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TEST DRIVE: BMW i8 Roadster

David Haueter test drives the BMW i8 Roadster…

Photo: David Haueter

BMW’s i8 hybrid sports car has been around for a few years now but still looks fresh and modern. A roadster model has joined the coupe in the lineup this year for the first time and both models also get some significant updates that improve the driving experience.

A week spent driving the new roadster reveals that it’s just as much fun to drive as the coupe, already one of the most entertaining cars in the BMW model lineup.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the i8, it combines a turbocharged 3-cylinder gasoline-fed internal combustion engine that puts out 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels with an “eDrive” electric motor that generates 141 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to drive the front wheels, for a combined output of 369hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.

The 141 hp from the electric motor is a bump up from 129 in last year’s car.

With both power units in play, the i8 roadster can get to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, which trails the coupe by just 0.2 seconds, and both the coupe and roadster are nearly as quick as the BMW M4 coupe.

The electric motor that powers the i8 can be recharged with a plug, but the car is also capable of charging itself through brake regeneration as well as from the ICE when the car is in Sport mode, and you can drive solely using the gas motor if you have to.

Range running solely on the electric motor has been extended to 18 miles.

Photo: David Haueter

Base price of the i8 roadster is $163,300 and buyers can choose from three different lines (Standard World, Tera World and Tera World Copper) that have slightly different cosmetic details, but the only option on all three lines is the laser lights, where are priced at $6,300.

The i8 coupe has the same lines and options and starts at $147,500.

Neither of the i8 models is the car for you if you don’t like attention. I’ve driven i8s on a few different occasions over the last few years and it always draws attention everywhere you drive it.

Car enthusiasts may debate whether the i8 is a true supercar, but it certainly gets treated like one when you’re out in public. This car is a head turner, and you get used to finding a group around it in parking lots and having your picture taken when out on the road or at a stop light.

The Donington Grey paint on the i8 roadster I drove looks fantastic with the black trim on the body and the top also blends in well and doesn’t take away from the lines of the car.

Photo: David Haueter

I could admire the side profile of this car all day, and it wouldn’t really matter if the top was up or down. The top itself is quick to raise or lower (in less than 16 seconds), and I like that you can lower the tops glass rear window when it’s up to get better airflow through the car with the side windows down.

Speaking of the windows, one gripe I had about the car is that the windows don’t lower the whole way, but I could live with that.

Like its i8 coupe sibling, the i8 roadster is an incredibly fun car to drive and in my opinion, it ranks right up there with BMWs M cars in driving enjoyment.

Even though it weighs around 170 lbs. more than the i8 coupe, the roadster still feels just as light and agile on the road and it encourages you to carry speed through corners.

It feels much more tossable than any other car that BMW has right now, though I haven’t driven the M2 Competition yet.

In Sport mode, the piped in exhaust noise makes the i8 sound like a sports car, with cool little barks from the exhaust when you shift gears manually. It’s mostly fake, but it adds to the experience.

I was also surprised how entertaining it was to drive the i8 roadster with the top down in full electric mode, with no sound from anything but the tires and the airflow moving around the car.

Photo: David Haueter

BMW has made suspension and steering adjustments made to the i8 for the 2019 model year and you can feel the improvements from behind the wheel.

The front turn-in is so responsive that it’s hard to believe this car has front tires that are as narrow as they are, and the steering has more weight and better feel through the rim than in the last i8 coupe I drove a couple of years ago.

The i8 is also relatively easy to live with as well, as long as you don’t need much in the way of trunk space.

It takes more effort to exit the car, especially if you’re tall, but the cockpit is comfortable and the ride quality is well damped enough to take on long interstate drives. Just don’t plan on taking much with you.

The i8 roadster is a great halo product in BMW’s model lineup, and despite its $163,300 price it comes across as a bargain compared to other supercars.

It may not have the power or ultimate handling capability of a Ferrari or a McLaren, but it has just as much street presence and rarity and is plenty fast to make things entertaining (as fast as an M4 from 0-60).

The only real downside to driving the i8 is that you are always wondering how good it could be if it had a larger engine in the back.

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Photo: Ingrid Kretschmann

David Haueter has been an automotive writer and photographer for the past 20 years. His writing and photos have been published in Roundel, Bimmer, Forza and Excellence and SportsCarInsider as well as other automotive and racing magazines.

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