2018 BMW i8 roadster first drive review
BMW i8 Roadster – the new plug-in-hybrid convertible sports car. Wow!
BMW was amongst the first to make a plug-in hybrid sports car, and now are also the earliest ones to introduce a roadster version of it. The BMW i8 coupe was first shown in 2013, at the Frankfurt Motor Show and blew most of us away as it was so futuristically good-looking and technologically advanced at the same time. It went on sale in 2014, and soon became hugely popular and has turned out to be the best-selling plug-in hybrid sports car in the world.
The BMW i8 has been the best selling hybrid sports car in the world since its launch in 2014
Ever since its introduction, The BMW i8 has been acknowledged and appreciated as the ‘sports-car of the future’. In many ways, it was the pioneer of the plug-in-hybrid technology in sports-cars and though it would have been easy for BMW to go down the route of making something radically different looking with ‘beyond this planet styling’, to the credit of this German manufacture, they went in for a classically good looking design. After winning many accolades and awards, in 2017 at the Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW showed a refreshed version of the i8 coupe and also more importantly, the open top roadster version made its debut. It goes on sale in May 2018 (coming to India a little later) and recently in Mallorca, Spain, we got to experience the pleasures of open-top motoring in this virtually silent sports-car. Silent sports-car, now that’s a new one isn’t it?
One of the world’s best known quotes is “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali uttered these iconic words in 1964 when he was just 22. Look at the BMW i8, and it’s easy to imagine the designers mouthing Ali’s immortal words while styling this avant-garde sportscar. The entire body design with long and layered panels and the stunning butterfly (gullwing) doors that open upwards rather than outwards, scream that the stylists were inspired by butterflies and their big wings. But while the butterfly or scissor doors are dazzling, they make entry and exit quite difficult with you having to bend and contour your body to fit into the limited space available. It’s not enjoyable or desirable, because while the BMW i8 will surely make a dramatic entry, yours is certainly not going to be as flattering.
The entire body design of the BMW i8 roadster shows that the stylists were inspired by butterflies and their big wings
Interestingly, the roadster version of the BMW i8 was conceived after the coupe. But so striking is the design and so seamless the transition, that it appears they were designed alongside each other. In fact how the roadster was born is a story by itself. To put it simply, once the BMW bigwigs decided on a roadster version, an i8 coupe was driven into the prototype workshop in Munich and its roof was literally “sheared off”. And this roofless coupe then became a rolling test bed!
Normally, when you cut the top-off to make a convertible, the body and chassis require a lot of strengthening and bracing to maintain torsional rigidity and stiffness. But the BMW i8’s carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger compartment or tub, required minimum reinforcement, as it was already so strong. So instead of concentrating all their energies on rigidity, stiffness, safety, etc, the designers could also focus on lowering the roofline and making the already flat silhouette even flatter. The fact that the rear seats were done away with in the roadster making it that much more pure sportscar, also allowed the designers to give the i8 a ‘faster roofline’, that not only looks more forceful, but also helps in lowering the already low centre of gravity even further, for better driving performance.
BMW i8’s carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger compartment or tub required minimum reinforcement during the roadster’s development process
One of the highlights of the roadster is the frameless doors that are so integral to the overall design. The focal point of the design of course was the folding soft top and the designers brief was to make it “Silent, light, electric, fast, operable while driving, robust and stylish”. All of which they have managed to achieve. The all-season fabric soft top with additional acoustic insulation can be opened or closed by an electric drive (read silent) system in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 50kmph. This top folds in a Z-shape and is stored vertically requiring minimum space. And as the roadster does not have a rear seat, the designers have managed to also create 100 litres of storage space behind the front seats for some soft bags. This is in addition to the 88 litres available in the rear luggage compartment. Adding the soft top has marginally increased the weight by 60 kgs. This is really impressive for a convertible, because normally they are a whole lot heavier than their coupe cousins. Yes the roadster weighs all of 1,595 kgs, which is just 60 kgs more than the coupe.
