The BMW i8 pioneered its class, but not even the new Roadster slows the aging process.
The BMW i8 revolutionized a segment. The radically styled, gasoline-electric hybrid-powered coupe beat its competitors to the punch, debuting in 2014 with powertrain technology that companies like Aston Martin, Porsche, and others, aren’t planning in their sports cars until at least 2020. In that respect, the i8 is a pioneer.
But the BMW i8, while a trailblazer, hasn’t evolved to match what buyers want in 2019. While it still looks good on the outside, BMW’s iDrive infotainment system isn’t as modern as it once was, and the i8’s failure to adopt modern active safety equipment makes it less well-rounded than other cars in the class. And it still isn’t super fun to drive. But hey, at least it’s offered as a convertible now.
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At $163,300 to start, the 2019 BMW i8 Roadster isn't affordable by any stretch. In fact, it's the most expensive vehicle in its class; pricier than the closest rivaling hybrid, the Acura NSX ($157,500), and other non-hybrid coupes like the Porsche 911 ($113,300), Mercedes-AMG GT ($133,500), and Audi R8 ($138,7000).
But unlike most BMWs, shockingly, options don’t push the i8's asking price sky high. The $2,500 Terra World Copper trim tested here includes four paint jobs (including E-Copper with Frozen Grey accents), three 20-inch wheel options, and an E-Copper leather with cloth inserts, all standard. Only LED adaptive headlights with laser light accents are optional ($6,300).
Near-fully loaded our i8 costs $172,100. It has a mere $8,800 worth of options (relative, I know), but generally feels well equipped for what you get.
Gallery: 2019 BMW i8 Roadster: Review
The BMW i8 is easily one of the best looking cars in the class. Its futuristic features haven’t aged a bit – typically over-the-top styling dates quickly. The slim LED headlights and faux dual kidney grilles give the i8 an eye-catching look up front, while the floating roof, moon-shaped taillights, and electric blue accents help define the sleek rear-end.
The i8 looks more enticing in its new-for-2019 E-Copper orange-ish finish with frozen grey accents. And though this writer prefers the hardtop visually, the removable roof doesn't detract too dramatically from the coupe’s stunning styling. It looks especially good with the cloth top stowed. There are three 20-inch wheel options, each with their own cues, but the directional silver-on-black alloys (“style 470”) on our tester aren't the best look. We prefer the two straight-edged, 15-spoke options, available in either silver on black or jet black.
The i8 Roadster is less alluring once you pop open the butterfly doors. Sure, we love the new E-Copper exclusive leather seats with light cloth inserts, but the i8's interior is pretty plain otherwise. Black leather and plastic cover the dash, with only a few brushed aluminum accents to offset the bland look. And while the center console forms seamlessly into the front air vents and instrument cluster surround with a shapely bow, the 8.8-inch screen looks like a last-minute add on.
For a two-door, the BMW i8 is shockingly comfortable. The Lexus LC is the only car in its class that's cushier (and that’s much more GT than sports car, anyways), and the Acura NSX comes close. The optional E-Copper leather seats with cloth inserts don't just look good, they cushion your rump better than most. And the soft suspension, while not as conducive to carving corners, makes the i8 extremely smooth and comfortable on road. The best part is, in pure EV mode, the cabin is whisper quiet. Hell, even with the gas engine running, there's very little engine noise that penetrates the cabin.
But you do have to sacrifice with the removable roof. The i8 coupe's barely usable back seats disappear in place of a small shelf, which you'll need. The i8's 2.0 cubic feet of trunk space is worse than both the Mazda Miata (4.59 cubic feet) and Smart ForTwo (7.8 cubic feet).
Man, technology moves fast. And despite its futuristic looks, the i8 feels a step behind in the tech department. Here’s the good: an 8.8-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay. While most CarPlay systems still use wires, we welcome the wireless tech with open arms here (even if it costs $80 extra per year in subscription feel).
The bad news arrives via the baked-in iDrive infotainment system. It looks and feels dated relative to the newer, better systems available elsewhere, even within BMW’s own lineup. The 3 Series, X7, X5, and a few others have the new iDrive system, which is simpler to use and feels far more advanced than this. The old iDrive still works fine and is easy enough to use, but it's no longer the pinnacle of infotainment with far more advanced systems out there.
The i8 Roadster isn't as thrilling to drive as it is nice to look at. Everything about it feels artificial; the steering is overboosted, the suspension is too cushy, and the braking is soft. With improved damping and better steering for 2019, the i8 does feel a bit tighter all around, but the lifeless chassis makes it far less fun to toss around corners than most other cars in the class.
A high point is the turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-three and two electric motors, which receive power from a 11.6-kilowatt-hour battery pack (up from 7.1 kWh). The setup now produces 369 horsepower, a 12-hp improvement over the previous i8. Supposedly that extra power propels the i8 Roadster to 60 miles per hour in just 4.4 seconds, but it doesn't feel too quick by any means. Most comparably priced cars feel (and are) much quicker from the seat of your pants, anyway.
The turbocharged engine and electric motors, with the rear wheels gripping the pavement, propel the i8 along smoothly. You won't find neck-snapping speed, not even with the stiffer adaptive damper setting and improved throttle map in Sport mode. There's a slight delay from the spooling turbo and just a pinch of electronically assisted torque from the battery pack. The augmented “whoosh” pumped through the speakers sounds neat, at least.
The i8 Roadster lauds its “Active Driving Assistant," but that's just a fancy way to define a system that lacks multiple features. Sure, it includes lane-departure warning, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, and low-speed automatic front braking, but there's no lane-keep assist, high-speed automatic front braking, or adaptive cruise control. Given the i8's poor visibility, we'll gladly take any help available to avoid getting into a fender bender.
But if we have to applaud the i8 Roadster anywhere, it's the headlights. The LED laser lights look phenomenal at night, and appropriately futuristic. The clarity they provide makes them some of the best headlights we've encountered.
At an EPA-rated 26 miles per gallon city, 29 highway, and 27 combined, the BMW i8 is the second most efficient vehicle in its class, just behind the Lexus LC 500h (26/35/30). The hybrid Acura NSX (21/22/21) comes close, but other non-hybrid competitors like the Porsche 911 Turbo (19/24/21) and Audi R8 (14/25/18) fall far behind the efficiency mark.
Sure, the i8 doesn't return Prius-type numbers (which docks its overall score on our scale), but it strikes the ideal balance between sporty and efficient for the class. And it’s plug-in ability makes it even more appealing.