2019 BMW i8 Roadster vs. 2019 Acura NSX: Two sources of power …

This week: BMW i8.

“Whoa, how much does that cost?”: As I parked at the local farm store on sunny Saturday, an adorable little boy asked this very question — much to his mother’s horror. I assured them it wasn’t mine, and I could never afford it, so no harm done. “$166,795, young man, including $2,500 for the Tera World Copper package, which turns the brake calipers black and offers ceramic controls.” He’ll never ask that kind of question again.

Everything else was included in the price. But no cooled seats or adaptive cruise control.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes its “spaceship design, futuristic powertrain, easy to drive around town” but not that its “plastic-tastic cabin doesn't match the price, underperforms other top sports cars, hugely impractical.”

Marketer’s pitch: “More than innovation. Revolution.”

Reality: … make for powerfully fun cars.

What’s new: BMW takes the hybrid and gets a little crazy with this expensive i8 Roadster — though it’s not brand new, having been on the market since 2014. The engine drives the rear wheels, the motor drives the front wheels, and they all work in unison to move you down the road. (A coupe version has been added this model year as well.)

But allow plenty of time: Not because it’s slow, but because it’s a showstopper. Looking like a cross between a Ferrari and the Batmobile, this top-down two-seater with the dihedral doors really draws attention. Mr. Driver’s Seat spent several minutes chatting with people wherever he went.

Up to speed: During my first drive, I thought the i8 was a decent enough companion, fast-ish but nothing to get too excited about.

Then I found Sport mode by pulling the trigger gearshift to the left, and the world changed. Now the tiny TwinPower Turbo 3-cylinder engine and the eDrive electric motor worked hard in unison to create 369 total horsepower, and the scenery really started to blur. 0-to-60 takes 4.2 seconds, according to BMW.

Back down again: The brakes are sports-car worthy and make stopping a wonderful thing as well.

On the road: The i8 handles all curves delightfully. It really hugs the road and never feels as if it will lose contact, ever.

Furthermore, it provides a fine ride on the highway, and big seams and potholes don’t seem to faze it.

Shifty: The motor features a 2-speed automatic transmission, while the engine has a 6-speed auto that operates through paddle shifters or the shift lever, or automatically.

As it varies from source to source, it’s seamless. Only one night in Philadelphia did I feel any kind of fluttering for a moment, and I can’t guarantee that was the problem.

The handling does not change among modes, beyond the normal differences between Sport, Comfort, and Eco.

The interior of the BMW i8 is spacious as two-seaters go, with a little storage room and space for tall people.
BMW
The interior of the BMW i8 is spacious as two-seaters go, with a little storage room and space for tall people.

Driver’s Seat: The i8 in E-Copper leather interior oozes luxury. (I guess plastic-tastic is in the eye of the beholder.) Entry and exit take a bit of practice, and the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat provided some moments of hilarity both as she fell into the seat and later struggled to escape its clutches. (I am a terrible husband.) A rather large side rail does make the i8 a tough entry, so practice a bit before you try it in public. And watch your head, too; the doors always seem to be in the way.

Play some tunes: BMW’s awesome stereo controls, interface, and sound win the day — again. And this time Harman Kardon sound is included with the sticker price.

Friends and stuff: Just one companion at a time. Choose wisely, or plan to bring a chase car — which we did for a family outing.

A storage bin behind the seats moves this above the Miata MX-5, the Acura NSX — and even the McLaren. Trunk space is swallowed up by the batteries, though.

After a nice top-down ride to Lancaster, I began closing the top while rolling slowly through a parking lot and warned 6-foot-2 Sturgis Kid 4.0 to consider ducking. But his head still fit right in under the top.

Night shift: The headlights sit just right and provide illumination where needed. The interior lights are just right as well.

Fuel economy: That electric motor does help conserve the fuel, and I averaged about 31 mpg in a fun round of testing. (A colleague asked why anyone with the scratch to pay for the car would care about fuel savings, and I said they can feel better about saving fuel for the little people to buy.) Feed the i8 93 octane only, darn it.

Where it’s built: Leipzig, Germany.

How it’s built: The i8 gets a predicted reliability of 3 out of 5 stars from Consumer Reports.

In the end: I never needed to blow the doors off every other car on the road. Give me something that looks great, handles nicely, isn’t a pig, and is a little different — oh, and make it a BMW — and I’m sure I’ll love it just fine.

Next week: How it compares with the Acura NSX.