What’s great too is how well the engineers have managed to limit any flex in the roof or any sort of buffeting and noise, even at high speeds. The soft top actually feels almost like a hard top. But with the roof dropped down you not only get direct sunlight and a view of the sky above, the i8 roadster also looks lot sexier. The long and low roofline is complimented by the wide and low stance, and the beefed up rear end looks spectacular too. With the top up, the BMW i8 roadster largely resembles its coupe cousin and the streamlined design, long wheelbase, short overhang and wide track, all make it look speedy and stylish.
The streamlined design and long wheelbase of the BMW i8 roadster make it look speedy and stylish.
One aspect that the designers had to work hard on was the airflow. In the BMW i8 coupe the air flows both below and above the vehicle. But in the roadster they could not afford to have it flow over the roof and enter the passenger cabin when the roof was open, as this would make thing uncomfortable for occupants. So some minor changes were made like retaining the air shutters on the bonnet for cosmetic purposes, but closing the actual air vents. The airflow at the front was then directed under the body and out through the wheel arches and this needed modifications to the i8’s underbody which had to be smoothed. The moulded side skirts and prominent butterfly like air ducts placed between the rear lights and roof frame also ensure that air is now redirected through the sides, rather than through the hood and nose. In fact the surface design of the BMW i8 is such that its aerodynamic measures are quite visible; it’s almost like the designers making a statement that this is the future of design.
The passenger compartment is ultramodern, but fortunately driver oriented unlike some other futuristic machines. The dashboard has a fully digital multifunctional instrument display, which shows the car’s speed and driving status information in a format and colour scheme selected to suit the driving mode engaged. Traditional, orange-coloured circular dials appear in sports mode, and in comfort, a blue “power meter” shows what the electric motor is up to. The infotainment features list is extensive, and includes a host of advanced features. Not being so tech savvy I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on these, but I am told this infotainment system can also be joined with your smartphone or smartwatch, neither of which I use. The services provide apparently include range and refuelling information, trip route and planning, road and traffic information, etc.
The standard heads-up display which I like, shows things like engine rpm, speed, gear, and also suggests gear shift points in sports mode. Of course there are also things like surround view cameras, cruise control, parking assistance, etc. The electric seats are comfortable and the quality of leather and other materials is top class as is the workmanship.
Engine & Transmission-
Like the BMW i8 coupe, the roadster version is driven by an electric motor and 3-cylinder petrol engine that work in concurrence. The battery is the same and is located centrally in the same place in the underfloor, but its performance has been enhanced. The cell and gross energy capacity of this lithium-ion-high-voltage battery has now been raised and its peak performance has increased by 12 PS to 143 PS and it generates 250 Nm of torque. The all-electric range has also increased to 53 kms and it’s capable of doing speeds of up to 120 kmph in eDrive mode.
The 1499 cc turbocharged petrol engine delivers 234 PS and 320 Nm of torque. BMW says the acoustics of the engine have also been optimized to make it produce a sportier soundtrack. The electric motor drives the front wheels and the petrol engine the rear ones, and the i8 roadster also comes with BMW’s hybrid specific all-wheel drive. With both the electric motor and petrol engine working in tandem, the combined power output is 379 PS with the BMW i8 roadster getting from 0 to 100 kmph in 4.6 seconds. The top speed is electronically limited to 250 kmph and the combined fuel efficiency is said to be a staggering 50kmpl!
The BMW i8 roadster gets from 0 to 100 kmph in 4.6 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 250 kmph
The BMW i8 roadster has two separate transmissions or gearboxes. Yes, that’s right, two. The internal combustion petrol engine drives the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox and the electric motor up front (for a 50:50 weight distribution) sends its power and torque to the front wheels through a two-speed automatic gearbox. This unique combination powers the hybrid all-wheel-drive system and gives the BMW i8 the instant punch of an electric motor and the sustained petrol power from a high revving engine.
