New BMW i8 plug-in hybrid adds roadster variant, and power

At the Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW debuts an open top version of its futuristic-looking i8 hybrid sports car, also adding driver assistance technologies and more power.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
3 min read

BMW launched its i8, and i brand, as a means of testing future engineering in a production vehicle, but it didn't skip the fun. The i8 model can drive under fully electric power and also offers an engaging sport experience, along with an out-of-this world design.

At the Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW doubles down on the i8, adding a Roadster variant with retractable cloth roof to the existing Coupe model.

The i8 retains the innovative carbon fiber structure from when it launched in 2014, along with its gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain, making this 2019 model year version more of a refresh than a major update. However, the new open-top variant adds significant variety. On both Roadster and Coupe, the doors lift up and out, gull wing-style. However, the Coupe retains hatchback cargo space and rear seats, while the Roadster only offers two seats. The lack of a hatchback gives the i8 Roadster two cool-looking aero-ridges behind each seat, reminiscent of 1950s automotive design.

BMW shows off open-top i8 hybrid sports car at Los Angeles auto show

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The i8 Roadster includes a power-retractable cloth panel over the cabin that stows away in 16 seconds, and can be operated at speeds up to 31 mph. A rear window automatically raises when the top goes down to minimize turbulence in the cabin.

As with the previous i8, the new model comes with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, which remarkably produces 228 horsepower and 236 pound feet of torque, driving the rear wheels. In addition, an electric motor drives the front wheels. For the 2019 model year, BMW increased the battery size from 7.1 to 11.6 kilowatt-hours, thereby increasing the electric motor output from 129 to 141 horsepower. That puts total output up to 369 horsepower, with acceleration to 60 mph of 4.2 seconds for the Coupe and 4.4 seconds for the Roadster, numbers that BMW describes as "preliminary."

2019 BMW i8 Roadster
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2019 BMW i8 Roadster

BMW shows off the construction of the i8 Roadster variant.


That battery capacity also lets the new i8 go 18 miles in electric vehicle mode.

At a preview event, Klaus Fröhlich, BMW Board of Management member, said the company is working to reduce the cost of the batteries that go into the i8, and its other electrified car offerings. He pointed out that the development work that went into the i8 made BMW's other i Performance line vehicles, such as the 330e, possible. The company plans on offering 25 electrified vehicles, including a handful of purely electric vehicles, by 2025.

Augmenting the i8's high-tech nature, BMW adds its suite of driver assistance features, from adaptive cruise control, which automatically matches speeds with slower traffic ahead, to a head-up display, projecting useful driving information on the lower edge of the windshield. These features are similar to how BMW equips its latest 7 Series model.

BMW's newest iDrive infotainment system, which includes navigation with online destination search and wireless Apple CarPlay, also finds a place in this new i8. This system retains BMW's traditional dial controller on the console, but also adds touchscreen capabilities.

As an exotic hybrid, the i8 is not exactly a huge seller, but it finds enough interest that the company averages well over 1,000 per year in the US. It easily outsells the new Acura NSX, which came out last year. However, its sports car performance is not exactly jaw-dropping compared with the NSX, and that won't change with the 2019 model year.

The addition of driver assist technologies does give the i8 a large feature advantage over equivalent sport cars, but also suggests BMW isn't really aiming for track performance so much as an exotic everyday driver. The inclusion of the i8 Roadster reinforces that idea.

The 2019 BMW i8 Roadster and Coupe go on sale in spring of 2018.