly more speed with its all-wheel drive and pulls a plume of snow behind it like a medium-sized avalanche. Meanwhile, at the wheel, the pilot celebrates the big crank party and stares straight out of the side window in the direction of travel. Once you've done that for a quarter of an hour, you'll get out happy but sweaty. But you shouldn't feel so much like a hero of drifting, because the power distribution of the all-wheel drive system regulated a lot for you at lightning speed and barely noticeably. Spinning can also be provoked here with a little cockiness and ice under the wheels. But they are much less common with the M2.

BMW
Whoever sweeps over the snow in the i8 feels like a drift king.

No all-wheel drive when the battery is empty?

One more crucial question remains for the partially electric all-wheel drive system: What happens when the battery is empty? Well, it never gets completely emptied. Even if the i8 signals an empty battery in pure electric driving mode, there is still around 20 percent juice in it. But even these cannot be completely discharged, since the i8 uses its 3-cylinder as a generator if necessary - one can imagine like an emergency power generator - and thus generates electricity for the battery again. In sport mode, the i8 even does this consistently. This is at the expense of fuel consumption, but all-wheel traction is available under all circumstances.

The only thing that slows the i8 on the beautiful and up to 2,798 meter high BMW snow course is its insufficient ground clearance compared to the X models. But you have to make compromises for handling performance, wind resistance and beauty. Speaking of beauty: Beat Christoffel is really looking forward to his pre-ordered i8 Spyder - and we're looking forward to going out into the snow with the roadster next winter. Maybe we will take our swimming trunks with us - but only for the thermal baths in Sölden.

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