Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: October 6, 2018
Just when you thought the i8 was futuristic looking enough, BMW chops the roof off and makes their halo sports car even more attention grabbing. I guess rolling around in a white and blue spaceship isn’t the most inconspicuous mode of transportation, not to mention that the doors still swing upward, and it can run on electricity alone for up to 53 kilometres - though our real world testing suggests a more realistic 35 km range instead.
The BMW i8 Roadster is a brand new 2019 model, and looks just as you’d expect. The roof has been sliced off and in its place is an electronically operated fabric soft top - opens in roughly 16 seconds and up to 50 km/h - that creates an open-air atmosphere and a sleeker rear end that I actually prefer over the Coupe. The B-pillars are unique with some silver elements and a “Roadster” script, there’s no more glass engine opening, and the two humps out back make it look like the Audi R8 Spyder. The i8 may adorn be a freakishly abstract shape but I think it’s a timeless design and one that will be cemented into BMW’s history book as the vanguard into electrification.
You look at the i8 from the outside and think it’s some vessel from the future, but hop inside and it’s no different than your run of the mill 3 Series. The seating position is snug and cozy, but not far enough to the ground to trigger an arthritic flare-up during entry. Ergonomics of all the switchgear and controls are excellent, and visibility is phenomenal from most angles. Even the A-pillars have a clear view, and is aided by a 360-degree camera display that drivers can utilize at low speeds, though the missing blind spot monitoring feature would have come in handy, as all mid-engine cars have a terrible passenger-side blind spot. I do admire the fact that the i8 gets a unique steering wheel from rest of the BMW lineup, adding some exclusive touches to follow with the exorbitant price tag.
In Roadster guise, the i8 loses its two vestigial rear seats and gains some storage cubbies in its place. They are deep and compartmentalized, but there’s actually nothing in there to tie your items down or keep them in place. Loose items best stay up front, while larger bags can even go in the trunk - just don’t expect to fit as much back there as an Audi R8 or Acura NSX.
Cabin insulation is not as good as Coupe and with the roof up, noise ends up seeping through the gaps in the roofline. Wind buffeting on the other hand is not too bad with the help of the raisable rear windscreen but when it’s down, the cabin can get quite turbulent. On the topic of gripes, the windows don’t lower all the way down, so you get this small window section that pokes out like in the rear windows of the 4 Series Gran Coupe.
Perhaps the most difficult part of living with an i8 is actually getting in and out of the car with its swanky gullwing doors. Especially for a first timer, you have to sit down on the door sill and gyrate your lower torso to get your legs into the footwell. Doing it all in one swift motion takes some practice. Doing it elegantly without rubbing your pants on the door sill is another story. Shorter people will have an easier time, yes, but they will also find it difficult to reach for the door handle once inside to close the door - such is the tradeoff. On the bright side, ingress is made slightly easier when the Roadster has its roof stowed away.
The i8 receives a reworked lithium-ion battery pack for 2019, packing an extra 4.5 kWh and a resulting 12 extra horsepower. Total output of the electric motor and 1.5L turbocharged inline-three is now 369 hp with the torque unchanged at 420 lb-ft. The electric motor powers the front two wheels via a two-speed transmission, while the three-cylinder drives the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic.
Compared to the Coupe, the heavier Roadster is just two-tenths of a second slower from 0-100 km/h, 4.6 seconds to be exact. It’s not supercar quick and you will be disappointed if you are expecting V8 or V10 levels of acceleration, but the i8 has enough muscle to give you a proper kick to the seatback. With such a rigid carbon fibre chassis and structure to begin with, the i8 did not lose much rigidity or need any extra significant bracing by slicing the roof off. It may not be as solid as the McLaren 570S Spider, but we did not detect any shimmying or flexing when bouncing through potholes and undulating roads.
While it might seem negative to state the i8 doesn’t drive differently than a significant cheaper 3 Series, I would take it as praise. Despite the dizzying amount of technology that went into the i8, it’s simple, friendly, and won’t bite if you approach a corner too hot. The hybrid all-wheel drive system keeps all hands on deck, and the balance of the vehicle mid-turn is sublime, defaulting to a neutral stance rather than understeer or oversteer. As they say, if you’re making it look easy, you’re doing a good job.
The steering feels organic and light, the center of gravity is extremely low so the i8 feels like its hugging the ground, and the marriage between combustion and electricity is seamless. Unlike other regenerative brake pedals in EV cars, the pedal in the i8 feel organic - not too springy or squishy - and is easy to modulate.
With an MSRP just shy of $170,000, the 2019 BMW i8 Roadster slots into a heated segment brimming with other worthy convertibles like the Mercedes-AMG GT C, Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS Cabriolet, and Audi R8 Spyder. There’s even the Acura NSX, another hybrid (not plug-in or a convertible) that is more expensive but uses the same types of technology to marry fossil fuels and electricity together into one harmonious package.
But none of vehicles above will get the same kind of attention as the i8 Roadster. This innovative BMW is not going to be the fastest kid on the block nor the most dynamic supercar, but come on, gullwing doors and a design that would feel right at home in an episode of Futurama? The i8 really is a timewarp to the future. No, scratch that. When behind the wheel of this Roadster, the future is now.
Model: 2019 BMW i8 Roadster
Paint Type: Crystal White Pearl w/ Frozen Blue Accents
Base Price: $169,900
Price as Tested: $177,300
Engine: 1.5L TwinPower Turbo inline-three cylinder (rear) + electric battery (front)
Horsepower: 369 hp combined
Torque: 420 lb-ft combined
Transmission: 6-speed automatic (rear), 2-speed automatic (front)
Engine & Drive Configuration: Mid-engine, hybrid AWD