The new age icon loses its head – for the bet­ter!

Evo India - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy: Uwe Fis­cher

WHEN WE AS­SEM­BLED IN SUNNY Mal­lorca to drive the new i8 Road­ster, es­sen­tially the sci-fi i8 with its roof lopped off, I had only one per­ti­nent ques­tion to ask, from an auto-geek per­spec­tive: with the roof off how had the struc­tural in­tegrity been ad­dressed? Had it been beefed up and if so how much was the weight penalty, more so be­cause BMW's pi­o­neer­ing mass-pro­duced car­bon-fi­bre tech would have needed even more in­ge­nu­ity for such an ap­pli­ca­tion.

The an­swer from the BMW boffins stumped me! “No we haven't done much on this is­sue and in fact the superstructure's over­all struc­tural rigid­ity might have slightly re­duced,” said Rainer Rump, project head for the i8 Road­ster. And be­fore I could pop in an­other ques­tion given the look of in­credulity on my face he added, “We have how­ever ad­dressed this with more tweaks to the sus­pen­sion and the rub­ber used and the car per­forms just as well. Hope you will ex­pe­ri­ence this for your­self the next day on the twisty moun­tain roads and we will dis­cuss it later the next even­ing over din­ner.”

This was stun­ning to say the least be­cause it's a rule of thumb that cabrios crafted out of coupes and GTs in­vari­ably have added struc­tural mem­bers wrought into the mono­coque so that the sporty ride and han­dling aren't com­pro­mised by flex. The over­all ro­bust na­ture of the de­sign of the i8's car­bon­fi­bre tub cum body­work how­ever al­lows the i8 Road­ster to per­form just as well as the Coupe! Also as I found out, I thought it brings in a whole new ex­pe­ri­ence to what was ear­lier gim­micky and more Star Wars than a new leap in the fore­front of chang­ing au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy.

When I had first driven the i8 about three years ago in Italy, I had found that it was more in the realm of get­ting on to the so­cial as­pect of mak­ing sportscars more tol­er­a­ble to the green bri­gade (who might never have got into sports cars any­way!). With its roof now lopped off but with those dra­matic but­ter­fly doors yet re­tained, the orig­i­nal sci-fi char­ac­ter of the car has been trans­formed more into a su­per­car stance and look and that's most wel­come. How­ever in case you are con­sid­er­ing this to be the equiv­a­lent or an al­ter­na­tive to the likes of the es­tab­lished Porsche 911 or the Audi R8, you need not ap­ply here.

What you could look for­ward to how­ever from the i8 Road­ster is a more in­volv­ing and bet­ter driv­ing GT-es­que ma­chine that is ca­pa­ble of pulling in smiles even be­fore you know it! For starters, the car han­dles im­pec­ca­bly and this has all to do with more feel en­gi­neered not just into the re­vised steer­ing set-up but also in the way the brak­ing sys­tem has been re­cal­i­brated for mere mor­tals. Let me ex­plain. One of the early grouses in the i8 came from the wooden feel from the brake pedal when the an­chors were thrown in and also the vague floaty steer­ing

that seemed life­less in in­form­ing its pi­lot what it was do­ing. The ride and han­dling boffins at BMW, aided by its pha­lanx of DTM race driv­ers on con­tract per­formed the over­all tun­ing of the sus­pen­sion, steer­ing and brakes while keep­ing in mind the rigid­ity of the mono­coque. I won't get into the de­tails of what and how long it took to achieve a ma­jor im­prove­ment to de­light whoso­ever gets to pi­lot the Road­ster but the re­sult is more feel and feed­back from the steer­ing, in­clud­ing be­ing nicely weighted and this al­lows one to thrown the car into tight as well as fast cor­ners and come out grin­ning stupidly! All this is height­ened fur­ther in Sport mode and what you get is one strong surge of per­for­mance with the man­ners to match.

