If you want to be a trailblazer, the new two-seater BMW i8 Roadster is one of the most visually striking cars on the market that’s got all eyes on the future. It’s got the looks, it’s got the power – and it’s also remarkably affordable to run. It’s freshening things up in a market dominated by names like the 911 that have been around for decades.
It’s also remarkably different from the competition. It’s a plug-in hybrid – a sports car for the green-minded buyer who wants to have fun whilst doing their bit for the environment. Despite having a social conscience, it’s as engaging as you expect a BMW to be, even if its driving experience will take some getting used to.
BMW has a long history of making cars in Germany, read about it in our brief history of the Germany car manufacturer.
OSV takes a closer look at what it’s all about with our 2018 BMW i8 Roadster review.
Overview of the BMW i8 Roadster
On the Road
This is a sports car – but not as we know it. It’s like something from the future, and while it’s meant to rival the likes of the Porsche 911, and whilst it’s as engaging as you expect a BMW to be, there’s no denying that its driving experience feels sort of “digital”.
That’s the best way of putting it in one word. The i8 combines a conventional 1.5-litre 228bhp petrol engine with a 141bhp electric motor to create a stunning experience that will be unlike anything you’ve yet experienced.
0-62 can be achieved in just 4.6 seconds, which should put to bed any rumours that a car like this can’t compete with the likes of a 911 in a straight line. True, the i8 isn’t as vocally thrilling as a 911, but its three-cylinder petrol engine still does a fair bit of howling.
In terms of how it handles, this Roadster version is similar to the Coupe. Its front wheels are electrically driven, and they add traction when you take bends. Meanwhile, the rear wheels are controlled by the petrol engine, and as such, they shoulder most of the work. Body lean is kept in check, and the i8 can cover lots of ground in a short space of time.
BMW have tweaked the i8’s spring and dampers so that the car doesn’t run as wide if you take bends with too much enthusiasm. The wheel still feels a tad artificial, though, and it’s this Playstation-esque disconnect between you and the road that makes the driving experience feel so digital.
On the whole, the i8 is a car that responds to your outputs. It’s composed but spirited – but only to a limit. It’s not like a Carrera that invites you to explore its limits.
BMW i8 Roadster Interior, Design and Build
The i8 is different to its rivals, outside and especially inside. Its cockpit will catch your eye immediately, with its dashboard elements distributed all over the place. It’s certainly bold, but some might also see it as being unnecessarily fussy.
That said, there’s nothing here that isn’t present in any other BMW on the market right now. A twin-zone climate control, iDrive, a high-res 8.8” display – these are all present and correct, even if they’re spread out a bit more differently than usual.
For example, the fully digital instrument cluster presents different info according to the driving mode you’ve set. It’s intuitive, gorgeous to look at, and works well.
We have no complaints with the ergonomics or the quality of the materials used, and this is a first-class cabin that will impress anyone who sits inside it.
Is the BMW i8 Roadster practical? It loses the rear seats of the Coupe and focuses just on the driver and their passenger. This allows the i8 to add an extra 100-litre storage space in the rear, but that really just makes up for the fact that the boot measures a mere 88-litres.
Why so small? The electric roof takes up a lot of space. Incidentally, it takes 15.0 seconds to open or close, and when it’s down, insulation and wind buffeting can be quite bad.
Head and legroom up front is decent but nothing special, while visibility is poor. Overall, the i8 is a fun car to drive, but a hard one to live with on a day to day basis.
Equipment and Safety of the BMW i8 Roadster
Standard kit for the sole trim model is good and includes adaptive LED headlights, 20” alloys, heat-insulated glass, ambient lighting, a digital radio, leather on the dashboard and the seats, and an 8.8” infotainment screen. The brand’s iDrive is also standard.
In terms of how safe it is, the i8 has never been crash-tested by Euro NCAP and has no safety rating. It’s got lots of grip to keep you safe, while its powerful brakes should further reassure you. A driver assistance pack is well worth adding – it nets you rain-activated wipers, speed-limit assistance and a surround-view camera.
Frustratingly, you have to pay extra for autonomous emergency braking.
How reliable are BMW? Check out our honest assessment of the manufacturer and find out more.
Costs of the BMW i8 Roadster
Prices for the new car start at £124,000. For more information on our leasing deals, you can check out our page here.
In terms of its running costs, if you can get past the initial outlay of £124,000, the i8 is cheap to keep on the road. It emits just 46g/km of CO2, which gives it a BiK rating of 13%. And while we’d suggest taking the official economy figure of 141.2mpg with a pinch of salt, what you actually return on a daily basis is still going to be very good.
Moreover, BMW think you can restore 80% of your battery’s power in 2 hours or less.
On the flipside, the i8 is expensive to insure and sits in the highest insurance group there is, group 50.
