One of the things I loved the most about the BMW i8 when I photographed it for our weekend review road trip three years ago was just how alien it looked. But the hybrid sports car’s style caught so many stray glances, struck up so many conversations, and felt so radical at the time that — were I to be gifted $150,000 — I would have second-guessed ever owning one.
At the LA Auto Show this week, though, BMW issued the first big update to the i8 since its inception, and has now split the car into two models. The new i8 Coupe largely looks the same, despite a more contemporary color palette. But it’s the new i8 Roadster convertible that instantly caught my eye.
That new roof opens or closes in about 15 seconds, according to BMW, and to make space for it the company completely ditched the two rear “seats” found on the Coupe and the original i8 — a totally fair tradeoff in my eyes, since they were small enough to cramp even a toddler.
There’s something about that new soft-top roof that makes the car’s rear pillars stand out even more than they did before. And I think that’s a good thing. I appreciate the flowy, futuristic design of the original, but the way those shapes are abruptly cleaved on the new Roadster makes the car feel a bit more aesthetically appropriate for the here and now. And, from the back at least, I think it even now roughly resembles the nearly $2 million Porsche 918 Spyder.
BMW says the new Coupe and Roadster are basically the same dimensions as each other, with the former standing just two millimeters taller than the latter. But something about that drop top just makes the i8 Roadster’s overall design look more compact and complete to me. It is about 132 pounds (60kg) heavier, though.
Whichever new i8 you might prefer, they will both offer a modest performance boost over the original. According to BMW, the new i8s put out 17 more horsepower — 374 hp to be exact — than their predecessor.
BMW says the gains in the new version are coming from even better output from the electric motor, combined with higher battery capacity, which should also improve the all-electric range by about 10 miles to 33 overall. But it’s still a small bump in the grand scheme of performance car specs, one that reads more on paper like a rounding error than an improvement worth clamoring about.
Everything else is pretty much the same on these new i8s, too, which is a bit of a shame. The front end’s half-menacing look hasn’t changed, and the interior is decorated with the same knobs, buttons, screens, and center console as the original.
Here’s the thing: will anyone care when they’re behind the wheel? Probably not. I always found the old i8 to be plenty fun to drive, thanks to how seamlessly the 3-cylinder engine works in concert with the zippy onboard electric motor. And if and when I slide into the driver’s seat of the new Roadster, it surely won’t be the first thing on my mind. Of course, BMW hasn’t said exactly when the new i8s will be available, or how much that ride will cost.