There is nothing else like the BMW i8 Roadster on the road. This is a car that is a hybrid, a roadster, a luxury cruiser, AND a high-strung supermodel. Because all these things are happening at once in one vehicle, the i8 Roadster is simultaneously going head to head with some very stiff competition from all over the automotive world. Its price and topless motoring option are competing with the 911 S Cabriolet. Its eco hybrid system is competing with a Prius. And its looks are in direct competition with the Venus de Milo. But are you really looking at the above as alternatives when considering an NSX? No, because the 2019 i8 Roadster is not best in class in any category.
At some point in your childhood, doubtless your mother told you something to the effect of “I don’t care what you do, just be the best at it.” The BMW i8 did not get that speech. It is not the fastest car in its price bracket. Nor is it the most powerful. Nor is it the most electrified. An argument can be made that it is the most beautiful car in its class, and I for one would certainly go there with you.
The stunning copper color (technically “E-Copper with Frozen Grey Accent” in BMW-speak) on this example does a particularly good job of highlighting the curves, swoops, and scallops of the futuristic body. There is nothing on the road outside of a hyper exotic with a body this uniquely designed, especially the rear quarter panel with its floating plane and the dihedral doors. You can decide for yourself if you find this car beautiful, but if you decide it is not then you are wrong and I will fight your whole family.
The interior is no slouch with naked, uncured carbon fiber cloth festooning (great word) the dash and center consul. Carbon fiber reinforced plastic is also on full display in passenger cell that doubles as an enormous and cumbersome door sill. It’s great to look at, terrible to try and elegantly jump over while you sit down. BMW’s mastery of leather and stitching is on full display in the i8, perfectly following the car’s gracefully curving dash and components. Every needed piece of the interior falls to hand naturally and all switchgear feels as high quality and robust as any other BMW – and that is high praise. The interior also boasts LED strips throughout with programable colors and intensity, so you can show your passengers just how mad or blue you are feeling. Another nice piece of illumination for showing others is the i8 logo that is projected from the door onto the ground when the door is open. As I’ve always said, you’ve got to make sure valets and dates know exactly what they are about to get into before they sit down.
The beautiful styling and execution, however, are ultimately writing checks this car can’t cash. With just 369 horsepower, the i8 isn’t blowing the doors off of anything else in its price range. The electric motor helps push the car along, but it is no Ludicrous Mode by any means. This car is not a road scorcher, but nor was it ever meant to be. This isn’t a sports car. It has the 3-cylinder engine from the Mini for goodness sake. The chassis, however, is not half bad. From bumpy urban streets to canyon road race tracks, the car is remarkably composed, capable, and more than willing to go where you point it. When pushed hard to extremes, the car is designed to understeer, further underlining that this was never built to compete with full-throated fire-breather.
So what we have is a roadster that looks great, doesn’t go that fast but goes there well and dynamically. Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, everyone’s favorite driver’s car, the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Just listen for a minute — I know it sounds crazy to compare a $166,000 German hybrid to a $25,000 Japanese funbox. We’re talking about 369hp versus 155hp. But try and show me a criticism of the i8 Roadster that doesn’t also apply to the Miata: There’s no storage, there are faster cars for less money, it doesn’t look aggressive. All true. But you can also list the adored aspects of the Miata that work for the i8 as well: It drives great, the unlimited headroom is great, it carves roads incredibly well, it can teach you a thing or two about driving, and it puts a smile on your face. That’s right, the BMW i8 Roadster is the best Miata money can buy.
The i8 was designed to be a very specific car for a very specific customer. To buy one you have to want to be eco-conscious but have so much range anxiety that you demand a hybrid. You also have to be not interested in outright speed or headline numbers. More than anything, you are probably drawn to the car emotionally because of the styling or your love of the BMW brand. But we should add one more possible reason to the list: Because you are upgrading from the Miata. If your startup just closed its series A or you finally made it into management, it’s time to ditch the little Japanese convertible and enjoy the grown-up thrills of the i8 Roadster. It may not be the best-in-class at any one category, but it is the kind of capable all-rounder that driving fans are always clamoring for.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.