L.A. Auto Show 2017: BMW introduces the i8 Roadster, a hot new plug-in hybrid

The BMW i8 Roadster.

Not long ago, people thought BMW was unserious about electrified cars. The aggressively attractive new i8 Roadster ought to change that attitude. It won’t sell in high volume, but it’ll draw attention, no question.

What is it?

A soft-top convertible version of the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe.

Why it matters

Electric cars gotta look cool. That’s the lesson automakers learned after Tesla’s original electric Roadster and the Model S sedan proved the electric car market could expand well beyond nerdy Earth do-gooders. Now all of the world’s major automakers are on a major electrification push, propelled by government subsidies and mandates across the globe.

The BMW i8 Roadster is a plug-in hybrid, not a pure electric, but it does make “electrified” look hot and desirable. The soft-top joins the i8 Coupe, which hit the market in model year 2015. They both can run short commutes at low speed on battery power before a turbocharged three-cylinder gasoline engine kicks in for a combined 369 horsepower with a range limited only by the size of the gas tank.

The butterfly doors add to the sex appeal.

What's new?

The soft top, new colors and a more powerful battery pack, for an 18-mile pure-electric range. The Coupe gets the bigger battery too.

The competition

In this category, anything that’s flashy and expensive, whatever the power source: Porsche 911, Mercedes SL class, Jaguar F-Type. If it’s ever built, the recently unveiled all-electric $200,000 Tesla Roadster concept, with 650 horsepower and a zero-to-60 time of 1.9 seconds. The current i8 goes for $145,000. The i8 Roadster and new-version Coupe go on sale sometime next spring.

The details

The body is aluminum with a carbon-fiber “passenger cell.” An electric motor drives the front wheels, the gasoline engine, the rear. The electric top folds down in 16 seconds while the car’s in motion up to 31 mph. Don’t try that while jamming from 0 to 60 at the estimated 4.2 seconds. Top speed is 155 mph.

The L.A. Auto Show runs Dec. 1-10 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Times coverage begins Nov. 25 at