The brand new drop-top i8 not only turns heads but is further proof of how significant BMW’s hybrid sportscar is.
The all wheel drive BMW i8 high performance coupe received a facelift earlier in the year. Not surprisingly more power and more capacity was added but more importantly a Roadster convertible has been launched. The two door two-seater may be some 60kgs heavier than the 2+2 coupe but it looks sharp and agile in the flesh. During my time testing the i8 roadster I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, literally everywhere I went heads and often cars turned to admire the car. Even non car fans went to extraordinary lengths to snap a picture of the Bavarian beauty. When you tell people the i8 isn’t powered by a 12 cylinder or V8 lump and instead has a tiny 1.5 litre engine and an electric motor… they can’t believe it! The fact it is a plug in hybrid blows most non petrol-heads away.
I first tested the revised i8 coupe on UK roads earlier in the summer and was impressed by its sharper look and livelier performance. The i8’s hybrid power comes from a combination of petrol and electric motors. A mid-mounted 1.5 litre three cylinder turbocharged petrol engine pushes out 231hp/320nm to the rear wheels. Up front there is a 143hp/250nm electric motor driving the front wheels. The quoted combined output of the four wheel drive Roadster is a healthy but not outrageous 374hp. Of course there are various driving modes but our favourite is sports mode that delivers stiffer suspension, a louder engine noise delivered mainly through the speakers and a 0-100km/h time of just 4.6 seconds (4.4 Coupe). BMW has even added an outward facing speaker for onlookers to enjoy the car’s soundtrack under acceleration. The Roadster’s top speed is 250km/h and next to supercar the i8 runs out of steam at illegal speeds quite quickly. So by Supercar standards the figures are ordinary but the i8’s all wheel drive traction and how its delivered is the most impressive part. You can really zip about in the i8 and driving it is still a real giggle. The automatic i8 has paddle-shifters also for a sportier hands on experience. The ride quality on anything other than smooth roads in the Coupe will make you aware you’re driving an EV platform but the effect is less so in the heavier roadster. Some rough road surfaces will still challenge the ride comfort.
The i8 Coupe’s exterior shape has barely changed with the smoother bonnet the most obvious alteration to the original. However the Roadster’s design posed a serious challenge. In any car losing the roof means you have to regain strength in the body elsewhere. The fact BMW’s engineers managed to keep the cool scissors opening doors is truly astonishing. The i8’s CFRP carbon fibre re-enforced plastic tub is at the heart of its design and a brilliant piece of engineering. I’ve seen first hand the i8 and i3 innovative construction in BMW’s hi tech factory. The production methods used like the chemical bonding of panels and hydro-forming of parts coupled with their honeycomb construction will place the i8 and i3 as key innovative cars in automotive design history.
The Roadster’s cloth roof can be raised or lowered electronically at speeds up to 50km/h. The whole thing takes just 15 seconds with the single press of a button. 3D printed alluminium catches are used and this is a first in any production car. The Roadster has just two seats but behind them is useful storage space. The rear window can be raised or lowered with a button too and acts as a wind defector at speed. Just slightly raised is the best setting when the roof is down.Inside the cabin you find all the BMW switches and bits and piece you’d expect. There is a slight lack of theatre to the cabin that other supercars can give. I’d love some toggle switches or jet fighter stuff to release my inner kid – but hey I’m just nit picking. The car despite its stunning looks has some flaws. There is a knack (easily learned) to getting in and out as the sill is large – but cruelly I only showed it to passengers after they made a mess of it. The side windows don’t open fully down, so if you want to pose with your arm out the window you will cut off its blood supply. The turning circle is pretty poor (as with most supercars) and this makes parking a bit of a stressful experience. At speed the steering is really nice with a good weight and decent damping.
I nearly forgot to mention how green the i8 is – unlike most gas-guzzling supercars! The petrol engine is relatively economical and the ability to plug in the re chargeable batteries is a bonus. Recharging the now better performing lithium-ion battery takes about three hours. Battery capacity is up from 20Ah to 34Ah and power is up from 7.1kWh to 11.6kWh delivering more electric-only range – at 50km. If you select the ePower button you can travel in EV mode only at speeds up to 130km/h. Leave the car in the auto eDrive setting and the car sorts out all the hybrid stuff itself. The Roadster’s CO2 figure is just 49g/km and its combined fuel consumption average is 2l/100km or (141mpg). My test car starts from €171,390 but with a number of options added it weighed in at circa €186,000.