Pros and Cons of the BMW i8 Roadster
Often, when a brand tries to make a car look futuristic, they end up making it look too weird for words. Not this time.
Power on tap
The i8’s incredible amount of power is available in an instant.
Cheap to own
Economy and emissions are both excellent and hard to believe for a car of this type.
It might be cheap to own, but a purchase price of £124,000 will be a big obstacle to many.
It just doesn’t work as an everyday car, thanks to a host of limitations.
BMW i8 Roadster vs Porsche 911 Cabriolet vs Audi R8 Spyder
Let’s see how the car fares against its rivals in the comparison section of our 2018 BMW i8 Roadster review.
BMW i8 Roadster vs Porsche 911 Cabriolet
The new Porsche 911 Cabriolet is an icon – something the new i8 can’t claim to be just yet.
If you want sporting heritage, the 911 is the best place to look. However, even this car is looking to the future, with Porsche introducing turbochargers for the first ever time.
Fortunately, turbochargers haven’t diluted the 911’s special driving experience, but they have watered down its sound. Still, once you’ve dropped the roof, you’re treated to a pretty thrilling soundtrack. It’s not as special as it used to be but we can’t see too many people complaining.
The way the car handles is actually better than ever. Traditionally, this convertible version of the 911 hasn’t been as sharp as the rest of the range, but that’s changed for 2018 and it’s now sharper than ever.
In term of its engines, the standard model develops 365bhp and has a 0-62 time of 4.6 seconds. The S model tops you up to 414bhp and has a 0-62 time of 4.1 seconds, while the Turbo model produces 533bhp and darts from rest to 62mph in 3.1 seconds.
Running costs? The addition of turbochargers has helped to keep costs down, and the standard 911 Cab can now manage returns of 33.2mpg on a good day. The S model doesn’t fare too badly either, returning 32.1mpg on a good day.
Inside, refinement is good, the car comes with a wind deflector as standard, and the quality of the materials is as high as we expected. The cabin is a fantastic place to spend your time on the road, and all models come with leather, sat-nav and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system as standard.
Is the Porsche 911 Cabriolet practical? It comes with rear seats, which already makes it more usable than the i8. Only small children can fit in them, but it boosts the 911’s appeal to young families.
The boot, meanwhile, is located at the front and measures 145-litres if you stick to two-wheel-drive and 125-litres if you opt for four-wheel-drive. The car is easy to park and space up front for two people is good.
BMW – £124,000
Porsche – £86,699 – £156,381
BMW i8 Roadster vs Audi R8 Spyder
The new Audi R8 Spyder is powered by an exciting V10 engine – which could be all you need to tempt you away from the BMW.
With no electric motor insight, the R8’s 5.2-litre petrol engine is able to develop 532bhp and rocket its way from rest to 62mph in 3.6 seconds. It has the i8 on toast, and its V10 powerplant provides more drama than the Eastenders Xmas episode.
It’s noisy too, but if you need even more power the R8 Plus model produces 602hp and guns its way from stop to 62mph in 3.3 seconds, no less.
The car is lighter but stiffer than its predecessor, and this enhances its performance. A standard twin-clutch automatic ‘box is smooth and makes lightning-fast changes, while the dynamic steering system lets you take corners with speed and accuracy.
One criticism we do have is that the steering lacks feel, and this can play with your nerves from time to time.
Running costs? The standard model can return 24.1mpg at best, which makes it way more expensive to run than the i8. The Plus model, meanwhile, has an official economy figure of 22.6mpg, but don’t be surprised if you return 12mpg on a regular basis from both cars.
Inside, Audi have done what they do best – they’ve produced a classy, minimalist cabin that’s rich in quality and luxury. Leather combines with carbon trim and tactile metals, the design is smart and easy on the eye, and a new version of the brand’s excellent Virtual Cockpit system is all present and correct.
The roof, meanwhile, is fully electric and takes 20.0 seconds to open or close. That’s significantly slower than the i8, but a windbreaker is standard.
Is the Audi R8 Spyder practical? It’s got just the two seats and not much space. However, it’s a real driver’s car and no one will be buying it for its usability. The boot is located at the front and measures 112-litres.
Audi – £121,140 – £149,820
Verdict of our 2018 BMW i8 Roadster Review
Wow. If ever there was a car that sets the precedence for the things that are to come, this is it. It’s a luxurious, premium, muscular sports car that turns so many things on their heads. Futuristic looks that are at the same time stunning and insanely low running costs for a sports car are just two of the things that will surprise you – and lure you in.
Oh, and did we mention that it’s a plug-in hybrid convertible that can do 0-62 in 4.6 seconds?
If you can afford the BMW i8 Roadster, it’s time to be a trendsetter.