by Deiondre van der Merwe
Sports cars come and sports cars go, but only a few live on as true design icons of our time. The BMW i8 is one such car, but after nearly seven years in production, the i8's time has come, and 2020 will see the final i8 Roadster roll off the production line, bringing down the curtain on BMW's iconic carbon fiber hybrid sports car. It's had a good run, though, and with 369 horsepower on tap from a 1.5-liter turbo three-cylinder and plug-in hybrid system, a quick run from 0-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds could hardly be described as a sub-par performance. But when the world is hurling sports cars at you in the form of the Acura NSX and Porsche 911, you need to look to the future. The i8 Roadster has been one half of an exceptional engineering exercise for BMW - wading into the electric world in a meaningful manner - but with times rapidly evolving, so too must BMW. In 2020, the stylish i8 Roadster is no longer a competitive sports car, but it certainly won't be forgotten any time soon.
With production due to end in the first half of 2020, BMW is celebrating the i8's life with the i8 Ultimate Sophisto Edition. Built in limited numbers of just 200 worldwide (Coupe and Roadster combined), the limited edition will feature Sophisto Grey paint, E-Copper accents, and 20-inch alloy wheels, while inside, a "1 of 200" plaque will demonstrate the i8 Roadster's uniqueness. Aside from that, the i8 remains unchanged after undergoing visual and mechanical updates for the 2019 model year.
1.5-liter Turbo Inline-3 Plug-in Hybrid
A car ahead of its time, the BMW i8 has remained almost the same on the exterior since 2014, with a minor facelift in 2018, and it still manages to look futuristic with sharp and angular styling. LED lighting dominates the exterior in the front and the rear, while scissor doors are the entry point to a stunning cabin. A power-retractable soft-top makes sunny days hard to resist and, and the immaculate Roadster rests on a set of 20-inch light-alloy wheels. The Ultimate Sophisto Edition takes things a step further with a Sophisto Grey paint job and E-Copper accenting on the 'grille', wheels, and side skirts, while high gloss black elements are also employed for an under-the-radar effect.
Size-wise, the BMW i8 is bigger than both the Audi R8 and the Acura NSX. It's over ten inches longer than the R8 with a length measurement of 184.9 inches, and its 110.2-inch wheelbase surpasses rivals, too. A 76.5-inch width joins forces with a height of 50.7 inches to give the i8 an intimidating stance, and its curb weight of 3,501 lbs is lighter than that of the NSX, while an Audi R8 Spyder tips the scales at an enormous 3,957 lbs by comparison.
With an International Engine of the Year award under its belt, the powertrain of the BMW i8 Roadster is something special. The sporty drop-top enlists a TwinPower turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder hybrid engine that's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and produces 227 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. An electric motor manages 141 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque and is hooked up to a two-speed automatic transmission and an 11.6 kWh high-voltage battery, a crucial component to the amalgam that is the heart of the i8. The performance car is able to punch out a total of 369 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque to all corners, which is considerably less than the Acura NSX's 573 hp and 476 lb-ft figures, and considering that the NSX saves you a few thousand dollars, the i8 Roadster is certainly not the best choice in this category. Nevertheless, the BMW isn't slow by any means and the Roadster gets from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, just 0.2 slower than the Coupe.
Perhaps the i8 is judged too harshly because it's been marketed as a pure sports car for years, when it actually serves better as a spirited rocket for those who settle for nothing less than neck-breaking design and have the budget to prove it. The truth is, it isn't as sharp a sports car as an R8 or a Porsche 911, and behind the wheel, once you get past the sensation of speed, the i8 Roadster is a little devoid of feeling and communication. It's extremely quick, extremely capable, but with all the emotion of a pop-up toaster, with a false engine note pumped into the cabin that doesn't correlate with what the powertrain is doing, to boot. No one can claim the i8 isn't capable - although it does lose potency once the battery runs flat - but it isn't truly special. At least the i8 has supple suspension, which makes it an ideal daily driver, and despite dimensions larger than those of an R8, it feels incredibly nimble and easy to maneuver.
While performance may be comparable to traditional sports cars, the i8 Roadster's plug-in hybrid nature ensures that it's leagues ahead when it comes to gas mileage estimates. The EPA claims the Roadster matches the Coupe with estimates of 27 mpg on the combined cycle when using both gas and electricity, but unlike many a rival, the i8 can also be used in pure EV mode, in which it achieves 69 MPGe combined and will travel up to 18 miles. Charging will take just over three hours on a Level 2 charger, but can be as long as four on a household outlet; the 11.1-gallon fuel tank allows the i8 to keep going for 320 miles before you'll need to stop at the gas station.
Going for the i8 Roadster means that you'll have to come to terms with only being able to pick up one of the three women you wanted to for that A-list soiree, thanks to BMW removing the rear seats in favor of the soft-top roof. The front seats are comfortable and adequately bolstered, and the i8's outrageous design doesn't compromise on as much space and practicality as one would expect. The i8's frontal real estate bests both the Acura NSX and the Audi R8. As expected, the cabin is clad in leather from top to bottom and premium materials make an appearance throughout, while carbon fiber peaks through from the chassis. Visibility is also exceptional, contributing to the i8's ability to be driven daily.
Here's the thing, when you're buying something that looks like a spaceship sent from the year 3,000, space has to be compromised somewhere and we know it's not in the front, so you're free to take a guess where. That's right. A vest-pocket 2.3-cubic-foot trunk is the product of the sleek and angular Roadster, and the i8's trunk will dispute anything more than four bags of M&Ms. But it's not all doom and gloom for the Roadster, it offers a manageable amount of space for general storage inside the cabin in the ways of a sizable middle console, two cupholders, and a glovebox.
