- Storming, take-no-prisoners 4.4-litre V8
- Hitman-grade styling - especially in black
- Imperious, unapologetic A-road rocket
- Ride quality also reluctant to take prisoners
- Interior not necessarily up to rivals' standards
- Sheer size isn't always a virtue
Those with exceptional powers of recollection may recall that the M8 badge is not entirely novel. BMW toyed with the idea previously, back when the original 8 Series was formulated to take pride of place as a range-topping premium-performance coupe in the moolah-obsessed eighties. It is no overstatement to say that the M-badged test case it pioneered at the time was remarkable. Powered by a 550hp V12 in a decade when the Porsche 959 was considered supremely punchy with 450hp, the M8 was clearly aimed at an extravagant market position that BMW had hitherto not considered. It did without its rear seats, was furnished with a six-speed manual 'box and had a projected top speed beyond 200mph. A hyper-GT, in other words.
Sadly, while those numbers all make relative sense now, in 1990 they seemed outlandish - as did the forecasted price per unit if BMW intended on ever turning a profit. The manufacturer baulked, and put the idea on ice. Thirty years later its spiritual successor has made it to production not for wistful reasons, but because the economics now make eminent sense. Nevertheless, there is still the lingering feeling that the new M8 is something of a moonshot - not just because its badge carries the connotations of a brand flagship, but because BMW has done what it felt unable to do before, and given the model a wallet-busting price tag.
The firm will feel like the ground is well-prepared for it to introduce a super-GT into heavyweight territory; other M-badged cars having previously tested the boundary, and the M6 having done arguably mostly the same job a generation ago. But, like its nineties namesake, the car is still forging into a new stratosphere, where it will need to be measured against the likes of Porsche, Aston Martin and Bentley - rivals that evoke a level of rarefied prestige that BMW has not previously aspired to. Mechanically speaking, the M8 has all the right ingredients - a phenomenal engine, proven architecture (it shares the CLAR platform with the M5 among others) and an imposing visual presence. But convincing everyone that it belongs in the same aspirational conversation as a Continental GT or Vantage will be the underlying challenge. Let's begin...
SPECIFICATION | BMW M8 COMPETITION
Engine: 4,395cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive with switchable rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 625@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553@1,800-5,800rpm
0-62mph: 3.2 seconds
Top speed: 189mph (with M Driver's Package)
Weight: 1,960kg (EU, with driver)
Price: £123,435 (price as standard; price as tested £143,435 comprised of Ultimate Package (M Carbon engine cover, M Carbon ceramic brakes, Sun protection glass, Seat ventilation, front, Heat comfort package, front, Driving Assistant Professional, BMW Laserlights, TV function Plus, Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system, M Carbon exterior package, M Driver's Package, M Sport exhaust system, 20-inch M Light alloy wheels, M seat belts Piano Black, Headlining Anthracite Alcantara, BMW Individual high-gloss Shadow Line with extended contents) for £20,000.
The dilemma facing BMW with the M8 Competition is readily apparent inside; not only must it appeal to those BMW buyers who have worked up the M car range, it must also seek to entice those used to spending six-figure sums on sports cars from other marques. And they're pretty disparate audiences.
Some might therefore find an interior layout conspicuously familiar from something like a 2 Series Gran Coupe a little underwhelming. For the Vantages and Continentals of this world the issue simply doesn't exist. That said, a 911 cabin has always pretty heavily influenced its contemporaneous Boxster and Cayman siblings, so perhaps familiarity doesn't necessarily breed contempt.
Furthermore, being recognisable doesn't make the M8's cabin a bad one - very far from it. The application and combination of leathers, metals and carbon fibre strikes the perfect tone for a sporting GT brief; the impression one of modern, cossetting and yet understated luxury.
The driving position is also typically BMW, and none the worse for it. The seat goes down, the wheel comes out, the pedals are ever so slightly offset to the right. The M8 is a large, imposing car, though visibility is good, the initially bewildering button array on the wheel soon becomes logical and slanting the dash towards the driver makes just as much sense here as it does anywhere else. It should be noted, however, that despite its saloon-like size the M8 is not all that accommodating for rear seat passengers.