The overall setup is such that the electric motor is meant to drive the BMW i8 roadster more often than the petrol engine. Of course, selecting the various driving modes, sport, in particular, gets both working energetically together to ensure the i8 lives up to its sports car credentials. Also anytime the driver pushes the pedal to the floor, the petrol engine rushes in to provide rapid acceleration. The electric motor as is to be expected is also able to recuperate energy and feed it to the high-voltage battery on the overrun and under braking. The petrol engine’s high-voltage starter-generator can likewise generate additional reserves of electricity, thereby ensuring sufficient energy is on tap at all times
The BMW i8 roadster is so good looking, that it wins you over even before you get behind the wheel. But as mentioned, getting inside is not that easy and you can expect to get some creases on your clothes. Once you are seated inside you find it to be a very welcoming car with comfortable seats that hold you well and a futuristic-looking dashboard that supplies you with lots of information. It all feels and looks advanced and somewhat revolutionary, but personally, I find a lot of it to be a bit over the top and I still can’t screw my head around the fact that the tachometer moves in an anti-clockwise direction.
Fire it up; sorry wrong term for a plug-in hybrid. Switch it on, and at first, you don’t even realize the motor is running with electrical energy ready to move the i8. Driven in pure electric mode, as the engineers would like you to most of the time, the BMW i8 roadster is eerily silent and quick to accelerate because of the instant 250 Nm of torque generated by the motor. While the electric motor is a smooth and discreet operator the petrol engine announces its arrival into the action arena with a very distinctive note that is definitely not 3 cylinders and neither does it give the impression that 8 pistons are at work in the block. While the engineers have worked hard and done well to make it sound sporty, I think it’s really an engine note that needs to grow on you. The transition between all silent electric and vocal petrol also requires some getting used to. But once you have gotten used to the different audio recitals, the BMW i8 roadster hastily showcases its accomplishments. It’s quick to accelerate and agile and light on its feet. The swift to respond steering talks nicely to you and the BMW i8 feels stable at all times. The upgraded suspension with finely tuned springs and dampening ensures that not just the handling, but the ride is also better. The BMW i8 roadster also feels rigid and solid at all times and has none of the scuttle shake associated with some convertibles. While the i8 is great fun, its width and thick A-pillars which hamper the view around turns, meant one had to be very careful while driving on the many twisty and narrow roads you find in the beautiful island of Mallorca. The fact that several tourists had also descended on this pleasure paradise for a cycling holiday also did not help matters. Because the BMW i8 with only the electric motor engaged is like a stealth machine that creeps in and surprises and shocks when sighted, and the cyclists or pedestrians did not like this one bit.
The i8 is quick to accelerate and agile and light on its feet, but could do with a more vocal powerplant
For many of us, a sports car, especially a convertible is a lot about sound. You expect it to sound sporty and with the top down you like to enjoy the sonorous note of the powerful engine inhaling and exhaling. But this is something missing in the BMW i8 roadster. The electric motor is silent to the point of being intangible and while the petrol engine tries hard to sound like a rock star, it comes across as an amateur wanting to become an ‘Indian Idol’. What’s good though is that the regenerative brakes work almost imperceptibly and have a normal feel.
The roadster’s regenerative brakes work almost imperceptibly and have a normal feel
The BMW i8 is a plug-in hybrid sports car that provides a wondrous window to the world that is imminent in the future. And the roadster does this while allowing you to experience topless motoring too. The fact that it also has drooling looks makes it that much more appealing. But given our heat and dust and polluted air, India is not the best place for open-top motoring. Since our government also has a hybrid unfriendly policy, the BMW i8 roadster will not get any tax breaks and should cost around 2.8 crores when launched here later this year. Frankly, all this and the fact that it still does not sound like a thoroughbred sports car, in my humble opinion limits the allure of this remarkable sports car. But if you want to make an eco-friendly statement and embrace the future, there is no better bet than the BMW i8 roadster.