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BMW M8 Competition | Driven (on road)

It impressed on track, but can an M8 Competition play the GT sports car role well on a proper road drive?

By Dan Trent / Friday, December 13, 2019

Having enjoyed the BMW M8 Competition on track in Portugal we were obviously keen to try RHD, UK spec cars on the road. And now we have. In Spain. Feel our pain but this is common practice for BMW's off-season UK launches and, while the well-worn caveat of 'we'll see how it goes at home' remains valid, the roads round Malaga are rough enough to give the M8's chassis a proper workout.

The location is appropriate, mind, given it's still unclear whether the Competition is a true M car as BMW claims. Or more the luxury chariot for leathery Costa del Sol ex-pats to perambulate twixt villa, golf club and marina. At one level it seemingly has the sporting chops to be considered a 911 rival. Yet its two-tonne heft and a price as tested of over £140K suggests it'll be more comfortable gunning more for the traditional luxury GT end of the market.

The starting price of £123,435 is more or less in line with a well-specced 992 Carrera, entry to the Aston Martin Vantage range or an AMG GT. 625hp puts them all to shame, but it's considerably heavier too. Going the other way the S63 Coupe is within shooting distance on price and comparable on power, even if the AMG V8 out-muscles the M equivalent on torque and the S-Class is a genuine four-seater where the BMW's rear seats are little more viable than a 911's. At this level you might also be considering the V8 DB11 or even a Continental GT, formidable rivals both.

Rather than list the generous standard spec it's better to consider what remains optional, highlights including the carbon exterior package, ceramic brakes (nearly £8,000 on their own), laser headlights, active driver aids, Bowers & Wilkins stereo and M Driver's Package with raised 189mph limiter. How much for all that lot? You can pick and choose but, handily, BMW also offers a straightforward Ultimate Package wrapping everything into a chunky £20K bundle deal.

Having established ambition ranging from proper sports car to luxurious GT can the M8 deliver appropriately broad ability on the road? You're certainly not shy of configurability to test the theory, the familiar M1 and M2 hot keys offering two variations on mix-and-match set-ups for everything from steering feel to engine sound and even brake pedal feel. There are also broader Road, Sport and Track settings, plus the ability to fiddle on the move. Nagging 'mode anxiety' is never far away, the worry you might be having more fun if you'd only set the car up differently a constant distraction.

First impressions in the default mode include burliness you'd expect from both the stats and the looks. Taking the ethos of previous M6 models and running with it, the M8 is very much the luxury German muscle car but shows commendable restraint in its standard mode, the easy-going torque of that V8 complemented by smooth shifts from the eight-speed auto and swanky surroundings of the cabin. It's certainly opulent enough, though the way the console flexes when you press the integrated switches feels a little cheap compared with, say, a 7 Series. At the price Mercedes does this kind of thing better.

Enough pearl clutching over switchgear though. This is an M car with a V8 and a point to prove.

In the softest of the three damper settings the M8 mooches acceptably, with commendable waft over primary lumps and bumps and brittleness over secondary road clutter you'll accept given the stated intent. It's more refined than a Vantage or AMG GT, suffers less tyre noise than a 911 and seems a comfy place to rack up the boring miles. What about the interesting ones, though?

You can contrive a more nuanced character switch via the configurable modes but an 'everything to 11' M2 setting reveals how much M car there really is under the quilted leather. The car tenses immediately, everything from dampers to diff alert and ready for action. Most obvious is the extra immediacy in the throttle. In the modern style it has an initial softness that quickly erupts into a heavily boosted mid-range and flexibility from there to the redline. It's not as responsive as a Porsche six but has the muscles to take on an AMG V8 and a soundtrack to match, even if there's a suspicion some of it is coming over the speakers.

Sport Plus for dampers is probably a bit much, mid-way Sport offering decent body control and a more sophisticated sense of flow than you typically encounter in German performance cars. Springs are stiff and the dampers eager to drill the car down to the road but it's happy to work with the cambers and weight transfers rather than fight against them, to the advantage of the tyres and aim to maintain a consistent contact pressure at all four corners. At the kind of foot pressures most drivers would use on the road it's hard to feel any meaningful difference in the variable mode brake booster, though the opportunity seems to have been missed to offer a properly firm pedal to lean against in the Sport mode. And even at a fast road pace the optional ceramics can get a bit whiffy, suggesting they're working harder than you might think.

The variable ratio steering never feels especially confidence-inspiring in any mode but you learn to trust the front end and there's grip aplenty from corner entry to exit, an early throttle maintaining a nice neutral balance throughout as the engine pre-loads the all-wheel drive and active M diff. M Dynamic Mode permits a noticeable push into the corner on the throttle and a secure, all-wheel drive twist on traditional BMW dynamics, just at the point your palms would be getting a little moist in an AMG GT or Vantage.

If that's your thing the more macho rear-wheel drive mode is a button push away, accepting you're willing to put 625hp through the rear wheels with no electronic safety nets. Among rivals this duality is a real USP for the M8, its ability to switch between mature GT and rear-driven hooligan a real highlight. Credit to BMW for not calling it a drift mode or anything daft like that - it's just 2WD and a single 'You sure?' button push away. And a lot of fun.

It would take a degree of denial to drive it in this configuration on a wet winter's commute, unless motorway slip roads on the lock stops genuinely are your thing. But the fact it's there should the mood take you is a real plus, likewise that it reveals the M8 is an inherently well-balanced and driveable car, even with all that power going to the rear wheels. You treat the throttle with respect, for sure. And if the clearly telegraphed twitch through the diff prompts the same against the upholstery you know when it's time to back out. If you're willing to proceed, however, slides from mild to wild are there for the taking, whether that be a subtle unwinding of the wheel mid-corner or something more dramatic. For all the excesses of weight, technology and power it's nice to find a hint of properly playful, communicative M car baked into this car's DNA and, with it, a sniff of the strength of character required to play at this level.

Whether a six-figure BMW really becomes a thing or merely an interesting footnote in the M division's catalogue remains to be seen. It certainly represents a brave way to blow this kind of money when much of the same could be enjoyed for a chunk less in an M5. Experience of driving it suggests it errs closer to the more mature end of the spectrum and is a more natural rival for the S63, V8 DB11 and Continental GT. That it has enough attitude to count as a gateway from the more focussed alternatives into that world is BMW's narrow window of opportunity here. By that measure it's a qualified success.


SPECIFICATION - BMW M8 COMPETITION (F92)
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)
MPG: 25.2-25.4mpg
CO2: 253-252g/km
Price: £123,435 (£143,435 as tested, including Ultimate Package)

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