The i8 Roadster appeared in 2019, amidst some confusion. If you don’t remember, the i8 Coupe had debuted in 2015 and sold great for a couple years, before stagnating as competition from Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, and Audi started heating up. It was hard to convince people to buy a 369-horsepower hybrid when AMG was offering a purpose built sportscar with a symphonic V8 and north of 500 horsepower. And the ever-present R8 and 911 Carrera did no favors.
The counterpoint is that the i8 may have just been a little ahead of its time. It’s unlike any other car in its class for one reason: it established a benchmark. It signaled many firsts for BMW, but it was also one of the first production hybrid supercars – even if it didn’t necessarily boast supercar performance on paper. And the i8 Roadster amplified every precedent the coupe had set.
Beauty More Than Skin Deep
First and most obviously; the BMW i8 Roadster is gorgeous. If you think otherwise, you’re wrong. It’s got the hallmarks of every great sports coupe: long wheelbase, short overhangs, ridiculous wedge shape. It’s got beautiful flying buttresses. You still have somewhat traditional kidney grilles up front, and the roadster particularly is already beginning to age quite gracefully. And of course, you can’t forget about the glorious scissor doors. The look is completed with 20” wheels and black-painted brakes.
One of my favorite advantages of the i8 Roadster over the coupe is that the beautiful interior on display for all the world to see. Standard Carbon Fiber trim pairs great with the great leather options the i8 had available to it. Most of the colors are bright and they all present great – ivory, “e-Copper” (think cognac), Dalbergia Brown, and of course standard Black. The gauges, while digital, are still better looking than iDrive 7 gauges – with a classic speedometer look and bold colors that change with the drive mode.
Location, Location, Location…
The BMW i8 Roadster, like its coupe counterpart, is good for 369 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, powering all four wheels. But that’s less important than where the power is coming from. Which in the i8’s case, is the middle. Being mid-engine makes the car more naturally balanced and offers driving dynamics totally unique from more traditional front engine options. Because of this, the i8 joins an exclusive club, made up of fantastic and extremely desirable cars – think the Lamborghini Aventador, Ferrari 488, and the Bugatti Chiron. Coupled with the carbon fiber reinforced plastic chassis and adaptive suspension, the i8 easily lives up to the supercar moniker.
But there’s another benefit to both the Roadster’s open roof and the location of the engine. You’re gifted front-row seats to the symphony of the surprisingly aggressive sounding three-cylinder turbo engine. It pairs nicely with the subtle whine of the electric motors and sounds like nothing else on the road.
The i8 set manufacturing precedents for BMW and gave us a great look at where the brand was already heading. The BMW i8 Roadster, particularly, promises to become a future classic because it offers a driving experience that can’t really be replicated – unless perhaps the Acura NSX roadster ever shows up. I consider the i8 to occupy the same space as the only other mid-engine BMW, the M1: an engineering feat that foreshadowed the next generations of BMW as a brand.