UK Drive: The BMW i8 Roadster is an eco-friendly alternative to a drop-top sports car
We’ve already driven the BMW i8 Roadster in Spain, but this is the first time we’ve seen how it copes in the UK. Jack Evans investigates
What is it?
BMW’s futuristic i8 has been around for a little while now, but this – the i8 Roadster – is an entirely new take on the firm’s hybrid sports car. In truth, it’s taken some time to arrive, coming seven years after the initial concept was revealed, and now we’ve had a chance to see how it deals with UK roads having first driven it out in Spain last year.
Where the tarmac on the continent is smooth and relatively imperfection free, the UK’s network isn’t quite as manicured – to say the least. So, we’re heading out on to some of our favourite roads to see how the i8 Roadster gets on, and whether or not lopping the i8’s roof off has done much to alter the overall experience.
As is pretty clear from the car’s name, this i8 is a drop-top version. Sitting in the middle of the car is a three-piece fabric roof, which takes just 15 seconds to fold and compress into the rear section – and it takes the same time to be raised, too. This can all be done at speeds of up to 31mph.
The interior has been given a nip and tuck too, with a fresh infotainment display sitting in the centre of the cabin. It may not match other widescreen offerings you’ll find in rival cars, but it still looks sharp enough.
What’s under the bonnet?
As in the regular i8, the Roadster makes use of a hybrid powertrain, combining a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor and battery setup. Together, they push out 369bhp and 570Nm of torque, allowing for a 0-60mph time of 4.4 seconds and a top speed limited to 155mph.
It’s when it comes to economy that the i8 Roadster’s hybrid layout pays dividends. BMW claims that it’ll return 141.9mpg combined and emit just 46g/km CO2. Theoretically, you should be able to drive on all-electric power for up to 33 miles and up to speeds of 75mph. This is trickier to achieve in practice; more often than not the engine chirps into life far earlier than these claims.
What’s it like to drive?
As a result of 369bhp on tap, the i8 Roadster feels more than brisk, and the 570Nm of torque available results in plenty of shove from low-down, too. The steering has a pleasingly weighty feel to it, and though the narrow tyres might lead you to think that the i8 would be a handful in the bends, the reality is the opposite – there’s plenty of grip, and it’s actually quite difficult to unstick the rear of the car, despite the reserves of power to draw from.
The suspension feels a little more old-school, though. It can’t deal with the initial bumps and imperfections in the road surface, while larger potholes do send quite the shock through the wheel and into the cabin.
How does it look?
Even now, the i8 looks like little else you’ll see on the road today. The striking looks of the coupe have been successfully transferred to the Roadster, too, even down to the dihedral doors which open up and out. It’s ageing gracefully, and has yet to look out-of-date.
Lopping the roof off makes it look even better, in our eyes. The fabric top does little to detract from the overall appearance of the car, and when it’s stowed away retains the car’s clean lines. Certainly, there were few people who didn’t stop to stare when it went past – particularly in the stealthy all-black finish our test car featured.
What’s it like inside?
The high-tech exterior of the i8 Roadster isn’t entirely reflected in the cabin. Though it does benefit from a new infotainment system, it doesn’t feel quite as special to sit in as it is to look at. Clamber over the extra-wide carbon sill, and you sit low down in a comfortable driving position. Everything is logically laid out, but given the high-tech look of so many sports car cabins currently on sale, it’s just not all that exciting.
The Roadster does without the rear seats of the coupe, but you do get a handy area to store soft travel bags. The boot itself is not large, but there is enough space for a few bags of shopping – at a push.
What’s the spec like?
As one of BMW’s flagship cars, you get plenty of in-car tech as standard with the i8 Roadster and given that it starts at £126,200, that’s a very good thing indeed. That said, there are ways to bump its price up; our car came with 20-inch bi-colour alloy wheels (£500) and BMW’s high-end LaserLights system – a hefty £5,100 extra. You can spot cars fitted with this latter feature by the blueish tinge to the headlamp units.
The infotainment system uses BMW’s latest iDrive software, and it’s very intuitive to use. The main display is a touchscreen too, though we found it easiest to control via the rotary dial in the centre of the cabin.
Like we’ve mentioned, the i8 has been around for some time, but this Roadster version feels anything but long in the tooth. It looks fantastic, drives with enough vigour to keep enthusiasts entertained and – because it’s a hybrid – it won’t cost too much to run, beside the initial upfront cost.
This Roadster version means you can take advantage of the good weather when it does – occasionally – make an appearance. And with the roof down and the wind in your hair, the quiet i8 Roadster does make a whole lot of sense.
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