In the time since we last drove BMW’s i8 (read the review here), the coupe has gone on the be the world’s highest selling plug-in hybrid sports car. We rated it then, and we rate it now. It’s a proper supercar, and last week it was joined by its open-top sister at the Australian launch.
In a quiet back lane in Melbourne’s trendy Cremorne, i8 boasted its green credentials.
We were joined by BMW executives from Munich for the event such is the importance of the Australian market.
“The BMW i8 hybrid sports car has justifiably served as a futuristic halo for the BMW brand since its 2014 introduction,” said BMW Group Australia CEO, Marc Werner.
“With the latest updates, including the debut of the incredible i8 Roadster, BMW i is again trailblazing. With increased power and storage capacity, it’s the best of both worlds.
“The BMW i8 Roadster delivers the open sports car experience with zero-emission capability. And it looks truly stunning,” he said.
As beautiful as its roofed sister, the roadster sets a benchmark for gorgeousness.
Scissor doors, and a soft top roof give the sleek hybrid a cutting edge look without being over the top. I8 sits at the top of the BMW tree and has been lavished with a full suite of additions.
The soft top is fully automatic and opens in 15 seconds. 20” bi-colour wheels look spectacular and carry mixed size tyres. The wheel weights 1kg less than previously fitted to the Coupe..
Just in case you don’t know you’re looking at a drop top, “Roadster” is written in large friendly letter on the C pillar just behind the window. Likewise, the coupe has “Coupe” in the same spot.
E-Copper metallic and Donington Grey metallic have been added to the choice of exterior paint finishes with both featuring Frozen Grey metallic highlights.
The Roadster’s sleek styling retains the aerodynamic sculpting culminating in a graceful arch over the tail light. LED lighting all-round looks spectacular at night, but it is how it lights the road that makes a night time drive such a treat.
With the roof down, the glass rear widow acts as a wind deflector. It raises by 30mm for extra protection. With the roof up, it can be lowered to give the cabin open air ambience without the risk of sunburn.
Pictures don’t do i8 justice. The curves, bends, and surfaces play with light in a way that not only catches the eye, but is practical on the road.
The cabin feels so “normal” for anyone who has been in a BMW recently. That seems like a strange statement, but the handsome exterior conveys a certain mystique. You expect the car to be hard to use. Many supercars are just that, almost impossible to live with. Not so with i8.
Getting in is as much of a palaver as in the Coupe. There is an art to sitting on the sill and sliding in so that you drop right into the seat. Getting out is slightly easier, but only just.
It is unlikely to worry a buyer though.
The dash and console form a cockpit to envelope the driver utterly in the on-road experience. “Touchpoints” are the parts of a car you would regularly come in contract with while using the dials, knobs and switches. i8 has a ceramic iDrive controller with “i8” emblazoned across the top, just in case you forgot what you were driving. There is a charm and warmth you might not expect.
iDrive is getting easier to use with each iteration and the LCD (touch) screen is crystal clear. Even better, i8 continues to gain advances other BMWs enjoy. Programming the system with personal preferences
Seats are firm and supportive, yet comfortable and cosy. Coverings feel luxurious and fittings have that air of BMW rock-solid quality. Instruments have an ergonomic simplicity that belies the complex systems within the fibre of i8.
There are 3 interior options:
Carpo Design includes Spheric’ perforated leather seat upholstery and a natural ‘Walknappa’ leather for the instrument panel.
Upholstery can be specified in Ivory White for the i8 Coupé, or in bi-colour Ivory White / Black for the Roadster. A Satin Silver contrast ring features on the black leather steering wheel
The ‘Halo’ interior world offers combination natural leather ‘Exclusive’ with Dalbergia Brown cloth contrasts and a double lapped seam in BMW i Blue. .
The dashboard is covered in combination Dalbergia Brown natural leather and ‘Walknappa’ leather, while the door trims also feature natural leather trim. A distinctive BMW i Blue contrast ring highlights the Dalbergia Brown leather steering wheel
Last but not least, the Accaro interior offers ‘Exclusive’ natural leather in bi-colour Amido/E-Copper, with complementary natural leather highlights to the door, side and dashboard trims.
Contrasting ‘Walknappa’ leather sections complete the door panel and dashboard finishes and the steering wheel is in black leather with a contrast ring in Satin Silver.
There are subtle changes to the cockpit design too.
The centre console slants 12 degrees towards the driver, A large colour HUD system, which also incorporates shift light projection when in Sport mode, is modelled on the system deployed in BMW’s M vehicles.
BMW’s Navigation system Professional now sports a 10.25-inch colour display with a tile-based interface and touchscreen functionality.
The premium suite of BMW ConnectedDrive features is also included. This brings Intelligent Emergency Call, TeleServices, ConnectedDrive Services, Remote Services, Real-Time Traffic Information and Concierge Services.
Other interactive systems include the 11-speaker harman/kardon surround sound system, DAB+ digital radio tuner and USB interface, while the advanced BMW Display Key and natural language voice recognition are also standards.
An upgraded battery gives extra range (55km up from 37km). It sits in the centre of the body and has been increased by 70% to 11.64kw.
Up to 120kph, the electric motor can be used on its own. Although a 55km range is claimed, a real-world range of 40km is more likely.
The 105kw electric motor is paired to a 170kw 1.5L 3-cylinder turbo petrol engine for a combined 275kw and a huge 570Nm of torque. The Coupe gets around 2.4L/100k and the Roadster 2.4L/100k. It’s the 0-100 time of 4.6 seconds is just 0.2 seconds slower than the coupe. That’s not too shabby for a car weighing 1595kg.
Transmissions are a complex combination of a 6-speed auto and a 2-speed auto powering the petrol and electric motors respectively. The petrol engine powers the rear wheels while the electric motor takes care of the front wheel, giving i8 AWD. They work together so that the driver experiences smooth long-range supercar performance. A single 30L tank would tackle a Sydney-Melbourne road trip in a single bound.
i8 drives like it is on rails, just like the Coupe (so we are told). Sadly, there is only 1 i8 Roadster in the country and no one is actually allowed to take it on the road just yet.
BMW is at the forefront of 21st century mobility development. It is no longer about people relying solely on a fossil fuel powered personal transport option. There will be a mix of personal and public transport along with a mix of propulsion options. All vehicles will be connected to each other and to a call centre. Self-driving vehicles are coming our way too.
In countries like Denmark, a single card allows users to make a journey from start to finish using any form of transport available. It might include bikes, trains, cars, buses, and trams just by swiping a single pass on each. i signals exciting new possibilities.
Until pure EV models are the norm, range extended hybrids will continue to increase in popularity, with or without short-sighted government support.
A system of charging will need to be expanded. The market has decided, and charging stations are popping up like mushrooms. Service stations, shopping centres, and hotels all see the benefit of encouraging clean green transport. They can offset the fossil-fuel power generation by installing solar generation. It seems obvious, but perhaps needs pointing out.
Andreas Klugescheid, V.P. Sustainability and Environment, said “unlike some other manufacturers, BMW is developing EV and hybrid cars, and is profitable”, in a not-so-subtle dig at the American Tesla brand.
He went on to say that no EV has been possible without government subsidy and support. This perhaps explains the slow up-take in Australia when compared to Europe and the USA.
i8 is as jaw-droppingly stunning now as when it first landed on our shores
Engine: 1.5 3 cylinder + electric motor, 275kW/570Nm comb. Output
Transmission: 6speed auto (petrol engine), 2 speed auto (electric motor)
My Rating: 9/10