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LA show: BMW i8 Roadster breaks cover

Long gestation: More than five years after showing an i8 Spyder and signalling its intention to build a drop-top version of the i8 Coupe, BMW has presented the production version ahead of European sales kicking off next May.

Aussie customers given preview of BMW’s new i8 Roadster just hours after LA debut

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BMW logo30 Nov 2017

BMW unveiled its long-awaited i8 Roadster at the Los Angeles auto show overnight alongside an updated version of the i8 Coupe, with both plug-in hybrid sportscars expected to reach Australia around the middle of next year.

The German prestige manufacturer’s first open-top i-car will also be shown to prospective buyers at a VIP event in Sydney tonight after BMW Australia managed to secure an example of the all-new $300,000-plus model to help generate interest and sales ahead of its launch.

“It’s pretty exciting because we are one of the only countries in the world that had the opportunity to do this preview so close on the heels of a vehicle that has just been revealed in LA,” BMW Group Australia general manager of corporate communications Lenore Fletcher told GoAuto.

“It is a really good commentary on BMW Australia’s standing in the international market that we were able to secure one of these vehicles, and I think it’s also a good recognition of how strong our customer base is here in Australia for this type of exotic vehicle.”

BMW has shifted about 120 i8 Coupes since sales commenced in December 2014, although sales have fallen away after the initial surge and the company is now hoping the new convertible and its facelifted hard-roofed sibling will spark a fresh round of interest from buyers in this market.

Significantly, the pair emerged in LA with an upgraded powertrain that now develops a combined 275kW of power – up 11kW on the current version in the coupe.

The i8 series continues to use a mid-mounted 170kW/320Nm 1.5-litre ‘TwinPower’ turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine – now with a particulate filter and sportier exhaust note – that drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox and combines with an uprated 105kW/250Nm electric motor that sends power (via a two-speed transmission) to the front axle.

While the combustion engine’s output is unchanged, the electric motor’s maximum power is up from 96kW (torque remains the same). The high-voltage (355V) lithium-ion battery also has a higher energy capacity of 11.6kWh (up from 7.1kWh) and battery cell capacity of 34Ah (up from 20Ah).

Tipping the scales at 1595kg, the two-seater i8 Roadster can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds, on its way to an electronically governed 250km/h top speed (or 120km/h in pure-electric mode).

The electric driving range is 53km and total range 440km from the standard 30-litre tank (600km with an optional 42-litre fuel tank), while fuel consumption and emissions are rated at 2.1L/100km and 46g/km respectively.

A full battery recharge takes less than three hours using a fast-charge outlet (via a newly developed ‘mode three’ cable) or around 4.5 hours from a domestic power supply.

The lighter 1535kg 2+2-seater i8 Coupe can reach 100km/h from standstill in a claimed 4.4s, has the same top speed and total range, and a slightly longer electric range of 55km. Fuel economy and emissions are also superior at 1.9L/100km and 42g/km respectively.

This is identical to the current model in most respects, with the notable exception of electric-only driving range (currently 37km) and its environmental performance – 2.1L/100km economy and 49g/km CO2.

The updated coupe’s improvements come despite an increase in kerb weight from the current car’s 1485kg.

The production version of the convertible comes more than five years after BMW presented an i8 Spyder concept at the Beijing motor show in 2012.

BMW says the electrically operated fabric roof opens and closes in 15 seconds at speeds up to 50km/h, with the mechanism designed to retract fully into the rear end at stow in a perpendicular position, creating around 100 litres of additional storage space behind the seats.

This adds to the 80 litres of cargo space provided in the rear load area.

The retractable rear window also sits up 30mm higher when the roof is down, serving as a wind blocker.

The two-seater has newly designed frameless gullwing doors made from strong-but-lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) with an aluminium outer shell, while CFRP is used for the entire windscreen frame and across various other areas of the vehicle including the roadster’s long side skirts which act as a structural element. The aluminium chassis and CFRP bodyshell carry over.

Other measures to improve rigidity, which is typically compromised with the removal of a roof structure, include additional struts and panels at the front and rear axle.

The C-pillar of the soft-top has ‘Roadster’ written across it, and the tin-lidded version, which now goes without a rear side window, carries the ‘Coupe’ marker across this section.

Cabin revisions include a dashboard upgrade with the latest iDrive system, redesigned seats and the option of ‘Accaro’ cloth/leather upholstery in an also-new ‘Amido/E-Copper’ colour scheme.

The current i8 Coupe is priced from $303,300 plus on-road costs. BMW Australia is still to confirm pricing and specification for the new roadster and facelifted coupe, with Ms Fletcher saying the company would attempt to keep price rises on the latter to a minimum.

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