2019 BMW i8 Roadster: Less is More

Posted by Shane Kalicharan about 2 years ago

The BMW i8 is a head turner. On paper its specs aren’t mind-blowing. But the way its styled certainly is. Even going back as far as its initial concept design in 2009 to the final production in 2013, the spaceship-like exterior has aged as gracefully as it drives. So how do you make a stunning, exotic vehicle even more eye catching? Chop the roof off, of course.

When we reviewed the hardtop i8 (reviewed here), we felt it was a good indicator to the kind of technology that we would see trickle down to mass market vehicles. The i8 Roadster continues this trend, but errs far less on the side of practicality. Removing the roof from the car adds big style points, but also comes at a cost. We’d be hard pressed to call the i8’s rear seats usable for anyone above 5’5”, but nonetheless, there were rear seats. In the roadster, you get no rear seats at all. In order to make room for the folding fabric roof, BMW had to axe the rear seats. In its place, you’ll find some storage cubbies instead. There’s nothing to tie down your luggage though, so be mindful of what you stash back there.


The i8 Roadster also loses the sloping rear and glass engine cover in favour of two humps in a similar style to other roadsters like the Mazda MX-5 RF (reviewed here). We’re happy that BMW still kept the flying buttresses that are almost signature on the i8’s rear end.  We think the changes to the i8 don’t detract from its looks. With the roof off, we think it looks even better. The open top also makes getting in and out of the i8 a little easier. With its high door sills and low seats, the procedure isn’t the most graceful thing. But the increased headroom without a roof certainly helps. Expect some more wind noise inside the cabin with the soft top, however.

Despite its futuristic exterior, the inside of the i8 Roadster is remarkably simple. In modern times, many manufacturers tend to push everyday functions like heating and air and media controls to a singular touchscreen interface. For us, it’s a relief that in the i8, there is still a good amount of tactile controls. It does almost take away from the visual flair of the interior, but from a practicality and safety standpoint, we prefer simply pushing a button over trying to navigate through a touchscreen.


But while the interior is simple enough to navigate, certain placements feel like an afterthought in the roadster. The 12v cigarette lighter for instance. It’s underneath a hinged compartment cover that could not close with several of the USB adapters we had tried. It’s also not the most practical car with its small trunk area. Good enough for a quick grocery run, but don’t expect to buy and take home a bedroom set. But does anyone really expect practicality out of something that looks the way the i8 does? Not likely.


The i8 Roadster builds on what is already a good platform in the hardtop i8. With the folding roof, it’s just a hair slower, getting from 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds. The hybrid’s battery pack has been updated to make 12 more horsepower. Paired with its 1.5L 3-cylinder engine, the Roadster makes 369 horsepower. On paper it’s not much, but with a lightweight carbon fibre chassis, it doesn’t matter. The i8 Roadster still gives you a great launch, kicking you into the back of your seat. For the performance minded driver, the roadster certainly handles too, also thanks to its rigid chassis. BMW claims you can run the car as far as 53 km on pure electricity, but your real life range will likely be lower, especially during our cold winters. Like all hybrids, the i8 Roadster’s electricity suffers on highways, but thrives in urban traffic thanks to regenerative braking.


BMW’s i8 has always been a showstopper in design and technology. What the Roadster does is build on an already impressive package. The base price of the Roadster is a throat-tightening $20,000 higher than that of the coupe. With options, our tester came in at $177,300. That puts it in some competitive territory, with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT C Roadster, certain models of the Porsche 911 Carrera cabriolet and other performance convertibles. So with these powerful powerhouse players, why by an i8 Roadster? It’s different. Other performance cabrios utilize the tried and true formula of sticking a big, fire breathing gas engine in a stylish, luxurious body. The i8 (and to be fair, the Acura NSX) take a different approach, pairing environmental friendliness with a smaller motor, but making the most out of it. Plus, with its trick doors and futuristic design, we think the i8 is arguably the coolest looking one of the bunch.

Tags:
BMW, BMWi, BMW i, BMW i8, i8, i8 Roadster, Green Vehicles, Green performance, Sports Car, Roadster, Convertible, BMW i8 Roadster, Carbon Fiber, eDrive

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