FIRST DRIVE | BMW M2 and M8 play to the company's traditional strengths
Everyone will agree that 2020 was tough. For BMW, aside from the general derailment associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, there were notable blunders that made their year that much worse.
Take their local efforts at attempting to revive the legend of the 325is, for example, by launching a 330is Edition model. It was basically just a badge affixed to a regular 330i with M Sport regalia and a light smattering of M Performance garnishes. Then they landed in hot water for aping a hit track from a popular musician in their commercial for the car. Beyond that, the advertisement featured visuals of spinning on public roads. Tone deaf, when you consider the road safety situation in our country.
And it was probably a promotion the spinning community would not want to be associated with. The sport has come a long way in terms of being formalised, now with recognised tournaments like the Red Bull Shay’iMoto competition – BMW was actually a partner here in the 2020 instalment.
Aside from the poorly received 330is, the brand took punches on the global stage when it took the wraps off the iX electric sport-utility vehicle. Many had wished the wraps were thrown back on, because the appearance of the model was ... controversial to say the least.
Then they put out a brave (smug?) advertising campaign, pushing the notion that those who think the iX is hideous are part of an obstinate boomer generation shielding away from progress. If progress means unsightly vertical kidney grilles and less emphasis on what earned the brand its enthusiastic following, then there are many who might switch allegiance to the other Germans.
Late last year we were afforded a taste of two BMW models that seemed to affirm that when the brand honours tradition, the results are always admirable. First up was 24 hours with the M8 Competition (convertible); followed by the M2 CS.
We will start with the bigger of the duo. BMW has an illustrious history when it comes to large, luxurious grand tourers with a spirited edge. And the M8 is no different. Sure, it is essentially an M5, albeit in a sleeker, two-door costume. But when has the M5 ever been criticised as a poor foundation? Truth be told, I did not open the fabric roof once during my stint – the weather did not allow. But what I did revel in was how superbly insulated and quiet the cabin was. Imperative when the material ceiling in question is stapled to a torpedo capable of dashing from 0-100km/h in 3.3 seconds. All the way to a top speed of 305km/h, when the 250km/h restriction is quashed with the addition of the so-called “M driver’s package”.
You might have to use putty instead of hairspray to keep your do intact when you have such power in a drop-top. We are talking 460kW and 750Nm from the twin-turbocharged, 4,395cc V8 engine in the prow.
But maybe we are being a little too dramatic here. Because even despite its aggressive persona, the performance talents of the M8 are accessible to most hands. Its overtaking ability is downright astounding: you can seize just about any gap with confidence on a single-lane country road where a truck is holding up proceedings. All-wheel drive makes light work of the grunt in reserve. But use the special rear-wheel drive setting at your own peril – this is not one for public roads, but for a closed environment with decent run-off space.
Speaking of which, you would need to allocate track time if you are one of the lucky owners who snagged a unit of the 30 M2 CS units brought into the country. A swansong to the indomitable M2, the car is regarded by many as the end of an era, likely being the last M-model in which South African buyers can have a manual transmission.
We reported back on the CS after its official launch at Kyalami a month ago and (perhaps predictably) came away impressed. This is a machine that fans are going to be referencing for a while to come, in a similar vein to legends such as the E46 M3 CSL and F82 M4 GTS.
The additional 29kW (now 331kW) could be felt in the CS, though the 550Nm torque figure remained unchanged. Carbon fibre-reinforced plastic elements, including the hood, ensured a lighter mass and a somewhat nimbler character. In the seasoned palms of local BMW M head and racing car driver Gennaro Bonafede, it was just over two seconds quicker than the M2 Competition around Kyalami.
We asked him about what the next M2 could promise, especially since the current BMW compact family has embraced front-wheel drive. Wait and see, we were told.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see how the brand reconciles traditional virtues with future imperatives.