OVERVIEW - What is it?
There’s not point in trying to string this out for dramatic effect. The M8 Competition is an M5 Competition in an 8 Series body.
In other places they sell a slightly softer, slightly slower non-Competition M8. But the British seem to be total box-tickers, so we only get the toppermost. It also seems unlikely anyone will resist adding the £2,095 (approx. RM10,740) Driver’s Package, which consists of a voucher for driver training and an unlocking of the top speed to 304kph. This is an expensive, irrational car: it needs that expensive, irrational software hack.
So then, 625bhp issues from a 4.4-litre V8, ready and willing to rev to 7,200. It’s distributed via an autobox, and electronically controlled centre and rear diffs.
Shut off the ESP and you can access one of the M5’s famous tricks, a rear-drive-only mode. That too is as per the M5 that Top Gear ran as a long-term-test car. At the wheel was one of our most smokey drivers, Ollie Marriage, and even he said, ‘Owners: bet you’ve tried it once and never again, right?’
The suspension is special M stuff – not only springs and dampers, but also the main arms. There’s lots of underbody bracing too. But not the four-wheel steering of the lesser 8-er. “We wanted it to feel pure and natural” said the engineer when I asked why not. “We wanted to save money by carrying over from the M5,” he didn’t say but might’ve.
Inside, it’s roomy in the front, but tight behind. Even tighter in the Convertible. Never mind, there's now a longer four-door Gran Coupe version in the M8's model range to consider too.
The Gran Coupe might be the happiest-looking of them. We’re unsure of the two-door Coupe – the roof-line looks awkwardly angular when you see it in the flesh. The Convertible has more of the beauty gene, both roof-down and roof-up too.
DRIVING - What is it like on the road?
Most powerful production BMW engine. There’s a good headline. Four-wheel-drive where you can switch out the front wheels, for driftular purposes. There’s another one. Carbon roof. Track mode…
None of which gives any sense at all of what the M8 is actually like. You just can’t imagine anyone taking this to a track. Not like M2s, or M3s when they’ve got a bit secondhand and modified.
Oh sure, at their limit, the M8’s high-speed acceleration, braking and cornering are forceful enough to demand a track to show off. So BMW thoughtfully provided one at the launch event. But forbade us from using the drift mode. Which just goes to show how ridiculously pointless that is: a shredder of both tyres and insurance.
So let’s use AWD. You can choose a sports mode for this, which shuffles the drive more emphatically rearward, and with DSC in the looser ‘traction mode’ it does make for innocent throttle-enhanced play with a safety net beneath – I’d not feel irresponsible using this on the road. But you can still feel this is a 1.9-tonner doing well to manage the effects of all that size and luxury.
On the road, then, it just devours the terrain, but feels numb if you wanted a sports car, or even a mid-engined ‘GT’ like McLaren has just built. But hey, it’s sharper than the M5 Competition, because the centre of gravity is 24mm lower to the ground, cutting slow-corner understeer, and sharpening the feedback a little.
The convertible hardly suffers in the driving department. It’s a very rigid bodyshell.
That most powerful-ever engine is suited to road work, too. It’ll belt its way beyond 7,000rpm if the occasion arises, and properly rapid it is by then. But there’s also pretty lively response all the way down to the lower rev registers.
Thing is, even in circumstances when the exhaust flaps open, the noise isn’t offensively loud. Unlike some of the AMGs.
It’s cultured, which is the demeanour of the whole car – in actions if not in looks. More than you’d expect in an M-car, the ride is really quite pliable over short sharp bumps. This is, after all, a long-distance machine.
For the same reason, you can spec the full BMW suite of driver aids – everything the chauffeur of a V12 760Li gets.
ON THE INSIDE - Layout, finish and space
When the opposition for this car comes from the V8 versions of the Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin DB11 – or, at a relatively small stretch, the Ferrari Portofino – there’s one thing we have to get out of the way at the start. You can easily option-up a BMW 116d with exactly the same control layout and displays as the M8.
Now, iDrive does work very well. In fact for us, despite a few minor irritations, it’s the best interface in the industry. But imagine driving this super-grand coupe and noticing that the guy next to you in the traffic in his three-cylinder diesel hatch shares so much with you. To be happy rather than resentful would take a particularly egalitarian outlook.
Well, that’s not quite fair. The M8’s dials do take on a different look when you hit the M Mode button. This emphasises the revs and gear, both in the instrument pack and the HUD. You can also scroll through g-meters, oil temps and the like. Long-press the M Mode and you’re in ‘track’, which also cancels the auto-braking and auto-steering functions. So the car doesn’t nudge you just when you clip a quick apex or outbrake into a chicane.
Don’t confuse M Modes with the Setup Modes. They cover combinations of engine and transmission aggression, torque distribution, steering weight, damping, and even brake response (it’s a by-wire system).
You can set two of your favourite Setup combos onto shortcut M1 and M2 buttons – those red ones on the steering wheel. Without them, it’d be configuration rabbit-hole babylon.
The M8 does use very nice trim materials. Decoratively stitched glove-soft leather wraps every surface that isn’t metal or glass or carbonfibre. These materials are almost all the real thing, not petrochemical-based impersonations.
The seats do a decent job of cosseting you on the motorway but clamping you through corners. That applies whatever your height or BMI – they adjust for width. You can even option-up heated door and centre armrests.
Things aren’t so good in the back, mind. Space is short. Still, a pair of Isofix mounts will help if you’ve three-year-old twins.
Whether their double buggy will fit the 420-litre boot is another question. But used as a two-seater you can flop the rear backrests forward and get a surprising amount in there.
A word on the Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi option. It’s terrifically spacious and detailed, but the treble’s far too harsh. We’d avoid.
The convertible? We like. The heating and superb management of turbulence mean that even roof-down it’s not too fussy about the weather.
OWNING - Running costs and reliability
If we’ve been complaining about this being an ‘ordinary’ BMW instead of a ‘special’ Aston or McLaren, here’s the payback. There are dealers everywhere, and the mechanicals and engine (now the early M5 fuel-starvation problem is fixed) are proven stuff. We’d expect it to be painless to own.
For both the Coupe and Convertible, fuel economy is fractionally the good side of 11.3 litres/100km WLTP, and CO2 just the wrong side of 250g/km. Tyre choice affects it marginally.
The convertible is exactly £7,000 more than the Coupe, or a piffling six per cent. Very much worth it, as it adds a whole new dimension to the car.
The choice of extras is short for a BMW because most desirable stuff is bundled in. But there’s an ‘ultimate pack’ at £20k which includes the main acts from said options list: ceramic brakes, laserlights, vented comfort seats, B&W sound, maximum driver assist, speed delimiter, driver training.
VERDICT - Final thoughts and pick of the range
The M8 Competition is ridiculously competent. But then, you can say the same about the M850i xDrive, itself not exactly under-endowed at 530bhp.
The trouble is deciding what you want it to be. If you’re looking for a fast high-tech luxury GT that will simply not wilt when you go for it on a mountain road, then fine. The only trouble is a shortage of engagement.
I’d have the convertible. If the M8 lacks a bit of sensation through your hands on the wheel, choose the version that offers compensation through your nostrils and scalp.
The M8 is a really grand, grand tourer. It looks and operates as you’d expect of a peak BMW. And that’s the thing. Maybe people would swap some of the competence for something a bit more distinctive, special and heck, surprising.
The M8 is a really grand, grand tourer. It looks and operates as you'd expect of a peak BMW
|Safely quick in any road, loads of technology, track capable||Not a tactile driving experience. Cabin is too much like any other BMW|