► New weaponised 8-series, driven
► Takes aim at the 911
► But uses more of the M5 formula to do it
How do you topple the high-flying Porsche 911? That’s a question car makers have been asking for a while now, as they look to overcome Stuttgart’s all-rounder flagship. As far as high-performance premium sports cars costing under £200,000 are concerned, the Porsche 911 is still the leader of the pack with the Aston Martin Vantage and the Mercedes AMG GT hot on its heels. It’s time to meet the M8: BMW’s answer to the 911.
'The two-door 6-series came quite close to challenging the Porsche 911,’ BMW´s R&D chief Klaus Fröhlich said when he introduced the new 8-series range. ‘With the 8-series coupé, we are about to close this gap. The M8 in particular has got what it takes to secure the sports car crown in the 600bhp segment.’ Well, Klaus Fröhlich was wrong.
What is it?
The 8-series is in essence a rebodied 5-series which has been kicked up-market to a new price point that comfortably eclipses its predecessor, the inconspicuous 6-series. When they defined their new flagship, the engineers could have gone down electric avenue, taken a bunch of weight out or even put the engine in a different position, but instead they settled for a pragmatic evolution of the status-quo. Is the latest arrow in the M division’s quiver is sharp enough to really hurt the competition. We’re not sure…
The new M8 is an exercise in overkill proposition: the aim of its creators was to develop a car that had to be as rigorously sporty as it was overtly luxurious. To accomplish this problematic mission, the power-brokers located in the Garching satellite think tank pulled out all the stops, just as they had done before with the sixth-generation M5.
In the end it turned out to be more of the same, mainly because strategists and controllers shunned the risk of sharpening the DNA of the brand’s top-of-the-line coupé in a market segment where the cabriolet and the gran coupé were destined to follow.
The M boys could have alternatively cobbled together a decontented rear-wheel drive M8 CSl with only two seats and without AWD, but according to the senior product manager Carsten Pries, the market for such a car is too small to justify the extra investment. Instead, the strategists opted for an all-in high-tech concept featuring M-specific upgrades for aerodynamics, suspension, steering, brakes and drivetrain.
In addition, the carbon-core coupé body received numerous reinforcements to beef up the torsional stiffness, the ride height has been lowered by 10mm compared to the M5, the centre of gravity dropped by 24mm and the 19-inch wheels are replaced by bespoke 20-inchers.
What’s it like to drive?
‘I can’t think of a high-end coupé which combines the best of all worlds in a more convincing fashion,’ Spengler squawked over the intercom. Maybe so, but who needs equal portions of luxury and performance, who needs a Swiss army knife on wheels? True, the awesome longitudinal acceleration rarely ceases to amaze. Whizzing in 3.3sec from 0 to 62mph and in 10.8sec from 0-125mph feels and is jolly quick.
The same goes for the top speed which increases from 156 to 191mph in cars fitted with the optional M Driver's Pack. With these numbers firmly planted in the back of the mind, one expects great things from the cream-of-the-crop BMW.
And the M8 delivers. The 2+2-seater conquers a banked second-gear corner with swift single-mindedness thanks to the turn-in confidence and self-correcting balance supported by fast acting dampers and rear-wheel steering (here as standard). With the twisties behind us, laying on ample power and torque even in fifth and sixth gear is the easiest exercise.
The news isn’t as good on track, though. What keeps putting a spoke in the wheel is above all the aforementioned weight penalty: at 1960kg the M8 Competition coupé has piled on too many pounds.
On public roads, the 4.4-litre V8 produces easily enough grunt to overcome this physical handicap, but in Portimao, excess weight equalled a double shot of Valium per tankful.
BMW M8: verdict
The 8-series is an odd choice that falls between many stools. It costs around £30,000 more than the discontinued 600bhp M6, but is a less compelling drive than the current M5 Competition which sells for circa-£40 grand less. While it is notably quicker than, say, the Aston Martin DB11 V8, it lacks that special sense of the occasion.
Put it another way: the 625bhp M8 Competition weighs 280kg more than a Porsche 911 Turbo S. This new M6 replacement is a fine fast luxury cruiser, but not a full-fledged sports car.
And with your counting hat on? Similar money buys a Mercedes AMG GT R which is a superior track weapon and much more of a proper sports car. In the final analysis, the closest rival of the BMW is perhaps the new Bentley Continental or, if money is not the decider, the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso V8. Against the stopwatch, the M8 fears none of these challengers, but when it comes to almost anything else, its attempted synthesis of hardcore dynamics and augmented luxury produces a slanted picture.
Coupé specs follow