BMW i8 roadster
Hybrid electric supercar drops its top
Driving the BMW i8 Roadster in Majorca, Spain, was certainly a joyful experience, giving us an opportunity to appreciate this car in both its e-avatar and with its turbocharged might
The BMW i8 was the first production car to get LED laser headlights. It did not look like a production car; rather it looked like a one-off prototype when it was launched as a sports coupé. Over the years, we have seen sports cars like the E-Type Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL with the gull-wing doors, but in both the cases the Roadsters were the better looking cars and it was a no-brainer that BMW would launch an i8 Roadster. There are no visible exhausts, BMW’s trademark kidney grille is blanked off, the sills get shrink-wrapped behind the rear wheels as if there is no engine back there, and the bodywork folds up from the doors and cascades down, never meeting but eventually bookending the tail-lights. The rear LED taillights complement the laser LED headlights to give the car a futuristic look at the rear as well. In the dark with the laser headlights and the rear LED switched on, the car does look futuristic. The i8 Roadster looks just stunning.
The i8 chassis is made of aluminium and it cradles an electric motor in the nose, with a spine of lithium-ion batteries running between the axles and turbocharged petrol engine just ahead of the rear wheels. On top of that sits a carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell like a body on chassis construction and it is all wrapped in a thermoplastic skin. Whenever a coupé loses its roof, the weight of the car goes up because you need to reinforce the body and the chassis. While speaking to Head of Product Design, Robert Forrest, I asked him how reinforcement work was done and his answer was, ‘Very little’, because the original chassis and body were already very strong.
Ingress and egress in a sports car is quite tricky, but with the roof down it was a breeze. The multi-function steering and the layout of the dashboard are driver-focused and the head-up display makes life easy while driving. You don’t have to take your eyes off the road. The leather seats offer plenty of lateral support and are very comfortable. The soft top has a carbon-fibre lining inside to keep it from getting deformed at high speed and can be opened and closed at speeds up to 50 km/h. The opening and closing is done with electric motors. The interior is well-appointed as one would expect of BMW.
The drive started from the resort we were staying at. Having spent two days on the island of Majorca, driving the MINIs, I had become familiar with most of the driving routes. The first five kilometres of the drive were on battery power and front-wheel-drive and without a sound until we came to the narrow village roads. The turn of foot is excellent as the response from the electric motor is instantaneous. There is 250 Nm of torque on tap from the word go. The uprated power output of 105 kW (14 3 PS) from the electric motor propels the i8 to 120 km/h with ease. This electric motor is mated to a two-speed gearbox and drives the front wheels.
As soon as I got on the mountain section, I pulled the gear-shifter towards me to select the Sport mode. A complete transition takes place: the steering
The car handles like a dream and it was a joy to throw it round corners in the Majorcan countryside with gay abandon
weighs up, the exhaust note changes via the speakers, the exhaust sounds like a V8 engine and is really intoxicating, the suspension becomes firmer, and the meter console colour changes from blue to orange.
The real gem in this whole package is the 1,.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces a stunning 231 PS and 320 Nm. A combined output of 374 PS and 570 Nm is at your disposal in Sport mode. There is an 11-kW (15-PS) motor at the rear which transforms the responsiveness of the engine and gearbox. It doubles up as a starter motor, but when you shift down, it flicks up the r evs as if there is a lightweight racespec flywheel with no inertia, giving the impr ession that the triple has the same liveliness as the instant-torque e-motor up front. This three-cylinder motor is mated to a six-speed auto ’box.
The i8 is capable of 0 to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h (electronically limited). With all this performance the i8 r eturns 14 kilometres to a litre, which, to say the least, is phenomenal for a supercar.
The transition from electric power to the combined power of electric and petrol engine is absolutely seamless. The car handles like a dream and it was a joy to throw it round corners in the Majorcan countryside with gay abandon, thanks to the four-wheel drive. The car held on to the line around turns without the slightest hitch. The narrow tyres used for low rolling resistance did not hamper its handling either. The ride quality of the i8 is on the firm side as one would expect of a supercar. The only issue I had was the A-pillar which created a blind spot while going around tight left-hand corners.
To sum it all up, if you want to stand out from the crowd, then the i8 roadster is the car for you — it will draw all the attention you want without making a noise or polluting the environment.
( Below) Full function with fantastic form; tweaked aero looks sharp as ever