I recently had the chance to drive the all-new BMW i8 Roadster, which is, as you might expect, a convertible version of the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. The i8 Roadster is a lot like the regular i8, except it has a removable roof and costs a bit more: The starting price is something like $165,000, versus about $150,000 for the coupe model. And I think it’s worth every penny.
I borrowed the i8 Roadster from Crevier BMW in Orange County, California, and they had this wonderful copper-colored example that looks very striking. This is one reason I like this car so much: it’s very striking. This has been true ever since the i8 originally came out back in 2014 — and although the design has grown a bit more familiar over the years, it’s still very cool to look at.
But the i8 is more than just cool-looking from the outside. It’s also cool when you start to play around with it, as it has butterfly-style doors that are hinged on the A-pillar, which are sure to make a scene when you pull up in the valet line at dinner. There’s also an unusual, futuristic interior that will wow any occupant, thanks to swoopy lines and strange placement of buttons and switches. It’s just plain cool.
And that’s all before you start it up. The best part about the i8 is the driving experience, as the i8 boasts about 375 horsepower, along with the instant torque you’ve come to expect from an electric vehicle — and a lot of it, as the i8 has about 420 lb-ft of torque. It also has all-wheel drive and instantaneous reactions when you step on it, as it screams (or, rather, glides mostly silently) from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 4.4 seconds.
Unfortunately, that silent gliding has been a cause of controversy. Even though the i8 looks cool, and backs up its cool look with numbers, many car enthusiasts have been slow to receive it because it’s an electric car. Car enthusiasts want manual transmission and angry, aggressive engine notes, and the i8 doesn’t deliver that — so there’s this feeling in the car business that the i8 must be a "lesser" sports car.
It isn’t. Take the i8 around corners and you’ll discover that it’s impressive to drive, with a low center of gravity giving it a flat feel in all situations. While the steering rack is a bit numb, like all new BMW models, steering is still acceptably sharp, and the car handles exactly as you’d want a sports car to handle: Predictably, and without any excessive feeling of weight you might worry an electric vehicle will deliver. The i8 truly drives like a good sports car, and that’s because it is a good sports car — and when you floor it at a green light or on a highway onramp, you’re jolted back in your seat just like you’d want to be in a sports car that costs $175,000.
To me, that’s the beauty of the i8. Electric vehicles haven’t really been aimed at car enthusiasts since they first went on sale. Consider the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, the Ford Focus Electric and the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. Even Tesla models, which are more exciting than the traditional EV, still have four doors and seating for the whole family. But the i8 is a true electric sports car; the first vehicle that convinced me that electric cars don’t have to be silent, boring hatchbacks that drive us to our destination without any excitement at all.
Indeed, the i8 is the beginning of an era — that of the "fun" electric car; the electric car that’s about more than just transportation. It’s nice to see that it’s still just as exciting as ever — except now, you can remove the roof and add just a little extra to the enjoyment.