ON THE ROAD
You feel a bit groggy when stepping out of a BMW M8 after a few laps around a track. It takes a few seconds for all neural receptors to catch up to the fact that the body is now on solid, stationary ground. Your forearms ache from gripping the wheel too hard, while your eyes burn after being asked to concentrate relentlessly. It’s a simple reminder of why professional drivers must maintain impeccable levels of fitness.
The M8 doesn’t want you to feel like this all the time, however. It’s designed with absolute premium luxury as the end goal. Even the coupé competition version is spacious, long and almost coddles you in the cabin when not doing ridiculous speeds. To say that this car is niche doesn’t quite cover just where it sits in the market: it’s high extravagance, high performance that comes with a high price tag (R3-million).
Still, a car like this will always have to sell itself on its driving thrill more than any factor. One sunny weekday morning at the Gerotek Test Facilities in Pretoria West we got to find out whether it does that successfully.
Arriving at 6am, the day’s first light was barely poking out from the trees on the horizon. It was placid, beautiful and provided the perfect backdrop for a little bit of savagery.
We kicked things off on a 1km straight, making sure to tune all settings to their raciest. Left foot buried on the brake; right foot flat on the accelerator; release — and thwack! Pure violence greets the cool morning air. Both driver and passenger have their heads glued to the bucket seats as the car hurtles off its standing start.
The keys and hand sanitiser we foolishly left in the cup holders were shot to the back seat. That whiplash is soon replaced by a peripheral blur as the surrounding trees begin to melt into one another.
If you prefer your stories told in numbers, the M8 will get to 100km/h in 3.2 seconds. After 10.6 seconds it will arrive at 200km/h. Push a little harder, and it will get to its electronically limited top speed of 250km/h. Behind this performance is a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 engine that produces 460 kW and 750 Nm of torque. It’s controlled by an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission but, of course you, can switch to paddle shifts if you want greater control of the assault.
Next up was a few goes around the speedway. The track is a Nascar-esque oval: perfect for testing high speeds with minimal effort. As expected, the M8 flew around it’s elevated roads like the once-popular Hot Wheels toys. The firm suspension begets confidence and it was easy to take the rounded corners at speeds of more than 160km/h before almost flatlining on the subsequent straights. Put one of those professional drivers we spoke of in this car — someone who is more skilled, pluckier or crazier — and they probably travel at 220km/h+ continuously and indefinitely.
Step out after a few laps and the car is practically sizzling. Heat waves permeate from the exhaust and wheels while the engine fans thunder away.
There’s little doubting the exhilaration of it all but, again, BMW needs there to be a little bit more than that.
Fortunately, it has succeeded in that mission. Despite the homicidal thrusts, at no stage does the drive ever become uncomfortable. There are no rough edges one is flung into, and the racing-style, padded seats are dreamy.
The aesthetics of the cabin equipment are much like most high-end BMWs, which, depending on your predisposition, can be a good or a bad thing. Neat, elegant, but often a nightmare to use. It has long been a point of befuddlement as to why the German manufacturer makes its controls and infotainment systems so damn complicated — just fiddling with the climate settings feels as if it presupposes a degree in computer science.
While we’re nitpicking, the plastics and buttons near the gear lever feel cheap and horribly unbecoming of such an expensive piece of machinery.
There is one truly fascinating piece of tech it would be remiss not to mention. What BMW calls the “live cockpit professional” was introduced in 2020 and is the company’s new high-end gauge cluster.
What makes it stand out is the mini-car avatar at its centre: it drives along a digital road and, thanks to a number of sensors around the actual car, will display figures for any cars immediately in front of, behind or next you. A warning light will also pop up for any jogger or pedestrian that strays into or vicinity.
It’s all a fantastic advertisement for BMW. Which is really probably it’s primary purpose here. As with most cars of this nature, it’s hard to know how many the manufacturer intends to sell on our roads.
Rather, this is their way of showing off what’s possible through the few people who are able to afford one. You would be hard-pressed to find a faster billboard.