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Driven: BMW i8 Roadster

cars  /   /  By Nafisa Akabor

The brand new BMW i8 Roadster has made its way to South Africa and I got to drive it at a media event this week in Johannesburg. Alongside the first i8 convertible, there was an updated i8 Coupe; an all-electric i3 (BEV); and the hybrid i3 REx (range extender).

I was very excited to drive the i8, not just because I’ve written about it in the past, but realistically, do I need a reason? The i8 Roadster is an all wheel drive plug-in hybrid that features the company’s eDrive technology with hybrid synchronous electric motor, capable of 105kW and max torque of 250Nm. Its thee cylinder petrol engine is capable of 170kW and max torque of 320Nm. It can do 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds and has a top speed of 250km/h. The battery capacity has been increased from 20Ah to 34Ah on the new models. According to BMW, the electric range on the Roadster is 53km; and on the Coupé its 55km.

Numbers aside, let me tell you, it is loads of fun to drive. I have not driven an electric car in almost three years so when I switched the i8 Coupé on, I turned it off and on again, because I couldn’t hear anything. Once I got accustomed to it, and how to switch to eDrive (there’s a button on the centre console), I started enjoying the drive more. There also various driving modes.

After midday, I got into the i8 Roadster, and it was the perfect time of day with the sun behind and the roof down. On both cars, you can hear the sound effects added to the car so its silence doesn’t completely freak you out on eDrive. And BMW has done a fantastic job with the design on the Roadster because it manages to keep the wind sound out of the cabin so you can have a conversation with your passenger. (I’ve heard awful sounds on other convertibles).

You can see the visuals of the energy flow on a graphic in the Control Display through the iDrive menu. Navigation comes standard on the i8, which features a 8.8-inch screen on the dashboard. It has a USB port, a wireless charging pad, and optional Harman Kardon hi-fi speakers.

The Roadster is a 2 seater, but the Coupé has two smaller seats at the back. With the Roadster, there is a gap behind both seats to put handbags and small things (100L of space). The roof opens in 15 seconds and can be done while you are driving up to 50km/h. There are 3D printed components in the car, pretty cool.

The i8 comes in a new eye-catching “e-copper” colour, which you can spot anywhere, and as expected, gets a LOT of attention. I loved driving the i8 around Johannesburg and Pretoria for a couple of hours, but I wouldn’t be able to own this car because of the attention it draws, strangers talking to you, and people taking photos.

I love that the doors swing upwards. I had to make sure I was getting it right as it does require you to put a bit of pressure to get it open. And when it comes to getting out of the car, there is no dignified way if you happen to be wearing a dress; fortunately, I don’t wear them often.

Later in the afternoon, I drove the all-electric i3 to Joburg town. As for its design, I’m not as enthusiastic about it as I am about the i8, but I don’t think it’s awful, it’s very subjective. It has won design awards so there’s that.

The i3 works the same way as the Leaf, with a regenerative braking system. This means when you remove your foot off the accelerator, it regenerates power while braking for you, so you don’t have to put your foot on the actual brake. It has a battery capacity of 94Ah (or 33kWh); and a range of 200km in every day use, according to BMW. The i3 has an output of 125kW and peaks at 250Nm. It does 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds, and its top speed is 150km/h.

For those who are not ready for an all-electric car, you can opt for the range extender i3 model, with a 28kW petrol engine. This provides an additional 150km of daily use, above its all-electric capability.

There’s a whole lot more technical information available for these cars, which you can find on the BMW website.

Pricing incl VAT 
(automatic is standard)
i8 Coupé – R2 095 200
i8 Roadster – R 2 329 300
i3 BEV – R637 300
i3 REx – R717 100

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