BMW M8 long-term test (2021) review: the 8,000-mile verdict

Published: 02 November 2021

► CAR lives with a stealthy M8
► Is it more than an M5 in a fancy frock?
► Chris has several months to find out

Very occasionally you'll come across a BMW M5, an already über-stealthy machine, whose self-assured driver has opted to leave off the model badge, resulting in there being little more than the quad tailpipes as a clue to the firepower under the bonnet.

The M8 Gran Coupe, even in understated Donington Grey, isn't one of those cars. And – go on, I'll admit it – I'm probably not one of those drivers. Barrelling towards 50, hair on its farewell tour, and needing something to distract people passing my house from noticing that I only painted half my garage last year before getting bored and giving up, I rather liked the M8's cool, hey-check-meee-out swagger.

Dammit, if I'm going to be Clark W Griswold – the adventure-hungry dad from National Lampoon's Vacation – I don't want to be driving a Wagon Queen Family Truckster if 2021's equivalent of Christie Brinkley ever pulls alongside in her Ferrari.

In my eight months with the M8, she never did. But then two national lockdowns during our time with BMW's flashiest four-door meant I covered a fraction of the miles I normally do in a CAR long-term test car. They usually go back having done 10,000-12,000 miles, but this one arrived with almost 3500 on the digital instrument pack and by the time it departed I'd only added 5000 more.

There were financial upsides: I didn't have to replace the massive 20-inch tyres, or have it serviced. And the middling fuel economy, which on a couple of gentle runs hit the high 20s, but generally hovered around 23mpg, didn't seem too horrendous when I pretended to myself it was actually 46mpg because I was doing half as many miles as I normally would.

But if you can afford the M8, you can almost certainly afford the fuel to run it. This is a seriously expensive car. An M5 lists at £102,385, but our M8 carried a base price of £119,000 on the road (it's £123,950 now). When I looked at lease deals I discovered it could cost over £1700 per month, but Lease4wheels tweeted me pointing out that PCP deals looked much more affordable. According to franchised dealer John Clark BMW, you could slap down a £9k deposit and put one on your drive for a far more palatable – if still out of my league – £999 per month.

Those figures are for the standard car, but ours came with the £21,000 Ultimate Package. On the face of it, grouping a large number of goodies into one package does simplify the buying process. But while I loved the adaptive BMW Laserlights, the rich sounds of the Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi, and the look of the exterior carbon goodies, I could have happily lived without the carbon engine cover, electric rear sunblind and carbon brakes.

I didn't take the M8 on track and I can't imagine many owners doing so. And I found the brakes a little grabby at very low speed, which spoiled the refinement. As did the strangely over-strong engine braking effect when trickling down the 20mph hill near my house, and the slightly tough urban ride.

m8 ltt interior

I reckon most people are going to buy the GC as a big GT, not because it's some kind of four-door sports car, and are probably more interested in enjoying the beautiful interior (particularly handsome in our car's red) than pretending they're in an old M3 GTS every time they hit a road with a couple of bends.

Thing is, the M8 is outrageously capable when you do start to crank up the pace. The only factor holding you back is the sheer size of it. At 5.1 metres long and 2.1 metres wide it makes supermarket car park spaces and British B-roads feel conspicuously small.

But find a bit of room and it's a riot. And though we've covered BMW's selectable four-wheel-drive system many times, it's worth reiterating what an absolute game-changer it is for a Jekyll and Hyde driver like myself to be able to toggle from four-wheel-drive and DSC security one minute to the 'rear-wheel drive and everything off' party mode at the tap of a steering-wheel button.

It's one of the reasons why the M8 Gran Coupe is more appealing than its Porsche Panamera Turbo S rival, and I think that if BMW could just dial in a little more ride comfort for the 90 per cent of the time when you're not in banzai mode, it would have a brilliant dual-role car on its hands.

But even as it stands, there's plenty to like. Yes, it's expensive for 'just' a BMW, but the frameless doors, the mini-Bentley interior and, yes, the admiring glances (at the car, not the driver) from other drivers mean the feelgood factor is sky high.
You can keep your boring M5.

Logbook: BMW M8 Competition

Price £123,950 (£144,950 as tested)
Performance 4395cc twin-turbo V8, 617bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 26.4mpg (official), 23.5mpg (tested), 256g/km CO2
Energy cost 23.6p per mile
Miles this month 882
Total miles 8520


Month 7 living with a BMW M8: every day starts well

m8 ltt drift

I could reel off a dozen things I'll miss after 2030 when internal-combustion cars start to disappear from our roads. The pinging of a hot exhaust when you park up after a sustained blast. The gentle rocking of an engine idling in traffic when you've perversely switched off the stop-start system because you like the reassuring chunter that comes from a load of spark plugs playing war games under the bonnet.