Speak­ing of per­for­mance (yes I will get to the brakes af­ter this be­cause it is a per­for­mance is­sue!), the ba­sic 1.5-litre triple is re­tained al­most in the same trim and spec as in the i8 from day one but a new bat­tery pack has been added (cell ca­pac­ity upped from 20 to 34Ah), with­out any gain in weight. This ef­fec­tively means that over­all power has in­creased to a to­tal of 374bhp with the petrol mo­tor ac­count­ing for 231 horses (made at 5800rpm) and the new high-den­sity bat­ter­ies cum mo­tor de­liv­er­ing 143bhp (at 4800rpm). This is a near 12bhp in­crease from the elec­tric propul­sion sys­tem but what is even more use­ful is that it helps boost the i8 Road­ster's pure elec­tric drive in hybrid mode to 105km/h which could be fur­ther upped to 120km/h in ac­ti­vated eDrive mode if you are for spir­ited motoring! Of course, the i8 Road­ster has an all-elec­tric range of 53km. The six-speed Step­tronic trans­mis­sion is re­tained for the petrol only and hybrid modes while a twospeed au­to­matic gear­box han­dles the elec­tric drive to the front wheels.

And here is where we need to speak about the brakes for a car that can zap from stand­still to 100km/h in just 4.6 sec­onds (no

The car han­dles im­pec­ca­bly and this is all to do with more feel en­gi­neered into the steer­ing set-up and brak­ing sys­tem

slouch this for a car that not many con­sider a su­per­car ri­val to the es­tab­lished man­darins in class) and run up to an elec­tron­i­cally limited 250km/h max speed. The brakes feel more pro­gres­sive as well as seamless, thanks to the change wrought from switch­ing over from just en­ergy re­cu­per­a­tion to a more con­ven­tional-brak­ing feel and that helps quite

a lot. In the course of my drive around the is­land, I dis­cov­ered enough new facets of this car that I am sure only build up its ar­moury of de­lights. The State-of-Charge mode helps to idle around in quiet splendour while yet main­tain­ing a healthy level of bat­tery juice, this be­ing so very im­por­tant when I was un­der at­tack from cy­clists both from the front and also those who I had to over­take! Mal­lorca is a haven for bi­cy­cle sport in Europe and with a big fixture lined up for the com­ing week­end, it seemed that all the world's bi­cy­cle rac­ers had con­gre­gated here to just spice things up! And yes one more thing, if you seem to have run out of charge the best way to get them all tanked up was to se­lect Sport mode en­abling the three-cylin­der en­gine to top up the bat­tery on the move!

So far so good but the i8 Road­ster is now a mag­net, which could be hand­ful on nar­row roads teem­ing with cy­clists as I found out. For one it is way too wide and given its silent elec­tric op­er­at­ing na­ture, creeps up on ve­hi­cles ahead rather sur­rep­ti­tiously! BMW had thought this thing through and the new i8 Road­ster has its en­gine note mul­ti­plied by an equaliser-based sound sys­tem, which via a loud­speaker housed in the left un­der­side of the car and point­ing down de­liv­ers a slightly roarty au­dio!

That aside this is a car, which de­lights and de­lights com­pre­hen­sively, more in the way of fine man­ners, good feed­back and fan­tas­tic looks and crea­ture com­forts mak­ing it a great all-day driv­ing tool. The top folds down com­pletely and nes­tles into a very tiny space with­out im­ped­ing the lug­gage space (good for a cou­ple of overnighters!). It might not find favour with the sportier set but on its own in a class of one – still the world's best sell­ing petrol-elec­tric hybrid sportscar – it is now a more in­volv­ing au­to­mo­bile to drive fast with­out harm­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. And yes it also stays stead­fast to do­ing more from less and in this no one comes close, as yet! ⌧

Be­low: Thanks to the car­bon con­struc­tion, lop­ping the top off has had no down­side to rigid­ity or han­dling, as Adil ex­pe­ri­ences on the twisties of Mal­lorca

Above: The i8's car­bon­fi­bre tech and light­weight con­struc­tion has made its way to the Mal­izia yacht that will com­pete in the 25,000 nau­ti­cal mile Vendee Globe race

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