BELLE OF THE BALL
The BMW i8 Roadster still leaves the impression of a cosseting tourer as opposed to a thrill-a-minute speedster. But that’s fine.
Chopping the roof off a car that started life with a fixed ceiling means compromising structural rigidity. But what it may lose in stiffness it gains in cool factor.
There are exceptions. Nissan once made a convertible version of its Micra, which was never sold here. We did get the Chrysler PT Cruiser cabriolet, however.
And Peugeot took the tinopener to their B-segment 206 and subsequent 207 models. Lest we forget, the larger 307 and 308 were also recipients of a haircut.
You cannot say with conviction that any of these humdrum hatchbacks became any more desirable sans cover.
On the other scale of the spectrum, dyed-inthe-wool performance cars that were first bred as coupés are destined for an immediate bump in allure, in drop-top guise. Ignore what ardent propagators of purity in driving dynamics say.
The inevitable body flex — or scuttle-shake would go unnoticed, or would not matter, during that ripe hour in which one gets the opportunity to soak up the rays and feel unified with nature.
As the foundation for a sparkling al fresco machine, the BMW i8 is nothing short of excellent. Tongues were wagging when the model was launched in 2014. The manufacturer billed its creation as the most progressive sports car ever. And that tagline still holds water.
Shrewd choice of word there, opting to position their i8 as a “sports” car rather than one you would dub “super.”
Because once the battery powering its electric motor is depleted, the three-cylinder engine in the middle would find itself secondbest in a robot-to-robot duel against certain hot hatchbacks. The output of the electric motor is quoted at 105kW and 250Nm; while the boosted 1499cc engine is good for 170kW and 320Nm. Ideally, you could drive for 53km without the internal combustion part of the mix kicking in.
In fairness, its intelligent technical make-up means that the i8 does not need oodles of power for respectable pace. Relying heavily on the use of carbon fibre and other lightweight composites, the i8 boasts a modest kerb weight of 1,595kg.
Alas, any wonderment surrounding the minutiae of its oily bits takes a backseat, when you see the cloth of the i8 Roadster peel back and fold away neatly. The process itself is an awesome party trick that leaves mouths agape, since operation can be executed while outside the vehicle.
Owners will surely master the art. Hold the unlock button with the key fob furtively tucked into your pocket. As you approach the undressing car, keep your nose pointed skywards in a nonchalant way, like a haughty French poodle strolling through James & Ethel Grey park in Rosebank. Maybe Instagram the theatrical display once or twice for good measure. Rinse, repeat.
But seriously, the attention this i8 seizes borders on problematic. Throngs of observers wielding their smartphones will congregate when you park it. Indecent proposals will be made. Relationships are likely to be ruined.
Sage advice: just leave the shindig early, by your lonesome and enjoy the open-air charms of the i8 Roadster in peace.
Allow me to assert that this variant of the model further enhances the virtues of the original coupé. It weighs negligibly more
(60kg) than its counterpart, a result of the additional toughening-up of the body structure that had to ensue.
BMW describes the whole packing as “intoxicating” but that will depend on your definition of the word. Because like its sibling; the Roadster still leaves the impression of a cosseting tourer as opposed to a thrill-a-minute speedster — à la BMW M2 coupé.
Which is just fine.
Serving as a showcase of innovation for the brand, the four-year-old i8 still stands prominently as a future-forward package amid a field of more traditional players. Roadster format undoubtedly makes it even more covetable. All yours for R2,329,300.
which electric vehicles feature prominently.
And the fact that the e-tron event took place in the state of California — or more precisely 56km north of Elon Musk’s Tesla assembly plant in Fremont — was no coincidence. The motor industry doesn’t believe in coincidences — they believe in marketing strategies and the five-seater etron will be a direct competitor for Musk’s brand while also aimed at the tech-savvy hub of Silicon Valley.
An investment of €600m at Audi’s plant in Brussels has resulted in the first e-tron rolling off the production line two weeks ago and is available immediately in America with a price tag starting at $74,800.
BEFITTING AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE
While the design of the vehicle includes many styling cues typical of Audi, there are a few nice elements befitting an electric vehicle. Speaking at a workshop just hours before its unveiling, exterior designer Juan-Carlos Huerta Martinez gave a glimpse into his thinking.
“We wanted the vehicle to be an SUV without compromise. The wheels are big like those of the Q7 while the front is upright with a low shoulder.
“Our aim was to maintain the same language for all the elements on the vehicle to give the exterior a cohesive look and feel.”
One particular feature of the vehicle that is a first in the world of motoring is the introduction of virtual side mirrors. Futuristic-looking most definitely, but they also appear to work extremely well. Images from rear-facing cameras are displayed on seven-inch screens resulting in the driver remaining more focused on what is in front of him rather than being distracted by sideways eye movement.
At the heart of an electric vehicle is obviously the battery and a particular concern has always been the charge range. Think back to the Nissan Leaf when it was first introduced in 2010. Revolutionary at the time, it had a limited range of approximately 100km — hardly practical in a country like SA where distances travelled are often vast.
The e-tron of today has a claimed range of 450km — depending on how the vehicle is driven — but the technology is constantly improving.
Critics might say that is fine, but what about charging points?
In Europe there are roughly 72,000 charging points available which are partnered through 220 operators, while in America the number is growing fast.
The e-tron comes with two electric motors — one at the front (125kW) and one at the rear (140kW) and are housed in a fully-enclosed casing lying in the underbelly of the vehicle. Torque is rated at an impressive 561Nm while quattro all-wheel drive is standard.
Performance-wise these combine for a 0100km/h time of 6.6 seconds. Both motors also have an eight-second boost function.
Though a quick test drive was obviously out of the question, I did manage to check out the interior and the Audi stamp of quality is quite evident. The materials used are of superior textures while build quality is what we have come to expect from the German marque.
While the e-tron may be the first fullyelectric vehicle Audi has brought to market, it definitely won’t be the last as there are plans to have 12 fully-electric models in their portfolio by 2025 and have roughly one-third of its sales coming from electrified models.
I must admit that in the past I’ve been a sceptic when it comes to the viability of electric mobility and SA remains way behind the likes of America and Europe when it comes to providing the necessary incentives and infrastructure.
But there is no denying the era of electric vehicles is here and now and will continue to grow for generations to come. It is, as Redding alluded to in his 1967 hit, about change and how you adapt.
The e-tron is due for release in South Africa mid-2019.