2019 BMW i8 Review

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
November 6, 2018

The 2019 BMW i8 is a head-turner for its looks, which hides its plug-in powertrain. That’s good or bad, depending on your priorities.

Even among six-figure cars with two doors, the 2019 BMW i8 steals stares. That could be because of the dramatic wing doors and futuristic shape, its laser headlights at night, or the 2019 i8’s silent propulsion for up to 18 miles.

Or it may steal attention because, even after more than four years on sale, it’s a very rare sight.

The i8 is efficiency and style in ways that no other competitor can offer, but BMW charges nearly $150,000 for the privilege to start. The new roadster can push that price to nearly $200,000.

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That much money can buy cars with better performance, but none of them look like they can do the breaststroke when the doors open. The i8 earns a 6.6 on our overall scale, weighted heavily toward style and performance—not necessarily efficiency. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

This year, the news for the i8 is a roadster version that preserves all the drama of the coupe we’ve known for a while, but less of the roof.

That curb appeal is still cool, more than four years after the i8 appeared on streets. Perhaps it won’t be the future we once thought it could be for BMW’s electrification sub-brand, but it’s still a head turner.

The signature features are wing doors that make entry and exit a challenge, the exotically low shape, and blue accents around the car, including blue seatbelts.

The i8 uses a small turbo-3 and electric motor to make 369 horsepower combined, up 12 hp this year. The 11.6-kwh battery pack can power the i8 for up to 18 miles on electricity alone, according to the EPA and the BMW two-door can accelerate up to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. That latter figure is brisk (but not as quick as the much less expensive M2) and the former figure may be outdated among electric cars that boast hundreds of miles on a single charge.

Ideally a two-seater, the BMW i8 comes impressively equipped with leather seats, an 8.8-inch touchscreen, and big 20-inch wheels. Some options packages can add more, but the ultimate add-on will be a roof removal for about $16,000.

Despite the battery, all-electric modes, and plug-in hybrid powertrain, the i8 isn’t all that efficient anymore. Once the 11.6-kwh battery is depleted, the i8 rates at 27 mpg combined, according to the EPA. That’s impressive efficiency among six-figure exotics, but not among other electric cars.

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2019 BMW i8

Styling

Form and function are given equal turns on the 2019 BMW i8 and succeed spectacularly.

The relative rarity and exotic shape of the 2019 BMW i8 make it a unique sight on roads. It’s expensive—and more importantly, it looks expensive—and its proof that ultra-efficient cars aren’t automotive Poindexters.

It’s superb in many ways and competes with higher-priced exotics in drawing a crowd. We give it a 9 out of 10 for excellence, inside and out. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

When it was new more than five years ago, the BMW i8 represented a significant departure for the conservative brand—perhaps a styling exercise for the future of the automaker.

Now, the i8’s shape is still a departure but it’s clearer that it’ll be an exception for BMW’s electrification plan, not the plan itself. There’s excellence in its exceptional shape: the wing doors are dramatic and attention-grabbing, the rear buttresses are exciting details that reward onlookers for closer inspections, and the front and rear lights cut through the night in ways that few cars can.

The body wraps tightly around its 20-inch wheels and a pair of fins from the hood arch over the taillights to create open space above the rear wheels. The BMW i8’s arresting shape cuts a smaller hole in the wind, its coefficient of drag is 0.26, which is low for a production car.

Inside, the avant-garde shapes are somewhat toned down, but the layered dashboard and floating center stack recall the more styled i3, which is smaller.

This year’s news is the i8 Roadster, which preserves the coupe’s remarkable doors and lines but skips the roof. It’s equally striking and an even rarer sight on roads than the coupe.

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2019 BMW i8

Performance

The i8’s performance is impressive considering its efficient powertrain—not its relatively high price.

The 2019 BMW i8 has all the exotic car looks, but not all of the performance. Its hybrid powertrain and turbo-3 combo are more powerful this year and can fling the coupe or roadster to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. That’s thrilling stuff, but it’s also a tick slower than the M2, which costs one-third as much as the i8 Roadster.

That doesn’t ruin our grin in the i8 anyway. We give it an 8 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

This year, the i8’s electric motor was upgraded for more power, which bumps up the overall output to 369 hp, up 12 hp from 2017, the last year the i8 was available. The electric motor contributes 141 hp and 184 lb-ft to the overall output, while the small 1.5-liter turbo-3 adds 228 hp and 236 lb-ft.

The electric motor can power the front wheels alone for up to 18 miles, according to the EPA. Planted between the driver and passenger, the electric motor shifts its power through a 2-speed transmission that provides thrust all the way up to the car’s 135 mph top speed. Driven in the most efficient “Max e-Mode,” the i8 accelerates leisurely up to 75 mph in its limited range, although a steep pedal jab past a detent can engage the internal combustion engine for more acceleration.

Once the battery is depleted, the i8 switches to “Comfort” mode, which is its default setting, and the BMW operates like a traditional hybrid. Normally, the i8 accelerates from a stop under electric power alone and switches on its busy turbo-3 when more oomph is necessary.

