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The BMW i8 Roadster. That took a while to come out, didn’t it? Indeed. Six years after the concept, we’ve finally driven an i8 drop-top in the UK. While we’ve previously had a go abroad, as we all know, Britain has its own distinct flavour of road. And with our outrageously hot summer unraveling and starting its descent into wet and miserable winter, we wanted to drive it properly while we still could. Any excuse and all that. So what’s new? A three-piece folding fabric roof, for starters, that bunches and stows vertically in a mere 15 seconds at speeds up to 31mph. It’s also based on the updated i8 (there’s a refreshed Coupe, too) which means a 70 per cent more energy dense, 9.4kwh battery that, in theory, lets you run more often with the petrol engine switched off and up to speeds of 75mph for 33 miles in eDrive mode. In reality, you’ll get more like 25 miles before the three-cylinder engine thrums into life.
There’s more power than the original i8 Coupe, too… all 12bhp of it, thanks to that juicier battery. As a recap, the 228bhp 1.5-litre engine drives the rear wheels, while the 141bhp motor spins the fronts. That’s a total of 369bhp, maths fans, 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds and a limited 155mph top speed. Any drawbacks? At nearly £125,000, it’ll cost you £12,000 more than the Coupe. It’s also 60kg heavier, two tenths slower from 0–62mph and the back seats are replaced with somewhere to store your roof, while the 88-litre ‘boot’ is barely big enough for a couple of rucksacks (although there is a bit more room for flat or squishy things behind the seats). However, if you’re buying an i8 to save cash, go drag racing or transport more than two humans, you’re probably doing it wrong. I have to say, it looks good… Doesn’t it? BMW has done a remarkable job of translating the Coupe’s Tron styling into a drop-top body. Even the dihedral doors (which open and close with a satisfying lightness) are carried over, along with a curtailed version of the flying buttresses. Two new colours are available – E-Copper and Donington Grey – along with unique 20in wheels, each weighing one kilo less than the previous lightest i8 rims. The interior might be ageing a bit, but it’s hard to tell. Perhaps the 8.8in screen is starting to look on the small side next to the IMAX displays that are smeared across most new BMWs and Mercedes these days, but it’s hiding its age well. Blowy much? Not at all, even with windows and rear windscreen/wind blocker down, the cabin is a bluster-free area, unless you push past 60mph, but even then you could happily sit on the motorway with the windows up, roof down and toupee still safely attached. And folding the roof back should be done at every available opportunity – whistling along in near silence, three-cyl engine off, is a soothing tonic for you soul. But come the weekend, you may want to drive a little harder, and the Roadster is happy to play along, zapping away from a standstill, charging hard when the gargling three-pot joins in, understeering a little less than the Coupe used to and flowing beautifully with whatever surface you find yourself on – yep, even here in the UK. Listen closely and there is the odd creak and squeak from the marginally less rigid chassis, but the driving experience is, for all intents and purposes, just as invigorating as the Coupe. You’re a fan? Yep. Even four years after it launched, the i8 remains spectacularly different to anything else out there. A junior supercar, stuffed with tech that isn’t consumed with the pursuit of power figures or cooking its narrow tyres, but delivering a range of sensations, from zero-emissions commuting smugness to thrusting acceleration and nimble handling at (mostly) legal speeds when you slide the gearlever left into Sport. But what I love is it never pretends to be race-bred or track-orientated; it’s a road car above all else, and therefore sized, sprung and powered accordingly. Frankly, the i8 is in danger of being decades ahead of its time but a commercial flop (14,000 sales globally in four years isn’t great). But despite packaging flaws, by doubling the i8 offering, the Roadster now gives the i8 the chance to succeed that its all-round brilliance deserves. 8/10