► 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 M division’s quiver 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 forged 20-inchers.
Specific design cues for the M8 also include, gold brake callipers, carbon roof, quad exhausts, boot spoiler and side vents behind the front wheels.
It certainly looks the part on the outside. All UK cars will be Competition spec, which signifies black exterior detailing that would otherwise be silver – extending from the badging, to the M-specification door mirrors and exhaust tips.
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.
The S63 engine here is an upgraded version of the N63 4.4-litre V8 found in the M850i. You get an increased spring rate in the engine mount, upgraded oil supply and cooling system, plus a high-pressure injection system. Torque remains the same, at 750Nm, but power jumps from 530hp to 625hp. Power is fed through the same eight-speed Speedtronic auto as the M850i.
Whizzing in 3.2sec 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 155 to 191mph in cars fitted with the optional M Driver's Pack.
The indicated 12.6mpg after a hard day’s driving shows it’s quick at glugging through a tank of fuel, too. With these numbers firmly planted in the back of the mind, one expects great things from the cream-of-the-crop BMW.
Just like the M5 saloon, you get all-wheel drive here, but the option to send power solely to the rear wheels is also available. That two-wheel drive setting is still not recommended for use on public roads, and while that may be deemed useless for most, you at least get to transform the car’s character for the price.
The default all-wheel drive mode rapidly shuffles the power from the front wheels to the back, just as the nose starts to wash wide.
The system is undeniably affective, but you can't help think it wouldn’t have to intervene so much if this near-two-tonne coupe wasn’t carrying so much weight in the first place.
Switch to Sport AWD and this becomes more rear-biased, meaning you can quell that hint of understeer with ample inputs of the throttle for a dose of rotation. This certainly ups the level of fun to be had and it’s a good middle ground to be in, being similar in character to a Mercedes-AMG E 63 S.
It’ll definitely make you smile, as it lets the M8 Competition squirm a little without you feeling terrified enough to make a mess on those posh seats.
Sports coupe that’s eaten too much? Or luxury coupe that’s too lean?
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.
Ceramic brakes are optional, but six-piston brakes come as standard. They’re perfectly up to the job on the road, but we suspect the standard items will have their work cut out with this amount of weight to repeatedly reign in. Dynamically, this is already far better than the M6 that preceded it - in both the way it handles and stops - but you still can’t demonstrate finesse while being this portly.
Trying to combine performance and luxury means the M8 Competition sits in the awkward middle area of the M range, right beside the oddball M4 convertible and its manual gearbox. They’re ahead of the cumbersome SUVs, but still far behind the firm’s best saloons and coupes.
Even the two bodystyles on offer serve up different driving experiences. The harder-riding coupe is the sharper tool that’s more encouraging of sporting behaviour, with far more of a get-up-and-go attitude, whereas the convertible simply lets you wallow along and asks 'Do you even want to go fast? Do you want all 625hp? Well you can, but only if you want to.'
The soft-top is the one to get if you want a more comfortable ride, but it feels quite uncomfortable at being hustled along. Sure, it’s a laugh, but almost because it feels wrong.
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-£25 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 625hp M8 Competition weighs 280kg more than a Porsche 911 Turbo S.
It may sound like we’re being quite harsh on this car, and we’re not - in isolation, this M6 replacement is a fine fast cruiser that can be fun to drive. But it's complex and trying to do too many things at once. Our ratings might look favourable in each individual category, but what it doesn't show you is how they don't all mesh together.
The first problem is, with a few choice options added, you can easily reach £140,000 with the Coupe, and at this price it’s not enough of a huge leap from the M850i on paper.
The biggest problem though, is the overwhelming feeling that this is the net result of the committee getting carried away with ticking boxes for what they wanted – or worse, thought everyone else wanted.
After driving it, you look at it as you would your first plate of buffet food, having scooped up everything you wanted to eat in one go, all at the same time. It’s neither a fully-fledged sports car or a plush luxury coupe.
And with your counting hat on? Similar money buys a Mercedes AMG GT C 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 GT or, if money is not the decider, the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso V8. The former combines performance and luxury better, even if BMW feels like it’s at least done some exercise down the gym.
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.
Ultimately, the Mercedes S-Class still rules the four-seater V8 Coupe/Convertible roster for sheer effortless luxurious pace. Alternatively, you could head down the other route and keep it simple. At this price point, money isn’t going to be too much of an issue, and while the BMW’s infotainment is far superior, the Lexus LC500 and its naturally-aspirated V8 is hard to ignore for a lot less, even if it can’t match the German’s level of tech and dynamic capability.
Coupé specs follow