cars are style items in one way or another; ideally, a car’s form will match its function, as in the case of many an aggressively designed supercar. But in some cases, the form is all that matters. See a BMW i8 rolling down the street and you’ll immediately take notice. It’s hard to think of a car on the road today that looks more like it was zapped out of a video game, Jumanji style. Unfortunately the i8’s plug-in powertrain can’t cash the checks written by its zany design. With 369 horsepower and an estimated 18 miles of all-electric range, the i8 can’t keep up with either the best sports cars or the best plug-ins on the market. But for drivers who value curb appeal and exclusivity above all else, none of that may matter.
Highs: Spaceship design, futuristic powertrain, easy to drive around town.
Lows: Plastic-tastic cabin doesn’t match the price, underperforms other top sports cars, hugely impractical.
Verdict: Succeeds as a fashion statement, with all the practical failings that entails.
What’s New for 2019?
The big news for 2019 is that the i8 is now available as a roadster, with a folding soft top and two seats instead of the two-plus-two arrangement found in the coupe. BMW also tweaked the i8’s plug-in powertrain to produce 12 extra horsepower and an estimated three extra miles of EV range, for a total of 369 horsepower and 18 miles of EV driving. BMW’s iDrive 6.0 software now powers the i8’s infotainment system.
BMW i8 Pricing and Which One to Buy
- Coupe: $148,495
- Roadster: $164,295
We can think of plenty of reasons not to buy an i8. But once you’ve chosen to spend a small fortune on this Tron-mobile, it’s harder to think of a reason not to buy the roadster. Sure, at $164,295 it’s more than $15,000 pricier than the coupe, but can you really put a price on the feeling of the wind in your hair? Standard features on the i8 roadster include a power-folding soft top, adaptive suspension, and 20-inch wheels. Leather-trimmed sport seats seem appropriate; they’re available with the Tera World package, which also adds a few touches of blue to the exterior and high-gloss black-painted brake calipers.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Likes: Unique (in this class) plug-in powertrain, feels light and quick, as fun to drive as many sports cars.
Dislikes: Short EV range, not as quick as competitors.
BMW offers a single powertrain in the i8, and it’s a peach. However, with less power than many competitors, it’s not the fastest supercar on the block: The roadster we tested last sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. We wish it were quicker, but the three-cylinder plug-in hybrid powertrain is smooth and exceptionally well executed, offering a glimpse of an automotive future we can dig. The i8 mates a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas-powered engine with a 11.6-kWh battery pack and two electric motors. The trio of power sources combines for a total of 369 horsepower, capable of driving all four wheels.
The i8 suffers from the same feather-light steering that we’ve criticized in much of BMW’s current lineup. While the steering is accurate and elicits quick responses, we’d prefer more feedback, especially in a vehicle with sporting intentions. The Porsche 911 is our gold standard of steering effort and feel, and the i8’s steering doesn’t even live in the same ZIP Code. The ride is surprisingly civil and bumps in the road are felt, but never harshly. The chassis, constructed of carbon fiber and aluminum, keeps stray body motions in check and serves the double purpose of looking impressive when the dramatic scissor doors are opened to expose the carbon-fiber weave.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
With the turbocharged three-cylinder engine bearing the brunt of the work, the i8’s EPA fuel economy ratings are far from impressive, at least among hybrids. But its ratings are still better than the combined ratings of the Acura NSX, the McLaren 570S, and every flavor of the Porsche 911. During our highway fuel-economy test circuit, a 2016 i8 Coupe scored 38 MPGe during the course of the drive, including 15.6 miles of EV-only driving after starting with a fully charged battery; the 2019 roadster delivered 35 MPGe in our testing and—thanks to a larger-capacity battery for 2019—went on for 22.2 miles on electricity alone.
Interior, Infotainment, and Cargo
Likes: Interior design matches futuristic exterior, comfortable front seats.
Dislikes: More plastic than is normal in a six-figure car, rear seats are nearly useless, ingress and egress are challenging.
Despite the i8’s primary focus on design versus practicality, front-seat occupants won’t feel cramped. The i8 roadster has seating for only two passengers, with the folding top taking up the space that is occupied by a pair of jump seats in the coupe. Standard interior features include heated, power-adjustable seats and touches of leather. Cooled seats, a power-adjustable steering wheel, and passenger-seat lumbar support are not available—even as options. Above all, a vehicle in this class should not feature as much plastic as the i8 somehow does.
The i8’s infotainment system will be familiar to owners of less exotic BMWs. The system is largely intuitive and is displayed on a sharp-looking 8.8-inch touchscreen situated atop the dashboard. Apple CarPlay is standard, but Android Auto isn’t offered on any i8 model.
While cargo space is not typically a strong point for style-conscious two-seaters, the i8 is particularly lacking in this area, with a negligible amount of room for luggage and minimal cubby space for the trinkets of modern life. The i8’s rear cargo area is long but shallow—unlike some mid-engined sports cars, there’s no storage up front—and we managed to fit only a single carry-on piece of luggage inside.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The i8 hasn’t been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and driver-assistance technology is scarce. Forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking are standard, but other tech such as blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control are absent. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking
- Standard forward-collision warning
- Standard front and rear parking sensors
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
BMW’s standard set of warranties is typical for a luxury automaker. Also typical is the i8’s eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty on hybrid-powertrain components (the Acura NSX has a similar warranty). The three years or 36,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance, however, set the i8 apart from the competition.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Hybrid components are covered for 8 years or 100,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for 3 years or 36,000 miles