Icons of the Future

19 Apr 2019
6 min read
FOUR takes a tour of South Africa in BMW’s iconic i8 Roadster, the latest vehicle to offer cutting-edge aesthetics as well as a plug-in hybrid engine, propelling the classic driving experience stylishly into the future.

Having owned a 4.2 liter V8, with a performance-enhancing chip and QuickSilver exhaust to make my car even louder and faster, I would have never thought for one second that I would possibly enjoy being in a supercar, or traveling fast with very little noise – and on top of that, a hybrid. I mean, I am a petrol head; seriously, who likes driving a Prius?

You see, the thing is until you drive this car, you will find it hard to understand how and why I completely fell in love with it. Now, given the choice of a classic Italian sports car or the BMW i8, I would take the i8 every day – and let me explain why. I am 38 – so yes, young – but I am at a phase in my life where being loud is not important anymore, and telling everyone I have arrived has become a cliché.

I picked up the car for the tour at 5pm and really wanted to explore Cape Town’s food scene straight away, so I headed to Chefs Warehouse & Canteen on Bree Street in the city center for dinner. Traveling there, everybody would stare and say how amazing the car was, taking photos and admiring the beauty of its design. Again, this was surprising to me, as I wasn’t in a typical Italian supercar, so I didn’t expect it.

I guess this stems from the fact I never really liked – or stood staring at – the i8 Coupe, with its unusual silver, blue and black color combination, when it first came out in 2014. It’s almost like my mind and body want to reject it because it’s so different and futuristic and doesn’t have the usual imposing front grill as most sports cars do. But for some reason, the Roadster, with the roof down and the new lateral columns that run down the back of the car, and this unique color – I mean, this color is insane – it seems like the i8 has found its balance, its perfect harmony.

What it has allowed me – and I guess everyone looking at it – to do is actually look at the beauty of this car, the lines, the scoops and flowing shapes. Now I truly believe this is the most beautifully designed exterior on the market, and as time goes by, the more you realize how you look at it and say, ‘Oh wow, I have just noticed how beautiful that detail is.’

On arrival at Chef ’s Warehouse, people turned and looked, but it was different. Rather than it being just a statement of wealth because you can afford a loud Italian supercar, with the i8, it was more discreet and dignified, like you have just discreetly snuck up without any noise. It’s very forward-thinking from a design point of view, and the man is actually trying to make a difference in the world by being more eco-conscious, so he is a super-cool guy. Do you see where I am going with this? It’s a different type of successful: a mature, ‘I’m aware of my surroundings’ kind of successful. At this point, I was starting to understand why BMW came out with this car.

After dinner, I checked into a design masterpiece, The Silo Hotel in Cape Town’s Waterfront district. The Silo has been built in the grain elevator portion of the historic silo complex occupying six floors above the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. The Zeitz houses Africa’s largest collection of contemporary African art, and the exterior of the building was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, founder and principal of the London-based Heatherwick Studio.

From the outside, the greatest visible change to the building’s original structure is the addition of the ingenious glass windows inserted into the geometry of the hotel floors. These multifaceted windows bulge outward as if gently inflated. This location, with its industrial feel, use of concrete, metal and glass, was to be our first location shoot the following morning.

The property has 28 beautifully interior-designed rooms, with beautiful attention to detail. Within the room, the three things that really impressed me the most was firstly the bed and its linen: some of the best I had ever slept in. Second, I love details and accessories – so in a home, the kitchen and bathroom are the two most important rooms; each of the Silo rooms have breathtaking beautiful old-fashioned tubs placed directly in front of those bulge windows with stunning views overlooking the city, Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean.  Thirdly (as silly as this may sound to some of you; I found it very impressive), in the coffee/tea cabinet, there was a small cutting board with a knife, a whole lemon and a whole piece of ginger root. You see, this means to me that the management wants to make you feel at home and as comfortable as possible, and this is the general feel while talking to the staff at the property; they were some of the most accommodating and welcoming staff on all my journey.

