Sixteen seconds. That’s all the time it takes for BMW’s magical i8 plug-in hybrid two-seater to morph from simply brilliant to spectacular.
Four long years after the introduction of the groundbreaking i8 coupe, it’s now available as a sun-on-your-face, fresh-air-in-your-follicles roadster. This development easily ramps up the i8’s desirability factor to 11.
Simply put, it makes a terrific convertible. Hold down a switch hidden beneath a center console flap and watch as the rear deck opens and the canvas top concertinas and descends vertically into a narrow well behind the seats. Anna Pavlova’s pas de deux weren’t this fluid.
As an added benefit, drivers can orchestrate this mechanical ballet while cruising along at 31 mph. If a red light turns green in the middle of a roof descent, fret not: You can still ease away. Feel a drop of rain? No need to pull over—just slow down.
The only compromise is that the roadster loses those teeny rear seats that come standard in the coupe. In their place, however, is a storage bin big enough to swallow a couple of small roll-aboard suitcases or squishy gym bags.
What remains is the i8’s futuristic swagger. This Munich missile looks like a scissor-doored extra from Blade Runner 2049, ready at any moment to lift off and glide away at warp speed. It’s a Jetsons-esque concept car you can actually power up and whir off in.
And whir it does. Up front a single high-torque electric motor channels AC horseys to the front wheels. For 2019, a more powerful lithium-ion battery pack yields 14 more hp than the previous coupe. It takes peak output up to 143 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.
Select electric-only Eco mode and the battery pack (which is stashed under the center console) will deliver around 18 miles of zero-emission cruising at speeds up to 75 mph. It’s ideal for scooting around town or stop-starting in commuter traffic.
To heighten the fun factor, the i8 sticks with its feisty 1.5-liter turbo 3-cylinder gas motor. This thing can crank out 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, and drive the rear wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Add gas and electric together and the result is a combined 369 hp and meaty 420 lb-ft of torque.
PRICE: $163,300 ENGINE: 1.5-liter turbo 3-cylinder/electric POWER: Combined 369 hp TORQUE: 420 lb-ft TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic 0-60: 4.4 seconds TOP SPEED: 155 mph LENGTH/WIDTH: 185/77 inches WEIGHT: 3,520 pounds WHY WE LOVE IT: Because turning the original i8 coupe into a roadster only heightens its appeal.
In an era of 840-hp Dodge Demons and 755-hp Corvette ZR1s, the i8’s 369 horsepower sounds about as exciting as an episode of 60 Minutes. But the beauty of the i8 roadster is that it never feels anything less than thrilling to drive.
Dial up Sport mode, step on the right pedal, and this Beemer will whizz from standstill to 60 in 4.4 seconds, the electric motor up front and gas engine at the back effectively producing instant-traction all-wheel drive. Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing Starfighter didn’t scoot this fast.
It helps that the roadster weighs roughly the same as a Tupperware container and comes with a soundtrack that mimics a Yankee V-8 on steroids. It’s a synthesized faux rumble played through the i8’s speakers—but it still sounds like aural muscle.
Find yourself a twisty back road, and this roadster comes into its own. With the top and windows down, the car feels deliciously open to the elements. Its relatively narrow body makes it easy to place on the road, while its phenomenal electric-assist steering has the sharpness and precision of a surgeon’s scalpel.
What truly sets this vehicle apart is its ride comfort. Unlike so many hip-high supercars that jolt and jiggle over the smoothest of blacktops, the i8 always feels composed.
The price of such majesty? That would be a cool $163,300, or $15,800 more than the coupe. As for being the perfect convertible for the Florida winter? Well, that’s priceless. «