BMW i8 Roadster review – new open top hybrid sports car

BMW’s petrol-electric i8 may be niche, but this new Roadster adds to the model’s appeal.

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PRICE: $168,835
Looks, uniqueness, ev powertrain makes more sense with more range and performance
More a GT car than a sports car, performance more hot hatch

As BMW’s i8 coupe approaches half a decade on our roads, the Munich firm has given its petrol-electric sports car not only a mid-life facelift, but also increased its electric driving range. Far more obviously, however, it has doubled the number of models in the line-up with the introduction of an i8 Roadster.  

This new variant has been created in response to customer demand. BMW’s product planners had never intended for the i8’s carbon tub to be used without a roof, which meant there were a few hurdles to get over before the Roadster could be revealed at the LA motor show at the end of 2017. But the result is an open-top two-seater that loses none of the original coupe’s design impact and increases the appeal of this unique hybrid sports car. 

Engine, transmission and 0-100 time

The three-cylinder, 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine is untouched in the i8 Roadster, producing the same 228bhp and 236lb ft as it has since the Mini-sourced unit was positioned behind the rear seats and ahead of the rear axle in the original coupe. The six-speed auto remains the same, too, sending drive to the rear wheels. 

Technical highlights

Away from the battery cell improvements (see above), the big technological change to the i8 Roadster is the one made to the car’s structure in turning it from a coupe to a convertible. 

What’s it like to drive?

Like an i8 coupe but with the option to test some sun cream and hair care products. Actually, there’s more to it than that. The increase in power is masked by the additional 60kg weight penalty the Roadster has over the coupe, but while you don’t get G-inducing forces you do get a much more characterful and engaging experience.  

With the roof down the electric motors that is all but mute in the coupe gains a voice – admittedly a bit of a whiny voice, but if you’re a sci-fi fan you’ll probably think you’re an extra in Tron as the sound intensifies as speeds increase. If you’ve ever been to a Formula E race (honestly, give one a go) it’s not far off the noise the single-seaters make when accelerating out of slower corners. Talking of which, another benefit of the larger-capacity battery cells is that the i8 Roadster will now happily drive along under electric power alone at speeds up to 120kph. 

With the three-cylinder motor running and the roof open there’s a more melodic beat to the engine that’s absent from the coupe. It’s still no naturally aspirated straight-six, but with the roof open (or the little rear screen retracted) there’s more of a rasp from the exhaust and the now audible chuffs and puffs from the turbocharger add to the soundtrack. 

Price and rivals

BMW will charge you $168,835 for an i8 Roadster, and it’s a car that has no direct rivals. For a drop-top alternative, therefore, look towards Jaguar’s F-type SVRConvertible at $159,940 or Mercedes-AMG’s GT Roadster at $150,730, both of which offer very different driving experiences from the BMW and have drivetrains that are light years behind the i8’s. 

This article originally appeared at

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