The Competition makes use of Live Cockpit Professional, which means BMW's Operating System 7.0, a 12.3-inch dash display and a 10.25-inch central Control Display. It's controlled through the central touchscreen, the iDrive controller, the steering wheel buttons, voice control or gesture control - you'll not want for choice when you need to turn up the Today Programme.
Moreover, while that sounds complex, iDrive remains one of the most cohesive and logical infotainment systems out there. Menus are simple to navigate, displays are vivid, connectivity is very good and those control methods - convoluted gesture control notwithstanding - are responsive. CarPlay and a wi-fi hotspot are standard; the Bowers & Wilkins stereo fitted to the test car as part of the £20k Ultimate Package is as appropriately mighty as you'd hope an optional system in BMW's flagship would be.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Given its badge and implicit range positioning, it was inevitable that the M8 be furnished with a Herculean output; although somehow the Competition manages to make 625hp and 553lb ft feel almost like a modest amount. The shock is not delivered on start up, but on departure: the way this BMW dismisses the inertia of a two-tonne kerb weight really must be felt to be believed, the relentless charge for the horizon as intoxicating as it is threatening to your licence.
The 4.4-litre, twin-turbocharged, 'S63' V8 under the M8's gaudy carbon engine cover is not new - rather an evolution of the unit found in the old M5 and M6 - yet still it staggers. Peak torque from just 1,800rpm and peak power coming at 6,000 gives an inkling to its character, one of immense flexibility and mighty response, but the reality is even more impressive: there's precious little lag, and an appetite for revs that doesn't diminish even as the 7,200rpm limiter approaches.
The eight-speed automatic is, broadly speaking, the ideal accompaniment. Short ratios heighten that sense of boundless acceleration, response to both paddles is good and the shifts can be as unassuming as required in the more restrained drive settings.
The Competition's powertrain is not immune to criticism, however. Some will find the soundtrack too synthetic against the soul-stirring alternatives, certain dual-clutch gearboxes are even swifter to react and an engine like Porsche's 4.0 V8 gets to work with even less hesitation. We're talking very fine margins here, granted, though we're also talking about car that was £143,000 OTR as tested - the best is expected.
Slowing the M8 down from its colossal speed - a 0-124mph time of 10.6 seconds is truly berserk - is BMW's first brake-by-wire system, combining the brake actuation as well as a booster to keep the pedal firm in extreme circumstances. There's even the choice of Comfort or Sport brake pedal feels, but truth told neither really satisfies, and it feels a bit of a gimmick. Sport only exaggerates the impression that's there in Comfort, which can be grabby, lacking feel and not the easiest to modulate. The power from the ceramic rotors is enormous, however.
As a driving device is perhaps where the M8 Competition feels the most conflicted. On the one hand it is designed to be M Division's "first foray into the world of luxury motoring", while also delivering "an exclusive racing-car feel"; you don't need to be an expert to see how those aims are diametrically opposed.
As is common for an M car, a host of dynamic configurability is on offer. The engine can be set to Efficient, Sport or Sport Plus, the same three apply for the chassis (though Comfort replaces Efficient), steering is between Comfort and Sport and then same again for the brake pedal. That's before getting into conventional 4WD, 4WD Sport or Drift King 2WD set up. Or the Track mode, which immediately turns off all media, disables all comfort and driver assist features and alters the head-up display. 'Fiendish' would surely sell the Competition's level of complexity short.
That said, patent ability exists beneath the dense veil of configurability. Using a bespoke version of BMW's CLAR platform as well as new engine mounts, more chassis bracing and forged suspension arms, the promise is of an M car even more rewarding to drive than the (already very good) M5 saloon. It delivers on that too, the M8, proving spookily agile for one so large, blessed with fine balance, uncanny control and tenacious ability.
Even set to the regular 4WD mode the xDrive system keeps the M8 feeling like a BMW, for want of a better phrase; it's rear-driven with excellent traction, as opposed to something more stifling. 4WD Sport heightens this, the M8 neutral and willing to have its attitude adjusted ever so slightly on the throttle. As for rear-drive only, that's surely one to save for the test track.
