BMW’s new hybrid drop-top has appeal, but can it match its coupé sibling?
It is perhaps indicative of how conservative the top of the market remains, and how resistant to change and nervous it feels, that you can buy a lovely, low-mileage, three-year-old BMW i8 for less than half its original list price. Were it a Porsche 911, you’d get a third off at most.
The thing is, the i8 is a genuinely outstanding car – gorgeous to look at, splendid to drive, childishly simple to operate and ludicrously cheap to run for the performance level it provides. It has a largely carbon fibre structure, will do local trips on electricity alone and the flip up doors will make you the coolest parent at the school gates. I know, I ran one for a year.
But there is a resistance to it. Perhaps the BMW badge is not quite strong enough to carry the six-figure price tag, perhaps people don’t like the fact it only has a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine sourced from a Mini, or maybe the battery-electric-hybrid thing scares them half to death, despite the fact I’ve heard no reliability horror stories about i8s.
So it’s hard to see how the same fate won’t await this new i8 Roadster. The folding fabric roof comes with a suite of other updates that apply equally to the coupé version as well, including a touch more power from its electric motors and, importantly, another 10 miles of all-electric range, meaning it should do at least 30 gentle miles without needing to wake its internal combustion engine. The roof packages behind the front seats and there’s a separate rear screen than can be independently raised or lowered as you might in a McLaren 570 Spider.
BMW has chosen to price it £12,000 ahead of the coupé, a little more than Porsche adds to the price of its 911 cabriolet.
It’s a car that loses more than it gains. The roof works well, and at speeds of up to 31mph. Wind noise is well suppressed and the tuneful little engine is no less easy on the ear as a result. But even with that carbon cell, some structural stiffness has been lost and additional strengthening in the A-pillars and elsewhere has not been enough to put it back. The additional shake is only slight, but it is noticeable in a car as sophisticated as this.
In the meantime the need to put the roof somewhere when stowed means the i8 has lost its rear seats, and while anyone who has tried to travel in the back of an i8 coupé may not lament the fact, the point is that they could if they had to. And now they can’t. Perhaps more pertinently i8s have tiny boots so those seats provided vital additional luggage space, particularly for big bags and cases. Finally, that fabric top looks just a little odd on such a futuristic car, but I guess one made from carbon or aluminium would add further weight, expense and make the packaging problem even worse.
So I quite liked the i8 Roadster, but I like the coupé version a whole lot more.