Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 20, 2020
Electric vehicles are the way of the future. There’s no denying that. Fossil fuels are a finite resource and eventually, the flying hover cars from Futurama might not seem so outlandish after all. Tesla and other mainstream brands have already begun paving the way with massive investments into batteries and new technologies. Porsche themselves will have invested 22 billion euros in electro-mobility by 2022. But there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome, with EVs still being prohibitively expensive, batteries heavy and difficult to package, ranges too small to mitigate driver anxiety, and the lack of EV infrastructure in major city hubs, Toronto included.
Internal combustion engines still have a major part to play in the foreseeable future but while we’re stuck in this awkward purgatory brimming with emission regulations and waiting for impending global warming doom, why not take a look at the best of combustion and electric vehicles, the cutting-edge tech that they currently bring to the table, and find out why each have a role in our minds, wallets, and hearts. I like to think that in 25 years, people will look back to a snapshot of today’s automotive landscape, see what we’ve achieved, and miss the good old days.
As such, we’ve brought together two super sedans that reflect the stark contrast between the yin and yang. Both are comparable in price, eerily similar in performance, have all-wheel drive, and an entrance fee well into the six-figures, but they have reached their respective plateaus by mastering different arts of propulsion. One breaths fire, the other releases electricity. They’re the best in their class, but they might as well be from different planets.
Representing the way of the past and present is the 2020 BMW M8 Gran Coupe, a blistering German missile that excessively burns fuel for the sake of speed. There’s no better way to reach top gear than in this luxurious cocoon that seats four and looks damn good doing it. With two turbochargers nestled within a 4.4-litre V8, the M8 produces 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque, and this isn’t even the Competition model that juices out an extra 17 horses. The M8 runs all that prodigious power through a ZF 8-speed automatic through a rear-biased all-wheel drive system that can disconnect the front axle for some drifty shenanigans, and runs from 0-100 km/h in 3.3 seconds. Not only is that quick, but it’s more than enough to decimate dedicated sports cars like the Mercedes-AMG GT R.
And if to exaggerate the point even more, the M8 is the most powerful vehicle that BMW currently makes, and the most expensive too. The M8 Gran Coupe here starts at $148,000, with all the options on our test vehicle dilating it to an eye-watering $167,500. Yes, that’s with the pricey BMW Individual Manufaktur package ($19,500) that adds this unique shade of British Racing Green. In essence then, the M8 is a creatine-snorting muscle machine, and a symbol for gas-guzzling excess that lives for sky-high redlines, ramp-like power curves, and wailing exhausts, giving the M8 as much personality as it does performance, something the newcomer below possibly couldn’t replicate, right?
Tie-kahn, not Tay-kaen.
In the other corner is the Porsche Taycan Turbo, the first all-electric vehicle from Stuttgart, and its crosshairs are directly aimed at the Tesla Model S. It’s the talk of the town, an overwhelmingly positive technical achievement, and joins the vanguard of EVs penetrating the combustion-dominated market. This four-door sedan looks like a proper Porsche but despite the badge, the Taycan Turbo doesn’t actually have any turbochargers. Instead, Turbo has become Porsche’s sub-brand to represent their top-of-the-line performance models.
Like the M8, this isn’t the most powerful Taycan either. The Turbo delivers 670 hp and 626 lb-ft, just 80 hp shy of the superior Turbo S model that uses a larger inverter up front to draw more power from the battery. 0-100 km/h in the Turbo comes in an easy 3.2 seconds, besting the M8 by just one-tenths, but tying the M8 Competition variant and even the McLaren 570S. Yes, that mid-engined supercar from Woking. Let that sink in for a moment. There are a few asterisks to go with those power outputs, though. The Taycan Turbo does produce 670 horsepower but only 2.5 seconds at a time, allowing the batteries to cool and prevent overheating. After that, the total output drops to a still significant 616 hp, which will be maintained for another 10 seconds.
Electric thrust may not be the most exciting thing on static paper (hah!), but Porsche has introduced a number of new and innovative technologies that make these staggering figures possible. The Taycan is equipped with two electric motors, one on each axle. There is a one-speed transmission up front and a two-speed mounted out back, the latter of which is a first for any EV. First gear allows for quicker off-the-line acceleration, and is only engaged in Sport and Sport Plus driving modes. Second gear is for better efficiency and top speed.
But the trick up its sleeve is a 800-volt power supply that is double the voltage of what EV cars typically use. This means faster acceleration and charging times, taking the 93.4 kWh battery from a 5-80% charge in 22.5 minutes, or 100 km in 5 minutes, when using a power supply outputting 270 kW. The catch? These 270 kW - 350 kW high-powered charging stations are few and far in between, meaning you will have to settle for less powerful outlets in the range of 50 - 150 kW instead.
