Fashionably late, the 2019 BMW i8 Roadster strolls into the Los Angeles show

It’s been in the works for years. So long in fact, that we thought it might never happen. BMW has finally introduced the topless variant of its plug-in hybrid i8 sports car at the annual Los Angeles Auto Show.

Designers preserved the i8’s striking silhouette while chopping off part of the roof. The newly acquired power-operated soft top opens or closes in 16 seconds, even at speeds of up to 31 mph. It folds vertically in a Z shape (the letter, not the car) to take up as little space as possible under a tonneau cover accented with model-specific “Roadster” emblems, lest you forget you’re driving a convertible. The Roadster looks just as futuristic as the coupe, which remains one of the most eye-catching models on the market even three years after its debut.

The i8 offers 3.5 cubic feet of trunk space between the front seats and the rear firewall and 4.7 cubes out back. Those numbers probably sound dismal, but 8.2 cubic feet of storage is a surprisingly high figure for a car like the i8. The trade-off is that the Roaster only offers space for two passengers. In comparison, the coupe adopts a more spacious 2+2 layout, though the rear seats are nearly useless unless you lug around small children on a regular basis. The rest of the cabin remains unchanged.

Weight is the main enemy of every convertible regardless of what form it takes. BMW did its best to keep it in check by manufacturing the elements that connect the roof mechanism to the body out of aluminum using a novel 3D-printing process. The frameless doors are made out of carbon fiber with an aluminum outer shell, and the windshield frame is made exclusively with carbon fiber. The i8 Roadster consequently tips the scale at 3,513 pounds, a figure which makes it 132 pounds heavier than its fixed-roof counterpart.

The i8 Roadster ushers in an updated version of the coupe’s plug-in hybrid powertrain. Its nerve center is a turbocharged, 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that sends 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. It’s an evolution of the three-pot that powers the base Mini Hardtop and the entry-level 3 Series in Europe, among other models, and it shifts through a six-speed automatic transmission. On its own, it’s hardly impressive in a car with the i8’s pretensions. But BMW has a high-voltage trick up its sleeve.

An electric motor linked to an 11.6-kilowatt battery pack zaps the front axle into motion, bumping the i8’s total output to 369 hp — 12 more than last year, if you’re keeping track. The battery stores enough electricity to power the i8 on its own for up to 18 miles at no more than 75 mph when the driver engages eDrive mode. When the mid-mounted gasoline engine turns on, the Roadster becomes all-wheel drive and performs the benchmark zero-to-60-mph sprint in 4.4 seconds before going on to a top speed that’s electronically limited to 155 mph. BMW predicts its newest drop-top will return 70MPGe, though official figures aren’t available because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn’t tested the car yet.

The coupe — which receives the same updated powertrain — and Roadster variants of the 2019 BMW i8 will begin arriving in showrooms in the spring of next year. Look for a pricing announcement before then.


The 2019 Detroit Auto Show: Where new muscle cars, trucks, and EVs convene

The 2019 Detroit Auto Show was the quietest edition of the event in recent memory, but that doesn't mean nothing significant happened inside the Cobo Center. Here are the new cars and concepts we saw at the show.

Lexus LC convertible concept teases a new open-air flagship

Debuting at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Lexus LC convertible concept adds open-air motoring to the sleek LC's resume. But Lexus won't commit to a production version of the car just yet.

The 2020 Lexus RC F goes on a diet to run faster and hit harder

The Lexus RC F has been one of the heavier cars in its competitive set since its introduction. The Japanese firm's engineers set out to shed weight as they gave the model a mid-cycle update.

2020 Ford Explorer branches out with sporty ST, efficiency-focused hybrid models

The 2020 Ford Explorer gets two variants never before seen on Ford's stalwart family hauler. The ST focuses on performance, while the hybrid aims for decent gas mileage. Both models will debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.

The 8-seat, 3-row 2020 Telluride SUV is the biggest Kia ever

It's fitting that the 2020 Kia Telluride debuts at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, as it was built specifically to meet U.S. buyers' insatiable demand for SUVs. Kia packed the eight-seat cabin with family-friendly tech as well.

Cadillac is finally ready to take on Tesla with its own electric car

At the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, Cadillac announced plans for its first electric car. The unnamed model will be a crossover, based on a new platform to be shared with other General Motors brands.

Peloton’s tech lets truckers play follow the leader to boost fuel economy

Peloton Technology can help semi trucks save fuel by running close together on the highway. Using short-range wireless communications, the trucks get a kind of super cruise control.

Move mountains with the 2019 Ram Heavy Duty and its 1,000 pound-feet of torque

Unveiled at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the 2019 Ram Heavy Duty pickup truck boasts 1,000 pound-feet of torque -- outgunning rival trucks from Ford and Chevrolet. The new Ram goes on sale later this year.

With 341 horsepower, the WRX STI S209 is the most powerful Subaru ever

The Subaru WRX STI S209 is the latest in a series of special editions that have never been sold in the United States before. The 341-horsepower pocket rocket debuts at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.

China’s GAC Motor cruises into Detroit with all-electric Entranze concept

Chinese automaker GAC Motor brought its all-electric Entranze concept to the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. This is the third straight year that GAC has appeared in Detroit, and the company has established a design center in California.

Some of Volkswagen’s electric models will wear a ‘Made in the USA’ label

Confirming earlier rumors, Volkswagen has announced it will build electric cars in its Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory. The facility currently produces the Passat and the Atlas. Production will start in 2023, Digital Trends can reveal.

Infiniti previews its leap into one of the hottest industry segments

Infiniti will unveil the QX Inspiration concept at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. The design study is an electric crossover shaped by Infiniti's newest design language that may point to a future production model.

Hyundai’s Veloster N hot hatchback will prove its mettle on the track

The Hyundai Veloster N will go racing to prove the credibility of Hyundai's new N performance division. Unveiled at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Veloster N race car will compete in a class with other small cars.

Nissan IMs concept teases a future long-range, autonomous electric car

Debuting at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Nissan IMs is an electric car with a 380-mile range, autonomous-driving capability, and a backseat designed for being chauffeured. Too bad it's just a concept car.