But there's a problem. Making two tonnes do this means, even set at its most comfortable, the M8 is an aggressive vehicle. Moreover, when the suspension does relent on its iron-fisted control - typically on more demanding, smaller roads - the big BMW feels every one of those 1,960kg. The notion of being a GT never entirely wins out in the battle against the demonic M car side. In reality you get a car that jostles with the road and never entirely settles - even when driven by a powertrain capable of fading into the background.
Of course, failing to deliver the dynamic excitement of those smaller M cars which weigh hundreds of kilos less is not unexpected. But knowing what the M8 would eventually weigh - and well aware of the roles already occupied by cars like the M2 and M4 - a slightly more forgiving set up from BMW would surely have suited this car better. Or greater bandwidth in the parameters of the configurable bits, delivering real comfort one end and this more focused - and properly engaging - M feel at the other. As is, the M8 Comp feels neither fish nor fowl on this exposure: the demand of an M product compromises its GT credentials, and its luxury ambition denies it the edge of a more committed sports car.
In the UK, buyers will only be able to opt for the 625hp M8 Competition in Coupe, Convertible and Gran Coupe guises. Some other markets get a non-Competition, 600hp M8 also. Base price for the coupe seen here is £123,435. As tested, with the £20,000 Ultimate Package that essentially bundles all the desirable options into one tick - the ceramic brakes, sports exhaust, B&W stereo, BMW Laserlights, loads of carbon, etc - the Competition is £143,435.
For reference, a Mercedes-AMG S63 Premium Coupe, an older car but surely the BMW's closest ideological rival, costs £140,905, so it could easily be argued that the M8 is fairly priced against similar rivals. However the extravagant bottom line makes the additional alternatives mouth-watering, especially when then can be split into a traditional sports car role (the Vantage, from £123,850) and comfort focused super-GT (the Continental GT, from £151,800).
From April 2020, all new cars in the UK will be rated on their efficiency by WLTP standards. On that score the M8 Competition is rated at 254g/km and 25.4mpg, figures identical to the lighter (albeit more powerful) 911 Turbo S and only slightly worse than something like a Jaguar F-Type R (26.4mpg, 243g/km). That means it just sneaks under the maximum 255g/km threshold for the highest VED band; new M8 buyers will face a £1,850 first year rate.
As for depreciation, it would be a surprise if the Competition did much for bucking the big BMW trend of dropping pretty severely. That Ultimate Package option will surely only assist desirability rather than adding much value; of those M8s already available second-hand, expect a Convertible like this to be the norm rather than an exception: with less than 1,800 miles showing a new price of £130,595 is now £115k.
Credit where it's due here: it surely would have been very easy to make an M8 near enough identical to an M5 (given everything they share) and just sell it for more money. But this Competition is a demonstrably more serious car, one capable of almost GTR-esque handling adroitness and a dynamic aggression and focus that, for the most part, belies its luxury saloon kerb weight.
Trouble is, the M5 didn't need to be any more intense. It was already at the borderline of tolerance for the comfort/craziness compromise; in tilting the M8 even more in favour of the latter, there's a danger that BMW may well alienate as many current customers as it attracts fresh ones. For every moment that it dazzles with its dexterity (on the right kind of road), there are surely many more where the M8 can baffle and bemuse with its unrelenting firmness.
Nevertheless, it remains charming for its smarts. Such is the combination of those brooding good looks, titanic performance and cool, crisp - if not the most inspirational - interior, the M8 is a car that it's easy to imagine spending a lot of very enjoyable time with. In the right environment.
As is, the Competition is a car characterised by some outstanding elements and undone by a few frustrating flaws. Something drastically lighter or more track-focussed than an M5 might have done the trick, or an M8 that trod a more Alpina-like path in rivalling the Aston DB11 and Bentley. For now, the 8 Series package is probably better represented by lesser versions, and this mighty powertrain housed more comfortably in the M5. The M8 isn't a bad car by any means - or even an average one - but a confused remit means that any recommendation comes with some significant caveats. Against a host of exceptionally talented rivals, that confers also-ran status on BMW's likeable heavyweight.
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