The i8 does well with its standard-fitted indulgences, and features are inclusive of a power-retractable fabric roof that can open and close in less than 16 seconds, and rain-sensing windshield wipers and keyless entry for the outside. On the inside, standard features are inclusive of a leather-clad tilt and telescopic steering wheel, six-way power-adjustable seats with heating and ambient lighting as well as automatic dual-zone climate control, cruise control and push-button start. A few standard safety features make their way onto the i8 via the Active Driving Assistant that adds frontal-collision warning with auto-braking, a surround-view camera, and pedestrian monitoring.
The i8's central hub of infotainment is an 8.8-inch touchscreen that creeps up next to the 8.8-inch instrument cluster display and enables BMW's iDrive system to be used. That, in turn, makes way for Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth streaming, HD Radio, and a navigation system, along with a 20 GB hard drive for audio file storage. Sirius XM also joins the party and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system seals the deal.
The 2020 BMW i8 Roadster hasn't been the victim of any recalls as yet, but the 2019 i8 range suffered two recalls for issues relating to the shutdown of electrical power, which may result in a loss of propulsion. Specific to the Roadster, there was a recall for the risk of fire or shock from the charging cable. Should anything go wrong, BMW offers a four-year/50,000-mile basic and drivetrain warranty, along with an eight-year/100,000-mile battery warranty. Roadside assistance is also standard for four years.
The BMW i8 Roadster hasn't been crashed in the name of the safety stars as yet, but the IIHS and NHTSA don't make a habit of chucking over $163,000 into the blender, so we'll just have to trust that the six airbags (dual front, front side, and dual front knee), standard safety features, and carbon-fiber chassis design will come to the rescue in any unfortunate situations. The BMW i8 offers a considerable number of standard safety features for the segment, and Active Driving Assistant allows for a surround-view camera with front and rear park distance control, frontal collision warning with mitigation, and pedestrian monitoring. Also included on the list are front and rear park sensors, ABS, stability control and an ultra-rigid chassis design.
The i8 Roadster may have taken a while to join the BMW roster, but it's done so in fine style, and in many ways, it trades on this style instead of its performance. While the figures may seem impressive, they're limited to how long the battery retains charged, and the way the i8 Roadster goes about the driving experience is one best described as arcade-like, making the Nissan GT-R feel like the most communicative car since the turn of the Millenium. But without rear seats and with a diminutive trunk, the i8's daily-drivable comfort is betrayed by sub-par practicality, while the interior just doesn't feel special for something with this price tag. Electricity may be the future, but the i8 is still a long way off of being the answer. With the i8's production now ending, we're not sure we'll miss the experience, but we will certainly miss its style.
The 2020 i8 Roadster has a debt-inducing MSRP of $163,300, which essentially means that wind in your hair has cost you an extra $15,800 over its closely-related sibling, the i8 Coupe. Its price point is one of the few gripes we have with it, and the Acura NSX is considerably more affordable with an MSRP of $157,500. This doesn't seem like such a big difference until you consider that the NSX also offers a neck-breaking design and a whole lot more power. Notably, if you want to get your hands on a brand new i8, you'll need to act fast as time is running out and production nears its end.
With just one trim level available, you'll have to customize your i8 Roadster with some additional add-ons. We'd recommend opting for the Tera World Package including exclusive Natural Brown leather upholstery for an additional $2,500 and the Sophisto Grey metallic paint at no extra cost. While you're at it, slam the Aerodynamic Kit on it for $500. A $995 destination fee is applicable to your purchase, and notably, if you want to get your hands on a brand new BMW i8 Roadster, you'll have to act fast, as production is ending for good in April. If you're a die-hard fan of the i8, you can get your hands on one of 200 limited Sophisto Edition i8s, but pricing is likely to be even higher - although BMW hasn't announced just how much it'll be just yet.
Both cars are attractive and sleek sports cars and wave the German flag proudly, but aside from that, these two are worlds apart. The R8 boasts a driver-focused interior and this is reflected even more by the absence of a central infotainment screen, while a flat-bottom steering wheel and aggressive sport seat just give an added touch. There's also the small detail that the R8 isn't a hybrid and drinks fuel like a frat boy at the Superbowl, although it more than makes up for this with a howling V10 engine that develops more than 600 hp, and provides repeatable performance that doesn't hinge on whether you remember to charge up or not. The BMW has outrageous exterior design going for it and trumps the Audi's fuel economy, but other than that, it can't hope to best the R8's refined character that comes at a moderately higher asking price. The extra few thousands of dollars are validated by the extra power and handling capability on offer by the R8.
Perhaps the i8's biggest rival, the Acura NSX, is priced quite a bit lower than the German Roadster and offers a lot more power from its twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6, but the hybrid system found on the Acura isn't a plug-in like the BMW. It must be said that the NSX doesn't offer an interior that is as luxurious as the i8, but loads of Alcantara does a good job of rescuing the situation and diverting attention to its sporty character. The NSX just exudes the sense of "Japanese race car" from every pore, and offers a driver's car that cannot be rivaled by the i8, nor competed with for outright performance. It's a daily-drivable supercar, whereas the BMW is merely a high-price sports car, the latter simply not doing enough to justify its price tag.
Check out some informative BMW i8 Roadster video reviews below.