► CAR lives with a stealthy M8
► Is it more than an M5 in a fancy frock?
► Chris has several months to find out
For 35 years the BMW M5 has consistently set the super-saloon agenda. While the exact details may have changed over the years, shifting from six cylinders to eight, to 10, and back to eight again, the proposition has always been clear: it's a supercar in a stealthy shell.
Too stealthy? I know that's the point of an M5. I've owned one, driven dozens and enjoyed most of them. I love that you can get up to all kinds of mischief, or leave the car in the shadiest car park without attracting attention ('Who, me?').
But on the flipside, if I was spending £100k on a car I'm not sure I'd want it to look like a rep's 520d after a minor splurge in the BMW M Performance brochure. I'd much rather it look like... our new M8 Competition Gran Coupe, the plain-Jahn M5's sexy sister.
The Gran Coupe is a longer, four-door spin-off of the two-door 8-series coupe. The range is small; just three models, starting with the £79k 840i, moving up to the £102k M850i xDrive, and topping out as an M8 for a whole lot more.
The non-Gran two-door M8 coupe is pleasant but suffers from being neither sporty enough to cut it as a 911 rival, nor glamorous enough to stop people spending a little more on an Aston DB11 or Bentley Continental GT. The M8 Gran Coupe, on the other hand, is a much clearer proposition, being a straight rival for other four-door coupes like the Porsche Panamera and four-door AMG GT.
Mechanically, it's virtually identical to the M5 Competition, which has just been updated with a slightly bigger kidney grille plus the M8's damper tune and bigger multimedia screen. You get the same 617bhp twin-turbo V8, the same eight-speed automatic gearbox and the same configurable all-wheel-drive system that can be toggled from four- to rear-wheel drive at the push of a button (well, two pushes; BMW's lawyers want you to be sure you know what you're asking for).
But you get a whole load more swagger with it. The M8 GC sits 50mm closer to the ground than the M5 but it feels more; the driver's seat seems to drop much lower than the saloon's. It looks most outrageous from the rear-three-quarter angle, where (ironically, given the BMW connection) there's a hint of Toyota Supra. But wherever you stand, it stands out.
And it's equally bold inside. Okay, the basic cabin architecture is shared with cheaper 8s – a Panamera's cabin has more wow appeal. But the quality is excellent and, with our car's red-orange leather punctuated by handsome metal grilles for the Bowers & Wilkins speakers that begin to glow as ambient light falls, the feelgood factor is high.
It's early days but already a few things are clear. First, this is a huge car. It's over five metres long, with a three-metre wheelbase, so we'll be relying on the surround-view cameras to save us from adding to the grazes it arrived with following its life on the BMW press fleet.
It's also hugely expensive, costing £123,880, which makes it £21k pricier than the M5, but interestingly, almost £3k less expensive than the two-door M8. Factor in the £20k Ultimate package, which brings carbon brakes, side and rear sunblinds, laser headlights and other goodies we'll cover in more detail in a future report, and you're perilously close to £150,000.
Also clear is that the M8 generates the kind of attention you expect from cars in that price bracket. Attention that you'd never get in the always-discreet M5.
But is there more to it than that? We'll be finding out if there are more substantial differences over the next few months.
Logbook: BMW M8 Competition
Price £123,880 (£140,000 as tested)
Performance 4395cc twin-turbo V8, 617bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 26.4mpg (official), 23.1mpg (tested), 256g/km CO2
Energy cost 23.6p per mile
Miles this month 730
Total miles 4070