WASHINGTON — Usually, “exotic car” and “frugal on gas” don’t go hand and hand. But with new technology and ingenuity, can you have go and still be green? I drove the new 2019 BMW i8 Roadster to find out.
BMW goes about the exotic car differently than others on the market. It trades in the large, high-powered engine for a tiny turbo 3-cylinder engine that packs 228 horsepower plus an electric motor that bumps the total to about 370 horsepower. It’s not the most power ever, but it feels quick in Sport mode when it calls for the engine and electric motor to work together. The sound of little engine is pretty good for just a three banger and probably enhanced with the sound system. But the beauty of the i8 is that you don’t need the gas engine for the first 30 miles or so; let the electric motor do all the work.
Running the i8 on electric power is perfect for stop-and-go driving. It even has that instant power for merging and easy acceleration in traffic. I managed 66.5mph for my week of driving and would have done better if I wouldn’t have left the charger at work one day. Handling is good, also. I wouldn’t say McLaren great but the all-wheel drive system does a very nice job. It takes corners well yet doesn’t beat you up on normal roads; a nice compromise between sport and luxury.
Looks are important for an exotic car and this i8 Roadster lives up to that part up and more. The convertible version is new for 2019 and its style stands out more than the coupe version. It just screams “the future.” The i8 Roadster looks more svelte than the coupe with the shorter passenger’s compartment. It really has nice proportions. The i8 looks like it was designed to cheat the wind and do so without big wings and spoilers.
This BMW has the famous twin kidney grills up front but from there it looks like the future – no big obscene grill, just lots of angles and curves. Look from the side and you notice body panels that appear to have been sculpted by the wind. Especially over the rear wheels, where there is a channel for wind to flow through the body and not around. There are no normal opening doors here, the doors flip up because this is an exotic plug-in hybrid.
The price is also a bit exotic at over $166,000. The power roof looks good when closed and, since its fall, the optional Tera World Cooper paint job really fits in for the season. Allow extra time when driving the i8 as you get a lot of comments and people wanting to look.
Inside the i8 Roadster, it’s more businesslike and similar to other BMWs and that’s a strong suit. It’s flush with leather but with a splash of color on the seats. The seats hold you in place and provide good support. Those cool scissor doors can be harder for smaller riders to reach when open. It also reveals a carbon fiber tub which is good for safety but makes it a bit of challenge for entry and exit. Space is adequate for a variety of people. I had some people sit in the car and 6’5” seemed to be the max for a fit with the top up.
There are some buttons and knobs for the radio and easy-to-use climate controls which is always welcome these days. NAV is standard. It works well, revealing some cool routes I didn’t known about in my commute. The I-drive controller was easier to use than I recall in the past. Where the futuristic ride might be lacking is the latest drivers’ aids. The i8 Roadster is new but the i8 coupe has been around a few years, so don’t expect the latest tech and safety features like Adaptive Cruise and the auto braking like some others.
Choosing to drive green doesn’t have be boring if you can afford it. The i8 offers those exotic good looks plus the performance of a sports car with the efficiency of a plug-in hybrid. With the BMW Ultimate Care your maintenance cost for the first three years will cost $0 which makes enjoying this futuristic ride even more.
Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by DriveShop, FMI or Motus One for the purpose of this review.