Even the filthy smell of petrol and the physical and mental challenge of trying to dribble in exactly £4 of unleaded because you managed to leave the house without your phone and wallet, but found a few nuggets down the side of the seat. Or maybe that's just me (and if it isn't, have you noticed how much harder it is not to go a penny over now that petrol is double the price it was 30 years ago?).

But what I'll miss most of all is jumping into something monstrously powerful like this BMW M8 after a night's rest, thumbing the starter button and just listening. My old colleague Jason Cammisa recently put together an excellent video about cold starts. It's definitely worth a watch – and a listen.

The M8 doesn't feature, but it should. The M-ised twin-turbo V8 does a great cold start. So did the AMG E63 I ran a few years back, but modern AMGs default to a quiet setting unless you press a button to activate an 'emotional start' sequence. My neighbours probably wished the M8 did too whenever I leave the house for a photo shoot at 4am. Instead, its four pipes give them a two-finger fanfare.

On those days I try to position the car so I can drive straight off, so they can at least get back to sleep quickly. But other times I'll drop the windows and listen to the way the pitch and volume change, and feel the vibrations through the wheel, seat and pedals.

Long after BMW has prised the keys from my hands I'll still remember the excitement that came from a press of that red starter button.

By Chris Chilton

Logbook: BMW M8 Gran Coupe

Price £123,880 (£140,000 as tested)
Performance 4395cc twin-turbo V8, 617bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 26.4mpg (official), 23.5mpg (tested), 256g/km CO2
Energy cost 23.6p per mile
Miles this month 1097
Total miles 7996


Month 6 living with a BMW M8: hello from the Upside Down

m8 911

I had hoped to take the M8 to Wales to compare with its new M4 little brother for this report, but while that didn't happen, something almost as interesting did because I got to spend a few days with the Porsche 911 Carrera we pitted against the M4 for our online video.

I remember thinking how wide, and consequently how un-911, the 991 felt when it was launched in 2011. But this 992 seemed tiny next to our M8, though that could be because it is. The much faster BMW caused a bit of an upset by sounding far better to my ears, but I think my neighbours were more shocked to learn that the 911 was cheaper, and by £50k.

By Chris Chilton

Logbook: BMW M8 Gran Coupe

Price £123,880 (£140,000 as tested)
Performance 4395cc twin-turbo V8, 617bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 26.4mpg (official), 23.5mpg (tested), 256g/km CO2
Energy cost 23.6p per mile
Miles this month 358
Total miles 6899


Month 5 living with a BMW M8: M is for masochist

m5 chris

'I had an E30 M3 years ago,' the chap at the petrol station told me. 'The ones from the '80s, they were the proper M cars, much better, more fun than the modern stuff.'

Hmm. I don't know – I'm rather enjoying this M8 with its 608bhp and switchable two/four-wheel drive. Compared to my back catalogue of M-car nails, some of which appeared in CAR in the dim and distant past, usually being dragged out from under a tree by an Audi Allroad for an annual clean, our M8 is a joy to live with.

First of those wrecks, way back in 2004, was an E28 M5, one of only 187 right-hand-drive cars. Not a bad way to kick off your M ownership career... except this one was bad. Really useful stuff like the electric rear sunblind still worked, while inconsequential bits, like the radiator, didn't. It had 150k on the clock, had clearly had a hard life, and the prop vibrated so badly when I wound it up to 140mph on the A3 one night, just to see, it actually threw itself out of gear.

But then, what did I expect for £1000? At that price I didn't ask any questions about its provenance or condition, and neither did the bloke who bought it off me for £2500 later that year. He appeared one evening with an envelope of cash, asked me to open the bonnet to make sure it was the real deal, handed over the readies, and disappeared into the night – with one tail light out.

Plenty of people will tell you that the E28 M5 is the best M car, but what I always wanted far more was its daddy, a 1981 E12 M535i, the first four-door production car built by M. And in 2005 I finally managed to take one home. Or abandon one in the car park, at least, while I worked out what to do with it.

m535i

A two-owner, 70k-mile machine that had been with the current owner since 1982, in my dream spec of Alpine white with the fatter of the two optional stripe kits, and completely original with very little rust or wear to the spectacularly 1970s corduroy-covered Recaros, it had been parked up since 1991 and was the perfect candidate for a light restoration.

But I never did get it finished, or even half finished. Instead, I dragged it around from house to house on the back of various trucks, and even bought a second E12 M535i to drive while I did nothing to the first. Eventually, I sold them both. The rougher, but driveable, car went to France for £1750, and the white one headed north to Scotland. I'd paid £1200 for it and sold it for £1800, but heard that it changed hands a couple of years ago in virtually the same non-running state for £12,000. Top-notch examples are now worth £30k-plus.

