The i8 gains a bigger battery, more power and the option of a retractable roof in an aim to broaden its appeal. Meet the Roadster...
It was those crowd-pleasing butterfly doors that blew us away when the first BMW i8 arrived at the CAR offices for testing some four years ago. Sure, we were impressed by the hybrid powertrain and aerodynamic design but it was the doors that set the scene wherever the i8 arrived. Heads would turn and smartphones would record just as a door was unlatched and hiked to the heavens. Now, with the introduction of this Roadster, to coincide with a mild facelift to the tin-top, too, the i8 stands out even more.
The spec of this i8 Roadster test unit is certainly not suited to the shy and retiring. Sporting optional 20-inch Jet Black alloy wheels and lathered in E-Copper metallic paint with Frozen Grey highlights, it looks decidedly alien in traffic amid Polos and Corollas (or, aptly, like a Duracell battery according to one tester).
When the small, retractable roof is folded away, a striking interior is revealed, boasting i-Design Accaro leather upholstery, DryCarbon trim finishers and ceramic control surrounds. Even without these options worth R40 600, the interior looks unlike anything else in BMW’s stable and suitably aligns with the New Age lines.
We found the hard-top surprisingly impractical when we tested it back in 2015 and the Roadster has been compromised further. That front luggage bay swallows just 72 litres and, instead of an additional pair of seats in the back on which to stow extra luggage, BMW has installed storage compartments for knick knacks.
Another compromise that’s so familiar when a manufacturer lops off a roof and has to add strengthening materials to compensate is weight gain. In the case of the Roadster, that’s an additional 104 kg on our scales. That’s countered by an extra 9 kW from the electric motor via a plug-in rechargeable 11,6 kWh battery. How would it fare on our test strip compared with the first i8 we assessed?
While the in-gear acceleration figures are broadly impressive – a 100-120 km/h time of 1,70 seconds isn’t exactly slow – despite ideal weather conditions the Roadster was a full 1,21 seconds tardier to 100 km/h, caused mainly by a launch-control module that failed to activate (a familar BMW quirk). The braking, however, saw a major improvement, slicing 0,35 seconds off the hard-top’s average time across 10 stops.
With the larger-battery capacity (which was fully charged before every test) and an ability to leave the 170 kW/320 N.m 1,5-litre turbopetrol well alone up to speeds of 105 km/h, we expected to see an improved fuel consumption figure on our 100 km mixed-use route, but this increased, too, by 0,7 L/100 km, and that despite a broader all-electric range of 53 km (an additional 18 km). That said, although it’s a long way off the claimed figure of 2,1 L/100 km, the 5,9 posted by the Roadster remains commendably low in the sportscar arena. If your daily commute is 50 km both ways, it’s possible to run the i8 strictly on electricity, with each charge costing roughly R35.
Contrived augmented engine noise aside compared with its sonorous internal-combustioned rivals, the i8 Roadster offers a satisfyingly indulgent open-air driving experience. Occupants are brilliantly shielded from wind rush thanks to the tub-like cockpit, the chassis is composed, it steers fluently and the ride quality is generally very good. Like we found before, though, understeer sets in early on skinny front tyres and the Roadster exhibited a touch more scuttle shake than we had expected.
No other sportscar at the R2 million-plus mark turns as many heads as the i8 Roadster, especially in such a bold colour palette. It's the ultimate showstopper: it announces you've arrived without making a sound.
Credit, too, must be given to the revised drivetrain's increased range and, as a drop-top, the Roadster provides a cossetting, special experience.
That, however, does not make it the obvious choice in this market. Ultimately, the i8 still needs to be assessed according to the standards of the sportscar segment. While it may be ahead of its rivals in its adoption of advanced tech, its compromises remain too obvious for us to recommend it ahead of a cheaper 911 or vastly more potent F-Type. We look forward to round two of the i8 programme for the concept of an exhilarating electrified sportscar from BMW to be fully realised.
*From the January 2019 issue of CAR magazine