Buying a used supercar is always an interesting endeavor. On one hand, you’re getting a car that used to be incredibly expensive after it takes it massive depreciation hit, so you’re getting a great deal. On the other hand, you’re getting a very high-strung machine that will likely cost a ton of money in maintenance over several years. However, there are some supercars that come from reputable brands with excellent dealer chains that can now be had for very cheap. So let’s take a look at two of the best used supercar deals on the market to see which is best: the BMW i8 and Audi R8.
Let’s start with the BMW i8, as it’s the more complicated of the two cars. When the i8 first debuted in 2014, it was a techno-marvel, due to its hybrid powertrain that featured real-time torque vectoring all-wheel drive between a gasoline and electric powertrain with no physical connection between the two. The gasoline powertrain in question was a 1.5 liter turbocharged three-cylinder, in combination with an electric motor, that drove the rear wheels. Up front, it had another electric motor that drove the front wheels. At that time, the i8 was revolutionary.
When you drive a BMW i8 today, it still manages to impress. Its carbon fiber structure means it’s shockingly lightweight for a hybrid. It also sits incredibly low to the ground, rides remarkably well and is an extremely capable car. It’s also quicker than its seemingly measly 357 horsepower (in earlier models) would suggest. However, there’s certainly a lifelessness to the way it drives. There’s a techy numbness to the way steers and turns, which sort of sucks the fun from it. So don’t expect some sort of hardcore enthusiast experience from an i8.
However, it looks out of this world. Even the early pre-facelift models are jar-dropping today. There’s never been a car, before or since, that looks as futuristic as the i8. It turns heads like a seven-figure Italian exotic and makes even non-car people stop and inquire about it. Unfortunately, its interior is a bit boring by contrast but that’s okay, as the exterior as enough style to make up for it.
The first-gen Audi R8 is almost the antithesis of the BMW. The two cars share three things in common; they both have mid-mounted engines, they’re both all-wheel drive and they both have ‘8s’ in their name. Aside from that, they’re lightyears apart. What’s interesting is that the Audi R8 also made a big splash when it debuted, six years earlier than the i8, though for difference reasons. While the i8 was big news because of its tech and style, the Audi R8 was big news because of its beauty, thrill-factor and its association with Iron Man.
Back in 2008, the Audi R8 debuted with a 4.2 liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine, Quattro all-wheel drive and a choice of either a six-speed manual gearbox — with a delicious gated manual shifter — or a six-speed single-clutch automated manual. The latter transmission was universally panned for being clunky and jerky at slow speeds but the former was universally praised for its tactile feel and sound. Fans also went gaga for its engine. The 4.2 liter V8 screamer made 420 horsepower,revved past 8,200 rpm and made a sensational noise doing it, all while resetting and doing it over and over again after each metallic clink of the shifter.
After a couple of years, Audi also offered a 5.2 liter naturally-aspirated V10 engine in the R8, which upped its game considerably. Packing more power, 525 horses to be exact, and an even better soundtrack. To this day, Audi’s V10 might be the best engine I’ve personally ever used. It revs with motorcycle-like verve, pulls like a freight train and sounds like a nitroglycerin-powered Harley Davidson.
The first-gen Audi R8 was/is also a better handling car than the BMW i8 by some margin, with genuinely good steering feel and a rear-bias that makes it surprisingly playful.
In terms of outright purchase cost, both cars are quite similar. You can find either for around $60,000, give or take a few grand to account for mileage and spec. Considering that both cars were well over $100,000 when new, that seems like a relative bargain. We don’t have much data on the reliability of the BMW i8 over the years but we are friends with a former Audi R8 owner who claimed that it served him absolutely fine for two years, with no issues to speak of.
The BMW i8 is interesting because it has then engine from a MINI, so it should be relatively reliable but it’s also been tuned and turbo’d within an inch of its life and it also has a complex hybrid setup. So it could end up being a bit pricey to maintain if some of its fancy electronics start going bad. Though, EV powertrains are typically reliable.
While the Audi R8 is mostly reliable, for a supercar, its reliability likely depends on which end you get. You’d imagine the 4.2 liter V8 to be the more reliable of engines but it’s actually not, as the V10 is the sturdier one, from what we’ve heard and read. Also, our R8-owning friend’s car was a V10 and had not a single issue and he drives his cars hard.
Routine maintenance on both cars won’t be cheap, though. According to our R8-owning friend, his car was around $2,500 in routine maintenance per year, which is on par with all of the other supercars he and his friends own. So it’s about par for the course. As for the BMW i8, we don’t have any first or second-hand experience. We do know that there are some minor reoccurring issues, with sensors and some fuel tank issues, that we’ve read about on forums but nothing so crazy that we’d call it unreliable or expensive to maintain.
In the end, these are two very different supercars that can be had for around the same price and likely offer similar maintenance costs. The real question is which car is better to own and put your money down on. If we had to venture a guess, we’d probably say the Audi R8. And that’s written by a genuine lover of the BMW i8. The R8 is just the more exciting car to own and drive. Its engine are superb, it can be had with a manual transmission and it has an engagement factor the i8 doesn’t have.
Admittedly, there’s a wow-factor to the i8 that’s hard to ignore. Its eye-catching looks and techno-futuristic powertrain make it a unique and fascinating car. But that’s sort of its downfall as well. The i8 is a car that appeals to the brain; it impresses enthusiasts with its technology and forward thinking but it never really touches the heart or soul. While the Audi R8 is the opposite. There’s nothing otherworldly about its engineering but its screaming V10 engine and clinky manual shifter bring an emotion, a fizz, that the i8 simply can’t. When you’re buying a supercar, an inherently unnecessary sort of car, emotion is the main driver of the purchase.
The R8 is also likely to appreciate better over time. The BMW i8 might be a novel car in the future but its hybrid tech already feels dated and will continue to get worse. While analog cars like the Audi R8 will only grow on enthusiasts over time. It’s like anything else; analog ages better than digital. You might get a whiff of nostalgia from using an original Macintosh but that’s about as far as its enjoyment factor goes. However, using a typewriter is still incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.
The i8 is a wonderful car and one we’re going to remember fondly. But when it comes down to which used supercar we’d rather jump on, now that depreciation has set in, it’s the Audi R8 we’d choose.