Next morning: 6am wake-up call, work out in the gym, fruit, dates and coffee in the room before heading the shoot; I will let the images say the rest.

At 11am, off we headed to the farming and wine land area of Constantia, on the border of Cape Town’s city walls. I couldn’t wait, because I wanted to drive this car. Guess what? We hit traffic, so I was extremely frustrated, but there was a moment about 15 minutes before our destination where the road opened up and I was surrounded by tall trees and dense vegetation, and in that exact moment a song started to play through the Harman Kardon Sound System: Loving You by Minnie Riperton. If anyone knows this song, you will remember that the intro before she sings is an acoustic guitar with birds chirping, and with the spring air and sun lightly hitting my forehead, the essence of this car all began to make sense. It was the perfect moment that even if I had planned it, it would have never been so perfect. I put my foot down, only to hear a space-like rocket sound, and within seconds I was gripped to the road taking each curve as if I was in a go-kart. No matter how fast I went, it felt like the car would never lose control and it was only my fear that made me not take it to its absolute limit.

At 12.30pm we sat down to have lunch at one of the most renowned restaurants in South Africa, La Colombe. Head chef Scot Kirton is considered by many to be the pioneer of fine dining in the Western Cape. Just two months ago, 29-year-old James Gagg took over the role of executive chef at La Colombe, having worked his way up the ranks within seven years.

The tasting menu explores a unique balance of classic techniques with a modern-day twist and approach on French and Asian cuisines, using locally sourced produce from surrounding areas and its own vegetable and herb garden. Though we were driving, we afford ourselves a taste of their homemade gin, before embarking on a journey of their culinary offerings. We were presented with an eight-course tasting menu that varied from signature seared tuna with Asian and citrus flavors, presented in a tin, to langoustine and duck with umami broth (which was my personal favorite) and a very exquisitely balanced sweetbread, sirloin steak and corn dish. The all-round experience, from the service of the welcoming and knowledgeable staff to the food, was very impressive – certainly worthy of a Michelin star.

At 3pm we head off to what was ultimately the main reason for deciding on the Western Cape as the best location for this road trip and location shoot, Chapman’s Peak – one of the best driving roads and most scenic routes in the world. When you take a moment to try and understand how the car works and keeps on changing from electric to petrol mode, it is quite impressive. When you put the car in sport mode (petrol) on open roads, the car recharges its batteries so that when you come out of that mode, depending on how much it has charged, you could possibly have a fully charged battery with a 30km range.

Our last spot was at the stunning Tintswalo Atlantic, located on the Chapmans Peak Route. Widely known as Cape Town’s hidden gem, Tintswalo Atlantic is a five-star, award-winning boutique lodge nestled at the base of the ocean-facing Table Mountain National Park. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, and it’s a haven for magnificent mountains plunging into crystal-blue seas. On entering the property gates, you have an amazing 180-degree view of the Atlantic. You are then taken on a shuttle bus down a private road that leads to the property nestled in the rocks at the bottom of the mountain. From the outside, it has a luxury eco-bungalow feel, as they needed them to have as little environmental impact as possible. It’s a tiny and very exclusive property of 11 villas, all immaculately furnished.

Each of our suites has a unique design and theme, paying tribute to the beauty of nature and rich heritage of our surroundings. The communal lounge and dining room at the front of the property all have sliding doors that open up on to a stunning terrace; perfect for breakfast at sunrise and sundown cocktails. The villas are so engulfed by nature and the ocean that at one point during the night I was awoken by the water crashing against the structure. This place is the perfect weekend (or a week; or three) getaway for absolute peace and finding one’s balance with nature.

To round up my experience in the new i8 Roadster, all I can say is that I am not an automotive guru, nor can I get very technical about why the car does what it does, its speed limit or even its 0-100km, for that matter: actually, I never tried to test it. What matters to me is how I feel when I drive a car, and this is how I feel: during that trip – and still today a week later, while writing this piece – all I am trying to figure out is how I can buy this car. It is pure joy.