Back to the Future in BMW’s i8 Roadster

 

Words by: Adam Allen

When we first drove the BMW i8 two summers ago, we made numerous references to one of the best movies of all time with Back to the Future- Flux Capacitors, 1.21 jigawatts, 88 miles an hour, that sort of thing- because it truly felt like we had taken a time warp years ahead of 2016 whilst behind the wheel of this incredible machine. When it was announced that BMW would build a drop-top version of this slickster we knew that another go around was in order.

First things first- it looks even more spectacular than the coupe version, a benchmark set extremely high in its own right. It doesn’t matter if the roof is stowed or in place, this is a looker and is one of those cars that causes bystanders to whip out their smartphones to take a picture. The i8 is extremely rare when you consider that despite pushing five years on the market, it still looks as fresh as it did the first time we saw it on display at BMW’s headquarters.

After prying our eyes away from its alluring shapeliness we settled into the cockpit for a spin, eager to soak up some late summer sunshine. While BMW’s literature tells us that there is a slight bump in power and a commendable increase in range for electric only motoring, the real story is how much sharper and playful the chassis has become. Normally you would expect the opposite with a convertible, but the fact is that BMW exorcised the cautious understeer from the past and has made the i8 a true joy to strafe down your favorite ribbon of tarmac.

So how’d they do that, and what makes the Roadster so different from the coupe aside from the obvious? Well, believe it or not, the i8 was never designed to be a cabriolet. BMW went to work beefing up of the chassis and paid attention to the suspension as well, which brought forth the welcome side effect of the newfound joy in being flung around. The biggest change was the huge vent that you used to find in the front hood is gone. During the Roadster’s development phase, engineers discovered that the hot air exhausted by that vent would spill over the windscreen and right into the faces of the two passengers on board- something you can imagine being really unpleasant, especially if you’re driving it in already scorching temperatures. The solution they came up with was to redirect all that steamy air out the sides of the car- the Coupe will have this change as well.  A word about top down motoring- not only is it even better to enjoy gilding along in silence under electrical power with the roof down for longer with the increased range, but even at brisk highway speeds the turbulence you might expect is eerily absent. Actually, we can’t recall a convertible we have driven in recent memory that allows you to arrive at your destination without your hair looking as though it’s been subject to a blast from a wind tunnel.

The increase in power has zero effect on one of the i8’s best attributes, and that is returning stellar fuel economy. Obviously, you have to respect that a car that looks this good and that can achieve the highest speed limit in Canada comfortably under 5 seconds. That it actually managed slightly better fuel consumption numbers than the Mini 3-door we drove recently (which uses a less powerful version of the i8’s turbocharged three-cylinder engine) makes it even more remarkable. This was and still remains the only plug-in hybrid we have ever had in the Carpages Garage that soothed our fears of a boring future landscape of cars that would be disappointing to drive as they’d be subject to ever increasing stringent fuel economy and emission mandates.

Like the Coupe, the Roadster isn’t perfect. There is hardly any room on board to put your stuff, and the little 88 litre trunk acts like an oven, practically cooking whatever you’ve stowed away back there. You still can’t put the side windows all the way down, so resting your arm on the window sill is fairly uncomfortable. Perhaps the biggest flaw we found with the i8- and it doesn’t matter if you find yourself in the Coupe or the Roadster- is that you simply cannot get in and out of this car and look cool in the process. The wide sills coupled with the angle at which the gullwing open mean most folks will flush a little as they sort of fall in (or out) of the car that makes a such a statement when it arrives.

Guess what? None of that really matters. Nobody is going to have their eye on an i8 and pass because of those little niggles- they willingly accept that are going to be compromises in a car like this, and it is still worlds better than supercars of the not too distant past.

With a car as compelling as this, you needn’t fear the future…unless of course your Sports Almanac was stolen by an ornery Biff Tannen during a visit back to 1955.

 

 

 

2019 BMW i8 Roadster– Specifications

  • Price as tested: $177,300
  • Body Type: 2 door, 2+2 passenger convertible
  • Powertrain Layout: Front: Electric Motor/Rear: Gasoline Engine with All-Wheel Drive
  • Engine:  1.5-litre turbocharged inline-three, DOHC, 12 valves
  • Horsepower: 228 @ 5,800 rpm
  • Torque (lb-ft): 236 @ 3,700 rpm
  • Front electric motor output: 141 horsepower/184 lbs.-ft.@ 0 rpm
  • Total System Output: 369 horsepower/420 lbs.-ft. of torque
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Curb weight: 1,665 kg (3,671 lbs.)
  • Fuel consumption: 8.9L/100km (26 mpg)