This story about the BMW i8 convertible was first published by CleanTechnica
At the Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW took the wraps off the newest entry into its sustainability stable, the BMW i8 Roadster, which features a folding electric convertible top and improved performance.
The new i8 Roadster is a 2-seat convertible that comes to market with a new and improved high-voltage battery which allows for increased storage capacity and an increase in all-electric range. BMW has also tuned up this high-performance marriage of an electric powertrain and a powerful gasoline engine to squeeze out an extra 12 horsepower for a total of 369 hp.
- All-electric range: 18 miles (preliminary)
- Efficiency: 70 MPGe
- On-board charging speed: 6.6 kW J1772 – Level 1&2
- Motor power: 369 horsepower, 141 hp from the electric motor
- Torque: 184 lb-ft
- 0-60 Time: 4.4 seconds
- Battery capacity: 11.6 kWh, 9.4 kWh usable
- Battery type: Lithium-ion battery
- Base price: To be announced
The BMW i8 has never been the car for everybody. It’s not a daily driver and it’s not going to help the world avert the disastrous effects of anthropogenic climate change. Much like the Tesla Model X, the BMW i8 is a head-turner. Its aesthetics elicit a reaction that makes people want to know more. [Editor’s note: Of all the cars I’ve driven, I’ve never had so many expressions of exclamation from people on the street as I did when driving the “normal” BMW i8 around town.] Having said that, even its looks are not for everyone, nor should they be.
To maximize overall fuel efficiency and performance, the new BMW i8 Roadster and the new BMW i8 Coupe have been gifted with updated software that results in more situations where the electric motor can move the vehicle forward without having to call on the internal combustion motor. When the battery’s state of charge is sufficient, the combustion engine is only engaged when accelerating hard. This change not only maximizes fuel efficiency, it serves to ensure the quietest experience for drivers with the top down, when noise from a combustion engine would deteriorate the experience.
The bold exterior has been updated for the Roadster edition of the i8 with a sleek convertible tonneau cover and side Roadster panels pivoting up to allow the fully electric convertible top to retract when it’s time to cut loose.
I had the opportunity to do just that while at the Formula E event in New York City this year in much more aggressive form than I would possibly be able to muster behind the wheel myself. BMW paired us up with drivers from their professional driving school in the i8 and set them loose on the official Formula E race track in Brooklyn. The acceleration feels completely different than any electric or internal combustion vehicle I’ve experienced, with the rapid acceleration at low speeds pegged out by the electric motors and the high-end boost provided by the gasoline engine.
It wasn’t the zero to sixty times that left me breathless, but rather, its ability to power through turns and maximize the acceleration across all areas of the track. Corners, S-curves, straight-aways, and hairpins all became parts of an insane thrill ride made all the more harrowing by the knowledge that it was at the hands of a human driver whose body was being subjected to the same nauseating forces mine was and still continued to pound on the pedal.
The interior is also a work of art, with the carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic life module designed to keep the passengers safe at the extreme speeds made possible by the futuristic high-performance plug-in hybrid powertrain. Those very bones of the vehicle are exposed upon entering the vehicle, with carbon fiber trim pieces serving as subtle reminders of the strength of the Life Module while driving.
Sliding open the butterfly doors reveals a svelte interior that fits both driver and passenger more like a glove than a spacious car. It’s as if the interior were taken out of a spaceship rather than an internal combustion vehicle — though on closer inspection, all of the usual features are still present, just in a sleeker finish.
BMW completely overhauled the electric battery in the i8 in order to deliver the 12 extra horsepower compared to previous i8 models and longer fully electric range at 18 miles. The high-voltage battery’s cell capacity is up from 20 to 34 Ah while its total energy capacity is up from 7.1 kWh to 11.6 kWh, of which 9.4 kWh is usable.
New production processes were also brought in-house for the roadster, with key components connecting the roof mechanism with the body being made from a new 3D printing process. 3D printing represents a sharp diversion from traditional automotive manufacturing processes and allows designers to use completely new — and stronger — geometric forms that are simply not possible with conventional casting techniques. These new forms help ensure the body strikes the optimal balance between rigidity and weight.
Overall, the new BMW i8 Roadster is still an uber expensive vehicle designed as more of a weekend car than a daily driver for the elite. This naturally encourages lay people to write it off as irrelevant or not a real plug-in vehicle, but in reality, it represents much more than that. The i8 is a peek into the future of the BMW brand as it claws its way out of a heritage where petrol runs through the veins of its workers towards a clean energy future where BMW continues to deliver not only the Ultimate Driving Experience, but does so with zero tailpipe emissions.