First-Ever BMW i8 Roadster Revealed

Hey, BMW actually went and made a convertible version of their i8! That’s . . . that’s actually kind of cool! The i8, although not everything it’s cracked up to be, is a very interesting idea, and (thankfully) points to a green way forward that is not slow, dowdy, hair-shirted, and boring. Look: I know, you know, and anybody with half a brain knows that we are going to be driving electric cars, or some sort of hybrid car in the future. And I’ve said this countless times: if car manufacturers can make something like a Tesla Roadster in a Miata-like package and sell it inexpensively, the world will beat a path to that automaker’s door.

And BMW might be showing us the way forward.

Efficient Setup

The BMW i8, the first generation or this current iteration, are not the answer I just described. They’re not exactly cheap nor are they really sports cars. What they are though, is a good indication of how a car company can move forward with various and sundry green initiatives and still have cars that are fun to drive and, you know, behave like the cars we already enjoy. The i8 uses a fairly complex layout of batteries and electric motors and a small, gas-fueled engine. The engine is there to provide forward momentum to the rear wheels only and to charge the batteries. The idea is that you drive around on EV power as much as you can, but if you start to run out of juice, the engine kicks in, charges the EV system, and you’ve still got motive power as long as there’s gas in the tank. You can drive around town as an EV, then take off for the hinterlands hundreds of miles away, and not worry about range.

Open Air Excitement

The most important thing about the 2019 BMW i8 is how you can now get it in a drop-top convertible. Although this is not a targa or some slight of hand like, the i8 Roadster does have those silly humps and roll over structure deals behind the passenger compartment. It’s one of those lawyer things; I don’t really care for them in general and I think they kind of ruin the lines here. The lines of the BMW i8 are, well, they are still unconventional. It’s not a bad looking car, per se, it just seems BMW went out of their way to make it look futuristic, but kind of missed on the overall style. Still, it’s not a terrible looking car.

Bucking the ongoing trend of folding hard tops, the i8 Roadster goes with an all-season fabric soft-top with additional soundproofing baked in. The top, which is electrically operated, can be opened or closed in less than 16 seconds and while the vehicle is in motion up to 31 mph, a flashy but cool thing to do. BMW says the i8 Roadster’s top stows away in a perpendicular position, and honestly, I’m trying to picture what they mean by this. I guess the best I can do is trust that it goes back there somewhere and that everything will be okay.

There’s also some fancy colors and trim options. Specifically, we’ve got E-Copper metallic and Donington Grey metallic added to the palette. We have new versions of the standard 20-inch BMW alloy wheels in a radial-spoke style bicolor design with a Jet Black theme as an option.

Photo: BMW of North America, LLC.

Power & Performance

BMW, never one to not over-label things, calls the drivetrain package “BMW eDrive technology, BMW TwinPower Turbo technology.” Sure, whatever. What that basically means is the internal combustion engine and plug-in hybrid-specific all-wheel drive system work in concert as a squadron of computers see fit, so all you have to do is mash on the “gas” pedal, and down the Straße you go.

What it means in more detail is that the i8’s TwinPower Turbo plant is a 1,499 cc three-cylinder gasoline engine, that on its own puts out 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft. of torque. The engine’s power is delivered to the rear wheels only via a six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. The electric motor takes care of the front wheels through a two-speed automatic gearbox. Why the Bavarians threw a gearbox in there is beyond me, but there it is.

The lithium-ion battery pack has greater battery cell capacity, going up from 20 to 34 ampere hours; gross energy capacity improves from 7.1 to 11.6 kilowatt hours. Since the batteries now hold more juice, the extra energy reserves increase the electric motor’s peak output by 12 horsepower to 141 horsepower. And of course, all of the electric torque (184 lb-ft.) is available from a standstill. All this adds up to an electric only range of 18 miles, 30 percent more than before. Ergo, if you add the electric torque and power from the front wheels with the engine power heading to the rear, you get a car that really goes, turns, and stops like a BMW should. 60 mph comes up in 4.4 seconds for the BMW i8 Roadster while the top end is electronically limited at 155 mph. Boo! Hisssss! How do we take the limiters off?

Photo: BMW of North America, LLC.

Pricing & Availability

Sadly, no word from BMW on price or availability. The first generation i8s weren’t cheap, but they weren’t all that crazy expensive either. Is it worth it? That’s up to you to decide. If the roadster isn’t your thing, a coupe option is available as well. The charts below explain the high points of each car. The i8 is a pretty good answer on how we move forward without wrecking the planet any more than we already have. And besides, if BMW can work the kinks out of the drivetrain in this car, imagine what they could do with it in other cars.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.

Photos, Charts, & Source: BMW of North America, LLC.

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