All this doesn’t come cheap, though. The Taycan Turbo starts at $173,900, and with Porsche being Porsche, our specific tester swelled up to $191,740 after options.
Ativan on the options list?
Porsche says the Taycan Turbo has a range of 450 km, while EPA claims it's more along the lines of 320 km. That should be more than enough for the average driver commuting to work, but far from what’s needed to quell concerns for lengthy road trips or when access to chargers is limited. The BMW M8? It’s 76-litre fuel tank and combined highway and city average of 13.8 L/100km gives us a range estimate of 550 km.
What are they like to drive then?
On paper, the M8 and Taycan Turbo may appear neck and neck but the manner in which they drive is night and day. There’s a build up and crescendo to the M8. Turbo lag is non-existent but there’s play in the low revs, whereas the Taycan has all hands on deck the moment you tickle the throttle. But we missed shifting gears and the Taycan has none to play with. In the M8, we incessantly cycled through all eight gears just to open up its vocal cords and listen to the peaks and troughs of the V8 anthem. There’s a rush of dopamine on each flick of the paddle, and we want to hear the M8 sing all day long. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video to hear what we’re talking about.
The M8 has four doors and a well endowed trunk but it carries the credentials and the resume to hang up there with bona fide exotics. With 600 raging horses on tap, you’re never left wanting. Caught the transmission asleep in eighth? Floor the gas pedal and the computers will taser it awake in a split second and have the war drums beating once again. The resulting power is gentle yet potent, gradual but intensifying, and is the kind only an internal combustion engine could deliver.
The M8’s adaptive suspension is cleverly tailored to hug the road but is absorbent enough to take on long-distance journeys. The sizable leather-wrapped steering wheel is like wrestling an anaconda, but with feedback as muted as it is, it might as well be a dead one. Still, the M8 belies its size, and the progressive build-up to steering rotation and the way the back-end loves to kick out inspires sports-car-like confidence in the corners, and like any top-of-the-line BMW, eats up miles without any fuss. Or range anxiety for that matter. Lengthy stretches of roads to our camping location north of Toronto brought our M8’s fuel average down to an impressive 13.0 L/100km, pushing our total range to nearly 700 kms before a fill up was required.
And what’s an M car without a myriad of adjustable driver settings. With a pair of bright red M buttons on the steering wheel, you can tailor your M8 to your heart’s desire. That goes for the braking, steering, suspension, AWD bias, and power delivery. Furthermore, the seats in the M8 are wonderfully supportive, adding to its road-trip appeal, the ride quality is excellently balanced, and you could hear a pin drop inside the church-silent cabin. Those that want to be one with the machine will find the M8 more engaging and theatrical than the Taycan. There’s an all-encompassing entertainment value to the fuel-sipping engine, and there are few things in life that impart such a cathartic experience. The M8 is the fire-breathing king of combustion.
Surely, the Porsche EV can’t match up to that, right?
Nothing will ever replace the thrilling exhaust notes provided by fuel-burning powerplants, and one could argue that an automobile without noise and character is just a dull commuting appliance. Well, Porsche has doubled down on their counter-argument, prioritizing driving dynamics and a genuinely Porsche-like experience to dissuade naysayers that this isn’t a proper Porsche. And if there’s one area where the Taycan irrefutably shines, it’s in straight-line acceleration.
From a launch, the Turbo obliterates anything puffing out carbon dioxides, no Playstation cheat code input required. Just switch to Sport Plus mode, hold down the gas pedal, and hang on tight as it pulls up to 1.2 g. The Taycan tears a hole through space-time and teleports you to the end of the road, just before the enormous brake rotors and 10-piston front calipers haul everything back into sanity. The M8 and Taycan may hit a similar 0-100 km/h time but the Taycan feels faster and more violent. If this is the future, save me a seat. And unlike the BMW that restricts launch control when the engine is running hot, and Tesla P100D that takes a lifetime to warm-up, the Taycan will launch over and over again, and up to ten times without fault or a drop in performance, says Porsche.
The lack of exhaust noise doesn’t mean the Taycan can’t establish a strong emotional connection to the driver. The steering is light, tactile, and sharp, hiding the Taycan’s rather substantial 2,305 kg curb weight. Body control is taut and you can feel just how low the center of gravity is when chucking it around corners - the active anti-roll bar system seems to anchor everything down. But it wasn’t as easy as slapping on a Porsche badge. The adaptive air suspension, extendable rear spoiler, adjustable cool air intakes, rear-axle steering, and torque vectoring, all lend a hand in reducing drag and improving aerodynamics, working in tandem to keep the Taycan as grounded as possible. It's not the zenith of driver engagement, and there isn’t much sensory interaction with the Taycan, but it’s damn good for an EV.
