It was a hot Sunday morning, and I found myself caught in a horrendous traffic jam in Sudirman Street, Jakarta. Something felt different and surreal, but that’s because the BMW i8 Roadster I drove was moving silently. There were no sounds or vibrations from the engine as the car effortlessly glided through the stop and go traffic. Push the BMW eDrive button and the car will run in full electric mode with the digital speedometer indicating I have a 30km range from a maximum of 53km by driving totally in electric mode. It was nice to think that you are not burning fuel when stuck in the traffic.
Surprisingly, it was a more pleasing experience than driving a conventional car. With both engines and the electric motor running, most of the time you only need to let go off the brake and the car will move with adequate pace thanks to the electric motor. One of the perks of an electric motor is its instantaneous torque, which means when you let off the brake and tap on the throttle there are more power available. What’s considered to be the most exotic BMW is also still quite civil for daily rides: good and smooth even though it is not as comfy as the brand’s sedan because its sporty suspension.
With its futuristic design and gullwing doors, the BMW i8 has already become a head-turner. Now after three years of featuring the coupe model, BMW offers an open top version with an electronically operated soft top. The car retractable soft top adds further refinement to the design of the car, complementing its futuristic and sporty aura that makes it the most exotic-looking car in the BMW’s line-up. The addition of a retractable roof changes the appearance of the car, especially in the rear, making it like a convertible Ferrari or McLaren.
One signature part of the car is the gullwing doors. Even though the roof is retractable, BMW has remarkably been able to retain the remarkable feature. The top can be down in 15 seconds and that is quite amazing because the mechanism is very quiet, thanks to a similar motor used in a Rolls-Royce. For the roof mechanism, BMW has for the first-time used 3D printed parts that one can see from behind the roof. The brand also allowed the roof to be stowed vertically to provide extra space in the cabin.
Amplifying the exoticness is the BMW individual special paintwork, and it comes with 20-inch wheels with sports car style mixed tires. The battery and the electric motor in the car have already been upgraded over the first generation of the i8 coupe. An updated version of the lithium-ion battery has been developed for the BMW i8 Roadster. The high-voltage unit is located centrally in the car’s underbody and its cell capacity is up from 20 to 34Ah and its gross energy capacity rises from 7.1 to 11.6kWh (net: 9.4kWh). All this means that the electric motor has more energy at its disposal.
The new battery provides a 12 horsepower increase in peak output to 143 hp and 250Nm of torque and are produced from the electric motor at the front wheels. The car can be driven solely on the electric motor – from standstill to a speed of 105km/h, up from 70km/h in the original i8. The combustion engine is only utilized at higher speeds or when the driver steps down hard on the accelerator and is switched off far more frequently when a measured driving style is maintained. Pressing the eDrive button allows the car to travel at up to 120km/h on electric power alone. BMW can install a charger in a customer’s house, or one can visit the Pertamina Petrol Station in Kuningan area that already has a device that can charge around 80% of the battery in just one hour.
The electric motor is combined with a 1,500cc three-cylinder turbocharged engine mounted at the back. It can produce a peak 231 hp and a peak torque of 320Nm. Combined with the electric motor, the car can pass in the category of a decent sports car as it can generate 374 hp and a peak torque of a whopping 570Nm. It is higher than the convertible Porsche 718 Boxster S that produces 350hp. The brand claims that the car can sprint from halt to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds, a respectable figure for a car with this kind of technology. To put it into perspective, the BMW M3 can sprint to 100km/h from halt in 4.1 seconds.
Curiously, unlike other BMWs there are no buttons to activate the sports mode on. There are only eco and comfort mode buttons that emphasize the efficiency capability of the car. However, move the gear shifter to the left to enter the manual shifting mode and the car will turn to sports mode. The theme in the sportier- designed speedometer will then turn to orange. In sports mode the car changes its character; the gasoline engine is on full and becomes more aggressive. It feels like an angry car as suddenly the idle sounds become more audible and gives more vibration, creating a somewhat more sportier driving ambience that simulates a race car.
The presence of the electric motor changes everything and amplifies the driving experience in sports mode. As you fully push the throttle, the force pushes you towards the seat. The torque is very immediate thanks to the electric motor. It is again a different experience compared to being in a conventional sports car, the car doesn’t build torque anymore but packs a big punch since the beginning. Thanks to all the lightweight techs as found in the coupe, the car can keep its weight down. Exotic in the outside and below skin deep, it has an aluminium chassis and a passenger cell made from Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP).
One can see the carbon fibre exposed on the side of the tub, which is a very cool and nice sight. The interior of the cabin is akin to that of the coupe version with its futuristic designed dashboard, equipped with all the features from a typical BMW such as an easy-to-use i drive system with an 8.8-inch touchscreen, heads-up display, and a two-zone climate control. The cabin is wrapped with premium leather and complemented with carbon fibre trim that makes the cabin even more exotic. The car has a sports seat that is electronically adjustable and very comfortable to use; there is also a sound system from Harman Kardon with 12 speakers and 360Watt of power.
The car is not without disadvantages: it’s a bit tricky to get in and out of the car with the carbon tub, but visibility in the car is decent though the A pillar is a bit annoying. Also, when the car is cold you can still feel the vibration and harshness of the 3-cylinder engine. Lastly, the gullwing doors need some space to be opened, so it’s a tricky exercise to park the car. But forget parking lots in malls and offices, park the car in the front lobby like a super car instead. It’s like dating a sexy super model, you need to make compromises. But if you want to experience plug-in hybrid first-hand before it becomes a common thing and doing it in the most extravagant way, then there is no other option. Its price tag is Rp 3.9 billion (off the road).