An Electrified Open-Air Supercar
“It’s a BMW Ferrari!”
Nothing says it better than this comment from a passerby when I was (carefully) parking BMW’s magnificent i8 plug-in hybrid sports roadster. It really grabs attention, even though most people probably have no idea that it’s partially motivated by electrons.
The i8 is one of BMW’s original two I-series electrified cars, along with the i3 hatchback. While the i3 comes with either an electric motor only or combined with a range-extending, battery-charging tiny engine, the i8 has always been a plug-in hybrid. It runs as far as 17 miles on pure electricity, which you can select using the E-Drive button. However, it normally switches back and forth from engine to motor—or uses both—to maximize performance and efficiency.
Believe it or not, the BMW i8 Roadster uses a turbocharged three-cylinder engine—but it puts out 228 horsepower (hp) and 236 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. Combined with the electric motor’s 141 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, you get a nice 369-hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, good for a 4.6-second 0-60 sprint.
This drivetrain, with a six-speed automatic for the engine and two-speed automatic for the motor, makes the car something of a rocket, but I sensed a slight hesitation sometimes. It’s not the raw power of a V8, but the good news is in the numbers: 69 MPGe with electricity plus gasoline and 27 mpg when using gas only. I averaged 40.2 mpg per the car’s gauges, which I think is pretty amazing for a 3,516-pound sports car. EPA Green scores are a fine 8 for Greenhouse Gas, but a mere 3 for Smog.
Plugging its Style
Charging is easy. Plug in at home using household current and you’re done in 4.5 hours. With Level 2 240-volt charging, it’s under three hours.
The car’s styling is definitely attention-grabbing. The nose wears the signature BMW twin-kidney grille, but the sides, as they sweep back, evoke the Batmobile, making curves not seen since the finned vehicles of the late 1950s. It’s about highly efficient airflow, but it also excites the eye no matter which angle you’re looking from.
The Roadster follows the original coupe and manages to convey much the same effect. However, its sealed fabric roof panel z-folds and drops vertically behind the front (and only) seats in less than 15 seconds—at up to 31 mph.
The BMW i8 Roadster flaunts the same amazing scissor doors as the coupe. They combine with a high threshold—particularly important for a strong structure for the open top as well as carrying the battery below. Once you learn to sit on the wide edge and slide yourself into the bucket seat, it’s not much of a deal, but of the three people who shared my car (one at a time), my son slipped in easily, my wife hated the experience, and my 6-foot-4 bandmate was willing to put up with the discomfort to get to ride in the car.
You certainly won’t acquire the i8 Roadster for any practical reasons. There is 3.5 cubic feet of space behind the pair of seats, but it’s not easy to access it. There is a microscopic 3.1-cubic-foot trunk that was good for holding one paper grocery bag and the charging cable.
The BMW Driving Experience
Driving the i8 is very much a familiar BMW experience. My car had the E-Copper leather package inside, but beyond that, the dash, steering wheel, trim, and electronics looked familiar from the i8 sedan—and even the i3. This is a brand that finesses vehicle control and provides steering and road feel, and a sense of solid connection to the machinery.
Everything is included—a long list of electronics, safety equipment, and leather and carbon fiber throughout the cabin. It has high-tech propulsion and high-tech assembly, including use of 3-D printing. It has the first application of “non-dazzling BMW Laserlights,” which illuminate the road farther ahead than the normal bulbs.
The LifeDrive vehicle architecture combines the lightweight aluminum Drive Module components with a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell Life Module. You don’t get that kind of high technology in ordinary cars.
With eye-popping style, sprightly performance, and exclusivity, the BMW i8 Roadster is highly prized, but it’s also highly priced. My tester, with the $2,500 E-copper leather package and $995 destination, came to $166,795. Wow.
BMW offers plug-in hybrid capability in other vehicles that are much more practical, but that’s really missing the point. The BMW i8 Roadster is a halo vehicle from a legendary brand that hardly needs one. It gives sex appeal and desirability to BMW’s electric I-series, which the more affordable, but polarizing i3 can’t. I’d really like to see an all-electric BMW sports car that looks like the i8. Stand by for many more electrified vehicles from BMW in the coming years.
Geneva Motor Show: BMW Advances Its Electric Portfolio
Road Test: 2018 BMW i3s
News: 2020 BMW &-Series PHEV
Event: BMW Vision iNext Revealed
Road Test: 2018 BMW 530e xDrive
Interview: BMW’s Goal: 25 electric Vehicles By 2025
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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