Opting for “Sport” mode asks for the most from the turbo-3 and electric powertrain combination, although its performance falls short of similarly priced peers from Porsche, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz. Sport mode also uses engine overrun and regenerative braking to replenish the electric battery—it’s possible to recharge the i8 by driving it with zeal, which is a nice perk for our lead feet.

Driven like a sports car, the i8 keeps pace with other sport coupes, although it may get lost behind hot-shoed drivers in 911s, R8s, or GT-Rs.

The i8’s secret is that it’s more of a grand tourer with an advanced powertrain, anyway.

Braking, steering, and the i8’s relatively soft suspension setup, speak to that grand-touring focus anyway, and the car’s lightweight carbon-fiber construction offsets the heavy batteries.

BMW has done a good job with the brutally complicated programming task of managing all the potential combinations of driving conditions, power demand, braking, sensor inputs, and the rest. It may be shuffling power being around the chassis, but the i8 provides pleasantly neutral handling. The electric power steering is precise, and there's decent (simulated) feedback through the wheel.

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2019 BMW i8

Comfort & Quality

The 2019 BMW i8 sacrifices practicality for its style.

In traditional supercar fashion, the 2019 i8 and i8 Roadster please many people as it travels down the road, but not many extra passengers.

Nominally a four-seat coupe or two-seat convertible, the i8 is best for two with or without a roof. We rate the coupe here and penalize it for rear seats that are better left for occasional use and a cargo area that’s very small. The roadster would do slightly better, only because it promises less. The i8 earns a 4 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The i8’s wing doors are part of the BMW’s appeal but make entry and exit a burden on non-gymnasts. The bottom sills of the doors are just a few inches higher than the bottom cushions of the front seats, and maneuvering around the steering wheel can be a challenge for the driver. The process of getting into and out of the i8 eventually gets easier, but scuffs on the dashboard will be an indication of the two-door’s relatively steep learning curve.

Once aboard, the driver and passenger are treated to BMW’s better materials, including real leather hides, but the future-forward overall aesthetic isn’t especially warm and luxurious.

The rear seats of the coupe are largely vestigial, the roadster skips them altogether.

Like most cars of its ilk, the i8 isn’t meant for daily use—its small trunk holds up to 5 cubic feet of gear, which is big enough for about one roll-aboard suitcase.

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2019 BMW i8

Safety

The 2019 i8 hasn’t been crashed by safety officials. We suggest you don’t offer to do it for them, either.

Crashing a six-figure supercar that sells in very small numbers on purpose isn’t what federal or independent testers have time, or money, to do.

We applaud that kind of fiscal restraint and withhold our safety rating. If that kind of level headedness at either agency changes, we’ll update this space. We hope not to. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The i8 (and i3) are constructed with a lightweight carbon fiber body structure that sits atop a rolling aluminum chassis that carries its running gear. BMW says the battery pack’s central transmission tunnel location protects it in a crash.

Aside from structural strength through cutting-edge materials, the i8 is equipped with six airbags and standard forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.

Spendy optional “Laserlight” headlights are among the brightest allowable on U.S. roads and they’re brilliant; their $6,300 price tag is practically blinding.

The road ahead is the best view in the i8, the low-slung coupe with futuristic shapes has predictably lousy rearward vision.

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2019 BMW i8

Features

A new Roadster gives the 2019 BMW i8 even more curb appeal—if the gullwing doors aren’t enough.

For the price of a starter house, the 2019 BMW i8 comes with impressive standard equipment—as it should.

An 8.8-inch touchscreen with navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, and Apple CarPlay compatibility handles infotainment duties, while leather upholstery, 20-inch wheels, premium audio, automatic climate control, heated seats, automatic emergency braking, and a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty are standard on every i8.

We give it points above average for the infotainment screen and its basic equipment and land at a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The i8 coupe costs more than $148,000 to start. The i8 Roadster is similarly equipped and costs about $16,000 more to start.

Two appearance packages, which BMW calls “Worlds” are available this year: Tera World and Tera World Copper. Both add special colors for the interior and unique brake calipers for $2,500 on coupes, $3,700 for the roadster. We can think of a few ways to better spend the money.

An intriguing option is the Laserlight headlight upgrade that costs a breathtaking $6,300 but pronounces the i8’s arrival in its superlative light.

Our money is on the i8 Roadster with laser lights, because what’s the fun of spending the better part of $200,000 if you don’t draw attention to yourself?

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2019 BMW i8

Fuel Economy

The 2019 BMW i8 might be the most efficient supercar, which is a pretty low bar.

Compared to supercars, the 2019 BMW i8 is very fuel efficient. Compared to other hybrid battery cars, it’s aged.

The EPA rates the i8 coupe and convertible at 27 mpg combined and 18 miles of all-electric range. That’s good enough for a 5 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Driving style and charging habits will dictate overall efficiency in the i8. BMW offers an “Eco Pro” mode that maximizes efficiency and tempers the i8’s powertrain and accessory function for longer range.

This year, the battery capacity has been increased to 11.6 kwh, which added 4 miles of electric range.

Considering the i8’s contemporaries and price, it’s green for a supercar. But if frugality—not flash—is the primary goal, there are better options.

The i8 is rated for premium fuel for its turbo-3 engine.

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$147,500
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6.6
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 9
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 4
Safety N/A
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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