I still remember Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. It was the follow-up to the surprisingly great Mission: Impossible III and, as a lover of action-packed, sometimes over-the-top spy thrillers, I couldn’t wait to see it. While there were several memorable moments; such as Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt scaling the side of the Burj Khalifa with nothing but suction cups on his hands; one of my favorite scenes in the movie is the car chase scene, featuring what would eventually become the BMW i8.
At the time of Ghost Protocol’s release, the BMW i8 was still three years from production. So the car in the movie wasn’t exactly an i8 but its concept car predecessor — the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics Concept. Visually, the two cars are almost identical, with the concept distinguishing itself with some less-than-road-legal equipment, such as transparent swan doors. While the swan doors remained on the production car, they lacked the glass panels of the concept.
When I first saw that, I was blown away at how incredibly futuristic the car looked. While BMW had said that a production car would come from the concept, I didn’t believe it. The Vision Dynamics Concept looked like it came from another planet and it concept cars are far-out as never came to life. At least not until BMW was bold enough to turn such a concept into the BMW i8.
In 2014, the BMW i8 and its hatchback sibling — the BMW i3 — made their highly anticipated reveal and they both shocked the world. The i8 was the darling of the two, thanks to its baffling good looks and exotic (at the time) powertrain. After its initial reveal, there was simply nothing like the i8 on the road, at least not for mere mortals. It used a curious combination of a 1.5 liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine with two electric motors; one at the back helping the engine power the rear axle and one at the front, powering the front axle.
The engine used a six-speed automatic gearbox to send its power, along with the EV motor’s power, to the rear axle. While the front electric motor actually used a two-speed transmission to send power to the front. While the i8 was criticized shortly after its release for not making enough power or not being innovative enough, it actually doesn’t get enough credit. The use of a two-speed transmission in a production electric vehicle wouldn’t be used again until just 2019, in the incredible, headline-stealing Porsche Taycan.
Shortly after its release, the Porsche 918 Spyder, McLaren P1 and Ferrari TheFerrari stole the headlines with the otherworldly power and performance, using similar powertrain setups as the i8. However, all of those cars wore seven-figure price tags, while the i8 was barely more expensive than a nice Porsche 911. The i8 was also built using a carbon fiber chassis, which only the McLaren could also claim. So BMW had the attention of the auto industry.
After a few years, the exoticism of its powertrain wore thin. More and more automotive companies were developing more impressive hybrid tech and Tesla’s Model S dominated EV headlines, keeping the i8 in the dark. Relatively poor sales figures didn’t help the i8 much, either.
However, one aspect of the BMW i8 that never got old was its looks. Even today, now that it’s no longer on sale, the i8 is a jaw-dropper and it will continue to be a BMW design icon for the foreseeable future.
Firstly, it checks all the supercar boxes. Its low, mid-engine design immediately tells our lizard brains that we’re looking at something exotic. But then you notice more, such as the lack of function front kidney grilles, the blade-like rear wheel arch and the stunning flying buttress design in the C-pillar. There are also some fun details that really bring the design to life, such as the taillights that follow the shape of the aforementioned buttress and the fact that, if you look closely, the back of the i8 looks like it’s birthing a 991-gen Porsche 911. You can’t unsee it, after you’ve seen it.
Things got even better when BMW gave the i8 an LCI facelift. Not so much because of the subtle design changes, although those did help, but because of the new model variant. With the LCI, BMW offered a Roadster version of the i8 and it is, without question, still the best looking version of the i8.
Removing the roof was the best thing BMW ever did to the i8, as it gave the hybrid supercar even more of an exotic look, while also adding a bit more drama to the driving experience. By far and away, the biggest criticism of the original i8 Coupe was that it wasn’t exactly fun to drive; there was no theater or excitement, as it was just so competent and good at its job. While the BMW i8 Roadster wasn’t exactly a Porsche Cayman GT4, it was more fun and more exciting than its fixed-roof sibling, simply because you could hear more and feel the rush of wind in your hair.
The BMW i8 also offered a very unique experience in the automotive world — an all-electric convertible experience. Driving the i8 Roadster with the top down in EV mode was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a modern BMW. The gentle whir of the electric motors just barely breaking the silence as you calmly waft along with the breeze in your hair is a surprisingly fantastic experience and one that more companies should be looking to implement. The lack of electric convertibles on the market is criminal.
I’ve personally had the chance to drive the BMW i8 Roadster many times and each and every time it puts a massive, stupid grin on my face. There’s just something so fun about the way it looks — especially with the top down — and driving an all-wheel drive, carbon fiber-tubbed hybrid supercar with looks like that and no roof that can make even the most hardened skeptic smile.
The BMW i8, in any form, has already left us. The Bavarians have ended production and will move onto other electrified projects. However, the i8 will live on as one of the coolest and most interesting BMWs of all time. Without question, the BMW i8 is a future classic and design icon for not only the brand but the industry altogether. Of course, it was never perfect; it lacked power, all-electric range and the thrilling drive you’d expect from a car that looked as it did; but it was still a deeply desirable machine while it was on sale and it will continue to be such a thing for future collectors.
It didn’t get the appreciation it deserved while it was on sale but we have a good feeling that it will continue to grow in popularity as used prices fall and will eventually become a BMW that collectors seek out in the future.