The Taycan is deafly quiet except for the occasional tire squeal, but Porsche has fitted a feature called Electric Sport Sound, optional on the Turbo, that adds futuristic electric sounds when accelerating, both outside and inside the vehicle. It doesn’t exactly replace the emotional cheer that makes you want to drive fast, but it does serve as an audible signal of how fast you’re going, an indicator that usually goes amiss in these overly hush-hush EVs. That, and it sounds like a spaceship. Who in their right mind hasn’t dreamed about piloting one of those?
Oddly enough, it was the Taycan that gave us a more quiet and relaxed driving experience compared to the BMW. The cabin insulation is better with double-paned windows, and without any background noise from a V8 war cry and with the adaptive cruise control set to the speed limit, the Taycan becomes as docile and tranquil as a Mercedes S-Class.
Dials vs. screens.
Inside, you will find that the M8 and Taycan carry a different ethos in delivering a driver-focused experience. The M8 is easily stuck in the past with its myriad of hard buttons that are each dedicated and assigned to one specific purpose. There’s one for every HVAC function, one for the exhaust, and one called ‘Setup’ that brings up the driving mode customization menu. There are even eight programmable buttons that can be used as a shortcut for anything: radio stations, destinations, Sport Mode, you name it. Clearly, the M8 provides a more conventional interior setup, prioritizing functionality and comfort above all else. There are still digital screens present in the instrument cluster, and the center widescreen can be handled by both touch input and the vaunted rotary dial that we have all come to love, but there’s an old school feel to its sensory and tactile approach to driver connectivity.
The Taycan is the complete opposite. There is more digital real estate in here than any other Porsche in its storied history. A welcome blend of 911 and Panamera, there’s a screen for everything. Gone are the flurry of buttons in last-gen Porsches, along with the classic analog speedometer. Instead, the driver is treated to the view of a massive, curved, 16.3-inch screen. There’s another 10.9-inch screen in the center, one below that, and even an optional one for the front passenger if you fork over $1,280, because they have needs too. This overreliance on screens will be a hit or miss with some folks, especially the ones who despise change and prefer actual dials - BMW is calling. No pun intended, of course.
Fingerprints still mar the screens no matter how diligent you are with cleaning, though they’re bright enough that they won’t wash out easily under heavy sunlight. Those who prefer the direct, tactile, and focused controls of buttons will be disappointed, but those looking towards the future of technology will find much to love. Still, there are enough cues so you won’t forget that you’re sitting in a sporty Porsche, like the thin-framed upright steering wheel, sturdy, albeit somewhat unsubstantial materials, and supportive seats. The build quality is exceptional, the fixed panoramic roof is expansive, and the Taycan does a stellar job balancing out the right kind of simplistic and futuristic EV vibe that it wants to convey.
So which is the better car?
This comparison was never about which car was superior to the other. The dichotomy that lies between combustion and electricity at the moment is deeply personal, influencing the ability to make an objective decision. But we will tell you this. The moment we stepped out of one car and into the other, we sorely missed it. Call it separation anxiety but BMW and Porsche have overengineered their own masterpieces, delivering maximum performance from their own preferred choice of propulsion, and have won the hearts of enthusiasts and newcomers alike with V8 symphonies and electrifying acceleration. They break the boundaries of what we thought possible, and give us an optimistic crystal-ball view of what lies ahead.
Instead, this is more of a celebration of the peak of the present and the inevitable future, the nuances of each, and why the M8 should be celebrated and remembered, while the Taycan should be welcomed with open arms. If the BMW M8 is the apogee of prescription-strength combustion engines, so be it. 600 horses is more than enough for road and track, and its V8 wardrum gives us something to daydream about. But this electric Porsche seems to point the way forward and gives us hope that the future isn’t bleak and boring, but bright and full of promise. If electric cars of tomorrow are anywhere as good as this Taycan, boy are we in for a ride. Some say the golden age of automobiles is ending. We think it’s just beginning.
Model: 2020 BMW M8 Gran Coupe
Paint Type: British Racing Green
Base Price: $148,000
Price as Tested: $167,500
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,104 / 1,943 / 1,420
Curb weight (kg): 2,032
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 600 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 5,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 16.0 / 11.0 / 13.8
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.0
Tires: 275/35ZR20 front; 285/35ZR20 rear
Model: 2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo
Paint Type: White
Base Price: $173,900
Price as Tested: $191,740
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4963 / 1,965 / 1,379
Curb weight (kg): 2,327
Powertrain: 2 permanent magnet synchronous motors + 93.4 kWh lithium ion battery
Horsepower: 616 hp (670 hp in overboost)
Torque: 626 lb-ft
Transmission: Single-speed transmission (front), two-speed transmission (rear)
Drive Configuration: AWD
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4; 245/45R20 front; 285/40R20 rear