I'd love to get another, or an E30 M3, or its E46 grandson, but only for Sunday kicks. Old M cars and new M cars are different because they're designed for different times, different expectations, different regulations. I love vinyl, but I also appreciate the convenience and versatility of digital music. Which is why so many of us have, and enjoy, both.

By Chris Chilton

Logbook: BMW M8 Gran Coupe

Price £123,880 (£140,000 as tested)
Performance 4395cc twin-turbo V8, 617bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 26.4mpg (official), 23.5mpg (tested), 256g/km CO2
Energy cost 23.6p per mile
Miles this month 324
Total miles 6541


Month 4 living with a BMW M8: today, it's the sensible one

m8 wheel

Tyred already?
Mrs Chilton clouted the kerb the last (and it will be) time she borrowed the M8. iDrive says check tyre pressures, but they're fine. Mercifully, so are the rims.

Too hot to handle
M8 thoughtfully switches the seat and steering wheel heating on automatically on cold starts. Up to temperature five miles in, we can switch them off.

Sports exhausted
The M8's twin-turbo V8 is pretty quiet, so I normally leave the sports exhaust switched on. But turning it off at motorway speeds definitely kills some of the dronier sounds.

m8 fuel

Feeling lucky?
Couple of speed cameras to watch out for around the M4/M5 interchange. The cruise control sets itself to the speed limit unless you actively choose more mph.

Liquid lunch
Time to grab a few litres of unleaded. Super-plus pump is out of order so we're sticking with the cheap stuff today. Economy bearable at 24mpg.

m8 red porsches

Red one out
Rendezvous at the Hairpin Company to drive a £1.2m 964 RS. It's sensational, but I'm glad I'm driving the M8, and not the Porsche, the 190 miles home.

By Chris Chilton

Logbook: BMW M8 Gran Coupe

Price £123,880 (£140,000 as tested)
Performance 4395cc twin-turbo V8, 617bhp, 3.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 26.4mpg (official), 23.5mpg (tested), 256g/km CO2
Energy cost 23.6p per mile
Miles this month 769
Total miles 6217


Month 3 living with a BMW M8: bring on the Touring

I've squeezed my hulking golden lab into the back of every one of my past half-dozen long-term test cars, big and small, but not this one. Unlike the smaller (and now departed) 4-series Gran Coupe, the M8 GC has a conventional saloon-style boot, not a lift-up tailgate. Though the actual space isn't bad, and there's a split-fold rear seat, the load sill is annoyingly high and aperture small, meaning getting big stuff in and out is at best tricky or, as in this case, impossible.

So the hound has to make other travel arrangements, which is fine: he's never once offered to help hoover up the hair.

By Chris Chilton

Logbook: BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe

Price £123,880 (£140,000 as tested) Performance 4395cc V8 twin-turbo, 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 1067
Total miles 5448


Month 2 living with a BMW M8: breaking the bank

m8 bank

It’s all about the monthly cost these days. Most people aren’t actually buying their new car; they’re leasing it, or paying a monthly fee for a PCP (and treating it like a lease agreement).

And when you look at the monthly cost, versus a traditional list price, you realise you can get behind the wheel of a much tastier machine than you thought possible. You might hesitate to shell out £75k on a loaded Range Rover Sport, but £550 a month for the same car doesn’t seem so horrific if you’re already paying £300 for a washing machine on wheels.

What’s that got to do with our M8? Well, two months in and a mix of different roads and journeys covered, I’ve found myself enjoying it so much that I’ve started to wonder exactly how much financial pain I’d have to endure each month to put one outside my house on a more permanent basis.

Turns out it would cost as much as the house itself. A four-year lease on an M8 like ours with the Ultimate Pack would require a £15,729 deposit followed by 47 monthly payments of £1714. Ouch.

To be fair to the M8, that’s in line with what you’d pay to lease other cars with a similar list price, like Porsche’s £134k 911 Turbo. The Porsche isn’t a direct rival, but it’s still a bit of shock when you’re reminded how far into big-league territory BMW is pushing here.

Even with a mileage limited by lockdown 2.0, we’ve still covered enough ground to start cementing some opinions about the M8’s strengths and weaknesses. Its performance and excellent seats make it better suited to long journeys than town work, where the sheer size and bitty ride work against it.

And if you stick near the motorway limit it’s even tolerably economical, much like the Porsche. I’ve seen close to 30mpg on a very gentle run back from Heathrow along the M4. Well, I saw it for about for about two junctions then decided life’s for living, not fretting about mpg. Or I imagine it is of you can afford £1714 per month.

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 311
Total miles 4381


Month 1 living with a BMW M8 Gran Coupe: hello and welcome

BMW M8 LTT side pan

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.

BMW M8 GC LTT badge

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

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

Comments