FIRST DRIVE | The 2019 BMW M8 is one fiery driving package
The M850i xDrive coupe and cabriolet already rank highly for refinement and boulevard manners but the M8 versions which have been added to the range enjoy greater motorsport engineering focus that hits the spot whether used as track or road tools.
I took the 1,960kg Coupe with its full fat 460kW and 750Nm on the swoopy asphalt of circuit Portimao during its international launch in Portugal while the convertible’s 0-100km/h times of 3.3 seconds and its restricted 250km/h top speed came along for a whirlwind drive in the mountains of the Algarve district. These are quick numbers for a 2,085kg and 4,867mm long yacht.
Weaponised with the 4.4l biturbo V8, once under way early in the morning, roof down and careful not to be lured by the mighty figures under my right foot, the M8 Competition cabrio wafted in style when its mechanicals were set for Comfort on a new digital layout.
Tailoring the car’s many driving algorithms now happens via an enhanced menu design through the command screen in the centre. The parameters vary from Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus and are easier to organise now. A new track-only M Drive button joins others in the centre tunnel next to the stubby gearlever and its purpose is of a single-action kill switch for every conceivable safety sensor and also the display screen, which means no navigation or music in this mode.
In terms of driving dynamics, the M8 Cab offers a very similar experience to the coupe except a refreshing gust of wind rushing past your head.
If it misses the sharpness and solidity of its helmeted cousin due to its being 125kg heavier than the coupe and with a truncated roof, then BMW engineers have hidden this very well.
Far away from the city of Faro where the roads started opening up and become twisty, it was apparent very quickly that the drop-top has plenty of dynamic ability and superior grip levels for a spirited breakfast run.
What it doesn't do well enough is sound better than the more pedestrian M850i xDrive. No points for guessing that strict European noise emission regulations have played a part here. But it’s an entertaining enough aural experience which settles down into an enjoyable rather than annoying timbre when you turn down the histrionics.
Driven kindly, the M8 cab is claimed to munch on 10.6l/100km and it’s a wall poster for a weekend top-down cruise provided your doddle isn’t on Portugal’s famously narrow, outer city roads where the car’s 1,908mm girth was a truly intimidating prospect given that we were in left-hand drive cars.
The cabin ergonomics are excellent, the ambience top shelf and the sound system crisp and powerful. With the wind deflector firmly in place where the heads of rear passengers would normally poke out, the 2+2 cabin becomes free of nasty wind buffeting. It’s made for this lifestyle, with its Frankenstein character a small stretch of an arm away to the felonious button.
The sweet combination of M xDrive, Pirelli rubber, sharp-shifting eight-speed Steptronic auto transmission and a stiffer body with a centre of gravity that’s lower than that of the M5 Competition it borrows an engine from has transformed the M8 coupe into the most adjustable, most astonishing drive in the BMW M harem.
Expect unimpeachable poise in the corners, razor sharp steering responses and a willingness of the front wheels to clip apexes, with little to no understeer at the limit. You can tweak the veracity of its transmission changes, stiffness of dampers, throttle response or switch to potent, sophisticated and safe M xDrive mode which has become the benchmark setting for how to best exploit these insanely powerful modern day BMWs.
Even in the RWD mode the rear swivels in a progressive manner. It rewards the skilful driver with a telepathic bum-in-seat connection to what the chassis and wheels are doing at all times.
Initial thoughts are the pair of M8 Competition coupe and cabrio are engineered to be fast but easy drives on the road and on track. BMW says the coupe also claims the title of fastest accelerating series BMW ever with a claimed time of 3.2 seconds from 0-100km/h.
Top speed is restricted to 250km/h but you can up that terminal speed to 304km/h in both cars if you opt for the M Drivers Pack. Expect this brilliant tag-team of athletes to arrive in SA early in 2020.
BMW M8 Competition Coupe — R2,958,053
BMW M8 Competition Convertible — R3,089,486
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