The i8 Roadster evokes a resounding 'Aye' for an 'i' from us
Alternative powertrains spawn two distinct tribes: one variety is deeply entrenched in conventional ICE (or Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles, so an all-electric or petrol-electric powertrain is already a big enough revolution. Owners in this group prefer the cars to take on shapes familiar to them from long ICE exposure, even though these new powertrains no longer place the same inhibitions on car design as the ICE used to.
On the other hand, the second group wholeheartedly embraces the advances in design afforded by new powertrains, especially if it's all-electric (after all, isn't it all about letting go of the past?), because you no longer have to worry about building a box for the engine, for instance.
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In itself, the notion of a Coupe/Roadster like the i8 rocked the automotive world, because it straddled the green line between hyper-hybrid sportscar unobtanium like the P1/918 Spyder/LaFerrari and the garden variety hatchback/crossover/sedan that most people associate with the term 'hybrid'.
The i8 may not be all-electric like the cheeky i3 city runabout, but as part of BMW's avantgarde 'i' technology think-tank and rapid gestation division, it benefits from i's healthy disrespect for convention and norms, and happily ends up looking like nothing else on the roads today.
The i8 Coupe was a head-turner, but for some reason, it never struck a chord with us. However, the two-seating i8 Roadster really blew our socks off when it broke cover, and even more so after we drove it. The i8 is properly exotic too, because of its carbonfibre 'Life' module tub – the same stuff found underpinning McLaren's sportscars.
For starters, the Roadster does away with the +2 rear seats in favour of more storage, which gives it excellent touring utility for just two – Why two? Well, maybe because two is company and anything more, a chore. Moreover, with a drop-top, you're even less bothered by the swoopy i8's low roofline, and mind you, the Coupe could get claustrophobic for large occupants.
Best of all, the i8 Roadster keeps the Coupe's sexy dihedral-opening doors, which are capable of stopping traffic and dropping jaws the moment they swing open. Moreover, the Roadster gets the added repertoire of gorgeous flying buttresses, which pop open when you put the roof up (and down) – the roof takes just 15secs to open/close, and will work when the car is on the move at speeds of up to 50km/h.
The S$630+k for the i8 Roadster is deep in Porsche 911 territory, but then not everybody wants a Porsche, especially if they're looking for something that stands out from the herd. As car hacks, we always like to think that everyone is in search of a scintillating drive that leaves them breathless from exertion after a hard, winding run. However, the reality is more prosaic than that: Most folks just want a car that looks good, (maybe) have the right badge on its bonnet, and most importantly, get them from A to B in relative comfort and maximum style.
Of course, the fact that the i8 Roadster is a card-carrying sportscar member of the green brigade also helps its cause, especially in 'last mile motoring', as you approach dense commercial centres or quiet residential areas.
It's great to be able to enjoy a cool morning/evening drive with the roof down, and no scent of exhaust fumes when the wind changes. If you so choose, you can take the i8 Roadster in full-electric up to a speed of 120km/h, plenty fast for Singapore highways, much less city/residential areas.
During our drive in Germany, we made it a point to go into EV mode on the approach to the small towns that dotted the countryside, just so the car wouldn't cause a stink when we passed pedestrians, as if the stir we caused in the pair of i8 Roadsters wasn't enough.
With the electric motor and turbo'd 1.5-litre working in tandem, the i8 is capable of a decent turn of pace, but then its abilities aren't limited to just the straights, because it is an engaging drive in the corners as well. Don't forget, the electric motor responds instantly to a decisive prod of the throttle, which zings to the tune of 143hp/250Nm, before the might of the petrol engine's 231hp/320Nm joins in.
You quickly get used to the strong retardation effect of the electric motor regeneration when you lift-off the throttle. In the approach to the corners, you learn to time it with the entry points so it slows the car down, and then you're back quickly again on the throttle for the combined punch to slingshot the car out of the corner as it's clear of the apex. Successfully string a series of these together, and you can get the i8 to dance lightly through the corners to your smug satisfaction, although part of that smugness could come from your eco-friendly efforts with the i8, especially since it lets you 'grin and bare it'.
PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals
BMW i8 ROADSTER
Engine: 1499cc, inline3, turbo
BMW eDrive: 143hp/4800rpm, 250Nm
System Output: 374hp
Transmission: 6spd auto (combustion engine) / 2spd auto (electric motor)
Top Speed: 250km/h (120km/h in electric)
Fuel Consumption: 2l/100km