2019 BMW i8 Roadster Review

Supercars are like David Copperfield or David Blaine. They’re the cars that people expect a certain flair from. See them, drive them, and come away impressed that something can be so… fantastic. They’re also masters of misdirection and stardom.

The BMW i8 stands out, though, because it provides a lot of magical experiences, yet still has to convince people that it’s a supercar too.

Looking at the i8, there’s no doubt that it’s a supercar, and the drop-top model we tested had a little magic of its own, as the rear seats in the Coupe have disappeared entirely, and there is also a flashy power-retractable top, which takes just about 16 seconds to operate. It helps the hybrid BMW look like a bonafide transformer while in operation with its butterfly doors swung open.

It’s eye-catching, and people stare deeply at it when it drives by. Some open their mouths and you can see them mouthing “BMW?” Of course, if the roof is down, you can hear them exclaim in confusion/joy about the roundel-badged rarity driving by. This again reminds me of being at a magic show as people blurt out their amazement with no filter.

The car features bodywork that provides additional aerodynamics and looks really organic, flowing in and out, without any abrupt lines. I love the opening by the rear quarters of the car, something you can see through the side-view mirrors while driving around town. The roofless version of the car is even prettier than the Coupe, and the convertible top feels high quality, not flapping or causing any additional noise or vibration when you’re on the road.

There’s a new “Roadster” badge on the car too, to help you identify the car I suppose. However, on one side, the top part of the R on Roadster is moved, to demonstrate that the car features a removable roof. It’s kind of cute, but also strange as it reads like “Toadster” if you don’t know what you’re looking at.

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Not much has changed inside the car, and there’s not too much to impress here. The leather is accented by carbon-fiber trim that has a nice texture and feel. It’s a bit disappointing to see the last generation of BMW infotainment in this modern looking car, rather than the newer tech found on something like the X5 or 5 Series. There’s a HUD here too, but it looks ancient in comparison to the recently revealed X5. If the i8 is a supercar or halo product for BMW, every item should be top of the line.

See Also: 2019 BMW X5 Review

But then again, the i8 has a more subtle mission: demonstrate that its cool to be green. This plug-in hybrid is built with a mind on lowering its ecological footprint, doing its part to limit the impact modern cars have on the environment. Being made with sustainability in mind is one aspect, but the powertrain is another.

Mounted behind the cabin in the middle of the car is a three-cylinder turbocharged engine, which works in tandem with electric motors to give this car about 369 combined horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. I imagined that this took some BMW engineers a lot of restraint, we’re talking about a company that puts a 600 horsepower twin-turbo V8 in its executive sedan and sends Journalists to track events with its big SUV.

See Also: 2018 BMW M5 First Drive

Regardless, the i8 is fast and fun, blazing to highway speeds in about four and a half seconds. It’s not an eye-popping number, but it feels immediate as the electric torque is so instant. It’s great to feel in action, but it’s equally cool to put the car into the eDrive mode and have it become silent and drive on electric power alone. With a full charge, the i8 Roadster can travel about 18 miles or just under 30 kilometers, although that changes depending on how heavy footed you are with the throttle and brakes. Nudging the shifter into the Sport mode, the gas engine fires up and you have access to all the power at once. This can also recharge the car in a way too, so it’s pretty interesting that you can have fun driving the car in this mode, and get rewarded with more electric mileage afterward.

There’s also a reward at the pumps too. The i8 is extremely fuel efficient, thanks to its clever packaging of a small turbo three-cylinder engine and electric powertrain. You’ll get 69 MPGe using both power sources, and if you’re out of battery power, you’ll earn 27 MPG combined, which isn’t too bad for a sports car at all. If you want to plug in the car to get the electric range back, you can do that too. It takes anywhere between 3 and 4.5 hours to charge depending on the output of the charger.

A major part of the i8’s success is how light it is. Weighing about 3,500 lbs (1,670 kgs) is no easy task when you have combustion engines, electric motors, and batteries to deal with, but the i8 uses a lot of light and stiff carbon fiber. You can actually see some of it when you swing open the doors.

See Also: 2020 Toyota Supra First Drive

The worry is that as wild as the i8 looks, it’s not a supercar enough. Other cars that look like this are more powerful and faster. The i8 is limited in terms of top speed to 155 MPH, which is far below other supercars. That power figure is also 100 ponies away from being interesting or at all competitive with other supercars.

Simply put, there’s nothing about the numbers and figures of the i8 that is impressive, but thanks to some magic, it’s much more enjoyable to drive than the digits indicate.

The steering is direct and firm feeling, although not too grippy, as the tires are fairly narrow giving that rarely experienced good feeling of looseness. It feels playful and fun, and not serious and hard-edged. This combined with the lots of torque gives the i8 that fun feeling, as it’s so unique and different. Some may also find the exaggerated noises to be annoying, but it sounds like a sci-fi film and has a charm of its own.

The Verdict: 2019 BMW i8 Roadster Review

The issue is whether the magic of this car is worth the $163,300 USD ($169,900  in Canada) price tag. That’s a lot of money to spend on something that could be outdone by something as mainstream as a Mustang GT, but it is very rare, very unique and extremely fun to be around. It catches peoples attention, it looks incredible and is still fun to drive. Is it better than other supercars? Not at all, but it still manages to make you feel like you’re at the cusp of something truly special thanks to its high-tech construction and fuel focused strategy.